Quantification of Mycobacterium bovis transmission in a badger vaccine field trial

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In the UK and Ireland, Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccination of badgers has been suggested as one of a number of strategies to control or even eradicate Mycobacterium bovis infection in badgers. In this manuscript, we present the results of a badger field trial conducted in Ireland and discuss how the novel trial design and analytical
methods allowed the effects of vaccination on protection against infection and, more importantly, on transmission to be estimated. The trial area was divided into three zones North to South (A, B and C) where vaccination coverages of 0, 50 and 100%, respectively, were applied. Badgers were trapped over a 4 year period. Badgers were assigned to either placebo or vaccine treatment, with treatment allocation occurring randomly in
zone B. Blood samples were collected at each capture, and serology was performed in these samples using a chemiluminescent multiplex ELISA system (Enfer test). The analysis aimed to compare new infections occurring in non-infected non-vaccinated badgers to those in non-infected vaccinated ones, while accounting for the zone
in which the badger was trapped and the infection pressure to which this individual badger was exposed. In total, 440 records on subsequent trappings of individual non-infected badgers were available for analysis. Over the study period, 55 new infections occurred in non-vaccinated (out of 239 =23.0%) and 40 in vaccinated (out of 201 =19.9%) badgers. A Generalized Linear Model (GLM) with a cloglog link function was used for analysis. Statistical analysis showed that susceptibility to natural exposure with M. bovis was reduced in vaccinated compared to placebo treated badgers: vaccine efficacy for susceptibility, VES, was 59% (95% CI =6.5%–82%). However, a complete lack of effect from BCG vaccination on the infectivity of vaccinated badgers was observed,
i.e. vaccine efficacy for infectiousness (VEI) was 0%. Further, the basic reproduction ratio as a function of vaccination coverage (p) (i.e. R(p)) was estimated. Given that the prevalence of M. bovis infection in badgers in endemic areas in Ireland is approximately 18%, we estimated the reproduction ratio in the unvaccinated population as R(0) =1.22. Because VES was now known, the reproduction ratio for a fully vaccinated population
was estimated as R(1) =0.50. These results imply that with vaccination coverage in badgers exceeding 30%, eradication of M. bovis in badgers in Ireland is feasible, provided that the current control measures also remain in place.

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