Botulism's New Threat; Will Horses Have Vaccine?

Botulism is one of the most deadly toxins known to man or beast. During the Persian Gulf War, it was confirmed that Saddam Hussein had imported 39 tons of media capable of growing botulism and anthrax, and it was also learned that Hussein’s nephew had bought a sprayer dryer capable of preserving such organisms. When a terrorist cult in Japan was infiltrated about that time, they were also found to have large quantities of botulism toxins.

An interesting part about botulism is that when we were involved in the Persian Gulf War, there was a nearly year-long absence of equine botulism vaccine because the military was taking all production for human vaccines, and there was only one place producing it for horse and human. For months and months, however, horse owners and veterinarians weren't able to find out the problem with supply. Finally in late June of 1995, the president of Neogen Corporation, which makes the equine botulism vaccine, was able to release the reason for the equine vaccine hold-up--a response to a possible terrorist plot.

A recent New York Times article was titled: “Military Says It Can't Make Enough Vaccines for Troops.” The article stated, “One of the Army's top biodefense officers said that the Pentagon does not have vaccines to protect troops from some virulent biological agents (”

The article noted that, “botulinum, a toxin that leads to paralysis and respiratory failure, is a serious threat because it is fast-acting and difficult to detect in the body,” noting that Iraq had the ability to produce the agent. When asked by the Times how large a hole there is in America's defenses against botulinum, Col. Erik A. Henchal said, “I think it's pretty serious. The Army lab has developed seven vaccines for various strains of botulinum, but the high cost of producing them has stalled their production.”

When Neogen Corporation, manufacturer of the Bot Vox B vaccine, was contacted about the possibility of a repeat of the lack of availability of the equine Bot Vax B vaccine, Lewis Dodds, DVM, a technical service veterinarian with the company responded as follows: “We now have control of production of our Bot Vax B at our facility. This was not the case during the Gulf War. Before production of Bot Vax B was transferred to our USDA-approved facility in Tampa, it was produced along with the human vaccine at the Michigan Department of Public Health. Therefore, when the human vaccine was in high demand, the production was shifted completely to the human product until that demand could be met. Subsequently, the equine product became in short supply for an extended period of time, over which we had no control. Since the technology and license transfer, we now have control over Bot Vax B production (we have never had any involvement with the human vaccine), which makes the scenario of shortage that was experienced during the Gulf War unlikely to occur again, at least to that extent. However, I hesitate to say "never."

As with any product, supply and demand can be a difficult balance. If there were an unexpected and sudden very large increase in demand, a temporary backorder situation could result until production caught up, as it could with any other product.”

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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