On 20 September 2023, the Kyalami Country Club hosted a focus group on the African Horse Sickness (AHS) Vaccine. Remarkably, around 150 participants joined, both in-person and virtually.

The panel included representatives from Onderstepoort Biological Products (OBP), Professor Alan Guthrie, the shadow Minister of Agriculture for Gauteng (DA), and Candice Hobday, representing the insurance sector.

African Horse Sickness (AHS) Vaccine

Historical Context and African Horse Sickness (AHS) Vaccine Efficacy

Delving into AHS’s history in Southern Africa, Professor Guthrie showcased the vaccine’s consistent effectiveness. He stressed the importance of herd immunity and the need for full vaccination. For instance, during a recent AHS outbreak in Thailand, out of roughly 2,300 horses, 600 contracted the disease. Tragically, over 95% of them died. Moreover, he introduced an upcoming recombinant vaccine, expected to launch within 3-5 years.

African Horse Sickness (AHS) Vaccination Gaps and Concerns

Interestingly, OBP highlighted a concerning statistic: out of 320,000 horses, only 90,000 vaccines are purchased annually. This data suggests a significant gap in vaccinations, especially in rural areas, even though some horses live in AHS-free zones.

Manufacturing Challenges and Commitments

OBP tackled the topic of the recent vaccine shortage, attributing it to manufacturing issues over the past two years. The main culprit? An aging dry freezer lacking local technical support. However, they are in the process of replacing this freezer. The new one, set to be operational by 2025, will undergo installation and calibration over the next two years. Previously, the old freezer churned out 100,000 doses every three weeks. Conversely, a temporary research freezer now produces only 12,000 in the same timeframe. On a brighter note, OBP has addressed backlogs for other livestock vaccines and now prioritises AHS vaccines. They’ve already sold 56,000 doses and promise an additional 34,000 by October’s end, targeting a total of 150,000.

Distribution Issues and Recommendations

A major point of discussion revolved around the non-receipt of vaccines by many mainstream veterinary clinics. This gap led to questions about the location of the 56,000 doses, hinting at potential distribution challenges. One suggestion involved the South African Equine Veterinary Association (SAEVA) to ensure high-risk horses get priority and to oversee even distribution. Furthermore, the presence of black-market vaccine sales and inflated prices came to light. But with improved vaccine production and distribution, these issues should soon resolve.

The Importance of Communication

Effective communication stood out as a pivotal challenge. The consensus? Regularly update SAEVA about manufacturing and distribution, ensuring equine owners stay informed and not left in the dark.

Conclusion and Looking Forward

While participants discussed other topics like alternative vaccines and public-private collaboration, the spotlight remained on manufacturing, distribution, and communication. Now, all eyes are on OBP to see if they deliver on their commitments, especially regarding vaccine production by October and ethical distribution practices.