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Blair Faces Choice on Disease Shots

April 2, 2001

LONDON (AP) _ Prime Minister Tony Blair faced a decision Monday on whether to go ahead with vaccination of dairy cattle to help contain foot-and-mouth disease in two hard-hit regions.

The European Union’s veterinary committee last week gave Britain approval to vaccinate up to 180,000 cattle to help slow the spread of the disease in Cumbria county in northwestern England and Devon in the southwest.

Blair’s office on Friday admitted that many farmers are opposed to vaccination and said he hoped to make a decision on Monday.

With about 900 cases confirmed since the outbreak was detected on Feb. 20, Britain is struggling to control the epidemic. Blair reportedly has decided to put off national elections at least until June 7, instead of the expected May 3, to concentrate on the crisis.

The government and the European Union agree in opposing routine inoculation of sheep, cattle, coats and other cloven-hoofed animals against foot-and-mouth disease.

Any vaccinated animals would eventually be killed anyway.

Emergency vaccination is usually used when authorities are struggling to kill their animals fast enough. The disease has an incubation period of only two weeks and spreads rapidly and easily, so vaccination can slow the spread of the infection.

Chief veterinarian Jim Scudamore has said that supplies of the vaccine were plentiful, should the government decide to implement the policy.

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On the Net:

Ministry of Agriculture: http://www.maff.gov.uk/

Institute for Animal Health: http://www.iah.bbsrc.ac.uk/

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