The Centre for Ticks and Tick-Borne Diseases (CTTBD) is currently producing the ‘one shot for life’ Muguga trivalent (cocktail) East Coast Fever vaccine. With substantial technical and business support from GALVmed, CTTBD now houses state of the art production and research equipment and re-trained personnel. But CTTBD is not merely producing the vaccine originally developed by International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and other institutions such as KARI. CTTBD is actively researching how to improve the vaccine so that it responds to the needs of millions of small-scale livestock keepers and provide more practical ways of accessing the much sought after tick-derived ECF vaccine.
When you visit livestock keepers throughout Africa, one of their biggest cries is for a cheaper vaccine. But the most important factor to acknowledge is that these small-scale livestock keepers find it very difficult, almost close to impossible to meet the prerequisite of gathering together the minimum number of cattle required for a vaccination to take place before a 40 dose pack can be reconstituted. This is because most small-scale livestock famers do not own more than a few cattle per household and in most cases, the households are far apart making. In short, these farmers are calling for a cheaper, smaller dose pack of this life saving vaccine.
CTTBD has in the past six years improved one of the Zambian ECF vaccine stocks (Chitongo) by fine tuning the production process to see a fivefold increase in the number of doses from a vaccine unit volume. The Centre has now embarked on research to improve the Muguga Cocktail vaccine in ways that address small-scale livestock keepers’ needs. Ongoing research is looking into several fronts where this can be achieved including:
Smaller dose packs
CTTBD is in the process of investigating smaller dose packs. One approach is by simply packing the vaccine in smaller containers (straws) that will halve the volume. Towards this, a number of 0.25ml straws were filled with vaccine during the last production and are now under test both for viability of the vaccine in comparison to the traditional 0.5ml pack as well as user friendliness in the field. There is also research focussing on effects of pre-diluting the vaccine or simply reducing the number of ticks used in a unit volume.
Cheaper, simpler diluent
CTTBD is also testing alternative ECF vaccine diluents. The current diluent has the same constituents as the vaccine medium and requires to be frozen. This makes it very expensive and cumbersome for distribution. Currently, four potentially cheaper alternatives are under study including their respective shelf-lives at ambient temperatures.
Over the horizon continually peeps the possibility of removing the need for liquid nitrogen in the storage and delivery of the vaccine, a major component of the delivery cost. This will keep CTTBD on its research toes but we shall cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, CTTBD is wading waist deep in the process of improving the vaccine to tackle this lethal disease that kills millions of cattle in Africa.