Protective immunity against tuberculosis in a free-living badger population vaccinated orally with Mycobacterium bovis Bacille Calmette-Guérin

31 Jul 2021
Gormley E, Ní Bhuachalla D, Fitzsimons T, O'Keeffe J, McGrath G, Madden JM, Fogarty N, Kenny K, Messam LLM, Murphy D and Corner LAL

Vaccination of badgers with Mycobacterium bovis Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) has been shown to protect badgers against tuberculosis in experimental trials. During the 3-year County Kilkenny BCG vaccine field study, badgers were treated orally with placebo (100% in Zone A), BCG (100% in Zone C) or randomly assigned 50%: 50% treatment with BCG or placebo (Zone B). At the end of the study, 275 badgers were removed from the trial area and subjected to detailed post-mortem examination followed by histology and culture for M. bovis. Among these badgers, 83 (30.2%) were captured for the first time across the three zones, representing a non-treated proportion of the population. Analysis of the data based on the infection status of treated animals showed a prevalence of 52% (95% CI: 40%-63%) infection in Zone A (placebo), 39% (95% CI: 17%-64%) in Zone B (placebo) and 44% (95% CI: 20%-70%) in Zone B (BCG vaccinated) and 24% (95% CI: 14%-36%) in Zone C (BCG vaccinated). There were no statistically significant differences in the proportion of animals with infection involving the lung and thoracic lymph nodes, extra-thoracic infection or in the distribution and severity scores of histological lesions. Among the 83 non-treated badgers removed at the end of the study, the infection prevalence of animals in Zone A (prevalence = 46%, 95% CI: 32%-61%) and Zone B (prevalence = 44%, 95% CI: 23%-67%) was similar to the treated animals in these zones. However, in Zone C, no evidence of infection was found in any of the untreated badgers (prevalence = 0%, 95% CI: 0%-14%). This is consistent with an indirect protective effect in the non-vaccinated badgers leading to a high level of population immunity. The results suggest that BCG vaccination of badgers could be a highly effective means of reducing the incidence of tuberculosis in badger populations.