Hendra virus protection cost 'too high'

WHIPORIE grazier Ben Hanna relies on his stock horses to make a living, using them every week to muster cattle from the bush on his property.

So securing their health for the future is an important consideration.

And when the hendra virus reared its ugly head in our region during June and July of last year, the Hanna family was quick to respond, phoning a vet and getting their three work horses and child's pony vaccinated against the disease.

But as uncertainty descended over booster requirements and ultimate cost, the family withdrew from the program.

Now, they have been told their vet will not administer to their horses unless they re-enter the program - and that they must transport their horses to Casino or Grafton, which from Whiporie becomes an all-day affair - especially when there are four horses and only one double horse float.

"I thought we would get a lot more uptake on the vaccine if the charges were more realistic," Ben said.

"To spend $2000 a year for four horses, including travel costs, is extreme.

"In the beef game we are in the business of survival and these gentlemen are making it a lot harder.

"Beef production doesn't need any further increase in costs."

Meanwhile, pharmaceutical company Zeotis, which manufactures the vaccine, has said the cost is similar to a single shoeing of a horse.

But Ben disagrees.

"I wouldn't have spent $2000 shoeing horses in my life," he said.

TOO STEEP: Ben Hanna of Whiporie has concerns about the cost of hendra virus vaccinations.
TOO STEEP: Ben Hanna of Whiporie has concerns about the cost of hendra virus vaccinations. Contributed

"I've only ever bought one saddle. The rest were handed down to me."

Meanwhile, North Coast Local Land Services' district veterinarian based at Lismore, Phil Kemsley agreed there was uncertainty regarding the booster updates, but the release was important.

"It is a matter of expediency," he said.

"I am a strong advocate of the vaccine because when horse events take place they mix with adults and children.

"There is a remote chance of the virus spreading, but the result can be horrific.

"It is not about where the event is held but where the horses have been."

Mr Kemsley pointed out that the incubation period of the virus was 5-15 days, which meant horses could be infected and yet still travel to shows and club gatherings before showing signs of infection.

"Compared with other diseases, hendra is a rare event but it is increasing as our awareness increases," he said.

Mr Kemsley noted that the Northern Rivers' horse population was quite large and yet the numbers vaccinated were very small.

"The excuse that the vaccine costs a lot doesn't wash with me," he said, "particularly when you consider the price of a new saddle or a horse float."

According to manufacturer Zeotis, the Equivac HeV vaccine is not yet a registered chemical product however an application for registration has been submitted.

To date 13,200 horses in the Northern Rives Area have been vaccinated against hendra virus.

While vaccination uptake spiked after outbreaks last year, new horses continue to be vaccinated throughout our region every day.

"The key message about hendra virus and its threat to horses and humans has not changed," a statement from Zeotis said.

"Bats are the natural host of hendra and their presence ... puts the entire country at risk.


itment to vaccination as part of a holistic prevention plan is the best way to stop the spread of hendra virus."

Hendra virus tips

 Vaccinate your horses against the virus.

 Keep food and water in a sheltered area, away from trees which attract flying foxes.

 If your horse shows signs of illness, contact your vet. Symptoms of hendra virus vary.

 Minimise handling of the horse.

 If your vet is unavailable, call the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888.