Society

COVID-19 Vaccine for Mink and Finnraccoon Underway


Jan 14 2021 - Researchers at the University of Helsinki are working together with the Finnish Fur Breeders' Association FIFUR  to develop a corona vaccine for mink and Finnraccoon. The goal is to have a vaccine that protects farm animals against Covid-19 as soon as possible for widespread use and distribution. "The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes the Covid-19 disease, is not just a new infectious disease that poses a serious threat to human health. Its spread to animals in agriculture, the fur industry and wildlife in Finland must be prevented quickly and effectively. This may require exceptional, very rapid action that we have seen regarding the human vaccine, says Tarja Sironen, Assistant Professor of Threatening Infectious Diseases at the University of Helsinki, whose research team aims to combat the spread of SARS-CoV-2 virus in Finnish society. Of the fur animal species, the mink and Finnraccoon are susceptible to covid-19 infection. An effective vaccine must prevent the emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus on Finnish fur farms, says Jussi Peura, research director leading the corona contingency and vaccine project at FIFUR. "Experimental animal experiments and verifications related to vaccine development take time, but we are working on getting a working vaccine ready and distributed to producers as soon as possible," says Peura. "Finns have responded responsibly to the new coronavirus threat with their own actions, and fortunately vaccination on humans has already begun. We are now developing an animal vaccine with FIFUR's partner network to ensure the safety of fur breeding for many years to come, states FIFUR's CEO Marja Tiura. "Preliminary immunization results from fur animal experiments are now also promising. This project provides important research information about vaccines' effectiveness and protects the health of animals and people who take care of animals, says Professor Olli Vapalahti. The fight against corona continues in full force The fur breeders have successfully followed the strict guidelines for protection that have been drawn up together with the Finnish authorities since the spring and summer of 2020. The results of the Food Authority's mink test have been negative, and so far no Covid-19 infections in fur animals have been detected on Finnish fur farms. "We will continue to fight the corona with all our might in cooperation with the authorities. In Denmark, a hasty decision was made in the autumn to kill the country's minks and thus the base for the industry in Denmark. With the vaccine project, we are working responsibly to ensure the success of the Finnish industry now that the prices of fur have also shown signs of rising, Marja Tiura continues.

Society

MEP: Mink case shows we need common ground for disease prevention in EU


Dec 09 2020 - MEP Asger Christensen (Renew) said the handling of mink during the current Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated very different approaches to disease prevention between European countries. This calls for increased European coordination in the future. "The pandemic has revealed that different countries have different approaches to the situation, both when we talk about the human side and animal productions. We should exchange knowledge and experience to establish a common ground for the handling of such situations in the future. However, I would like to emphasize that I am against any ban from the EU on the production of fur. This is solely a member state competence," he said. As a Danish dairy farmer with mink farming neighbours and -friends, he has even participated in the culling of Danish mink. The decision to cull all mink in Denmark was announced by the Danish government on the 4th of November and has remained widely questioned in the Danish debate ever since. MEP Asger Christensen is also critical towards the decision, which he describes as surprising and awful. "The situation and the decision-making process has received sharp criticism in Denmark. There has been a lack of second opinions and verification of the scientific foundation for the decisions made. Denmark is a small country, and we need outside perspectives. Too few people have been involved in the process. I think the government exaggerated the drama, for example when they said Northern Jutland could become the new Wuhan because of cluster-5," he said. There is, however, no turning back from the decision at this point. There will be no mink production in Denmark until at least 2022. Yet, there are good reasons to take away the learnings and put current experiences into future perspectives. At the moment an EC working paper on mink farming is underway, and Asger Christensen thinks it will point to increased international coordination. "I expect the report will point to a lack of common European coordination for this situation. We have a common strategy already in other areas like foot-and-mouth disease, where we have a precise manual for what we must do during outbreaks. We should have a better common ground to address such situations, rather than dealing with them from border to border," he said.

Society

Denmark put precaution before proportionality in national scandal


Dec 04 2020 - A new book throws more light on the closing of Danish mink farming, that happened in a process now coined the biggest democratic scandal in modern Danish history. Author and public health policy expert Kjeld Møller Pedersen’s book concludes that the Danish public health policies enforced as a result of the corona crisis have followed an overly cautious approach, in which rule of law, expert advice and socio-economics have receded into the background. Amongst other policy examples, the most shining one is ‘minkgate’. "The government was under a lot of pressure - it is only fair to mention. But instead of pursuing the principle of proportionality, where the least intrusive measures are taken in relation to the purpose, the government has consistently pushed the precautionary principle in front of it and applied an argument that actions should be taken here and now. This is undoubtedly related to the fact that with the coronavirus we have been confronted with something unknown and dangerous. Maybe the politicians were struck with a bit of anxiety and panic, and in these situations, they have listened less to the professionals who are used to dealing these things," Kjeld Møller Pedersen, who is a professor at the Southern University Of Denmark, said. According to experts from Danish Veterinary Consortium, veterinary professionals and organisations were not consulted in line with the Danish and European tradition of bringing together relevant parties when trying to limit infection. The holistic approach is also called One Health, an approach also promoted by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) in their recent risk assessments of the mink situation. Veterinary Virology PhD and former Deputy Chief in ECDC, Per Have, points out that the central arguments for eliminating the entire mink industry – the risk for reduced vaccine effects and the speed of new mutations in mink – have proved too weak to justify the decision. "The biggest problem is that you have made a big decision without proportionality on the wrong basis," he said. Also, Kjeld Møller Pedersen points to the proposed vaccine reduced vaccine effect of the so-called cluster 5 mutation as a problematic argument for the cull. When the genome sequencing data was finally released by Danish authorities, experts in and outside Denmark quickly labelled the fear of reduced vaccine effect as exaggerated. "It all had to go so fast that there was no documentation of the effect of the measures initiated, which is part of the precautionary principle. But to say it in a diplomatic way, it can certainly be said that healthcare documentation of the closing (of the mink industry) has been incomplete. Instead, you have followed an overly cautious approach," Kjeld Møller Pedersen said.

Society

Mink is threat to COVID vaccine? Not so sure


Nov 19 2020 - Scientists are raising serious doubt over the risk assessment of Statens Serum Institute (SSI) that mink-related mutation of the coronavirus could pose a threat to a future vaccine. While the Danish government decided to cull the entire mink population, including healthy herds based on the risk assessment, researchers ponder if there is enough scientific evidence to back its conclusions. The Danish Medicines Agency announced it was not consulted before the government took its decision adding that it is "unlikely" that the mutation will have a "significant impact on the effect of the first generation of vaccines." SSI claims that the mutation found the so-called cluster-5 could, in theory, weaken efforts for a new vaccine due to a change in the spike (S) protein, which is a key target for vaccines. "There is nothing in the report that gives reason to conclude that this particular mutation may constitute a danger to a vaccine. Therefore, one cannot conclude too strongly on the significance of the cluster-5 mutation for a vaccine," said Professor Jens Lundgren, emphasising that these are only preliminary results. The Danish institute only released more details about the research late in the process, which made the international scientific community call for it to be reviewed. Some are openly questioning the validity of the claim that mink-related mutation is a hazard for the vaccine. According to Dr Anthony Fauci, United States' top infectious disease official, the issue should be taken seriously but "it doesn't look like something that's going to be a really big problem for the vaccines that are currently being used to induce an immune response". "When you look at the binding sites on the spike protein … it does not appear at this point that the mutation that has been identified in the minks is going to have an impact on vaccines and the effect of a vaccine-induced immune response," he said in a discussion broadcast by the Chatham House think-tank. In order to be a threat to the future vaccine, the new strain of the virus associated with mink farms needs to be more contagious than the current coronavirus. The Statens Serum Institute announced this is not the case. Moreover, once developed vaccines could relatively easy be modified, say scientists, to protect against several strains of the virus. "The vaccines that are under development do not only attack the small part that is mutated in mink variants. The good vaccines will make our immune system respond to many different parts of the virus, said the immunologist Mike Barnbob. The World Health Organisation also states that mutations in viruses are normal, and jumping to conclusions without further research is risky. Asked to comment on the decision of the Danish government, WHO spokesperson Dr Margaret Harris clarified that they don't think the culling was a necessary measure. She also reminded that the primary source of contamination remains human-to-human transition, and mutations need to be monitored. The European Disease and Control centre advised to increased testing amongst fur farmers, workers and animals. Both WHO and ECDC underlined that all findings are preliminary and further investigations are needed to assess the situation. The European Commission has reached out to vaccine manufacturers to evaluate the risk as some producers already confirmed that they would be able to cover Cluster-5 mutation with the vaccines.

Society

Mink farming temporarily on halt in Denmark – but was it necessary?


Nov 18 2020 - In a scandalous turn of events, the Danish government temporarily put an end to mink farming due to concerns over public health. In the process, the order to cull the entire Danish mink herd including healthy animals was recognized as unconstitutional, a circumstance that continues to be met with massive criticism from the opposition, commentators and constitutional experts in Denmark. When the government announced the cull of all mink in Denmark on 4 November, it stressed the reason to be brand new lab tests demonstrating a potential reduced vaccine effect, due to the so-called cluster-5 mutation that amongst other can develop on a mink farm. Shortly after however, international scientists scrutinized the Danish lab test, only to return with the verdict that the Danish risk assessment on global vaccine effects was highly under-researched. Under-informed decision? Roughly speaking, the decision has divided Danish public opinion in two: those who in line with the government believe the decision to cull all animals was the right thing to do as a precautionary principle, and those who in line with the opposition parties believe the decision was scientifically under-informed and could have been handled without crumbling the Danish mink industry by eliminating all breeder animals. In particular, the government has been criticized for relying on too narrow scientific advice, leaving behind the Danish tradition of a broad collaboration between involved stakeholders– also coined The Danish Model. The Danish Veterinary Society, for example, stated that “the special insight veterinarians could have contributed to create clarification about possibilities and limitations of diagnostics in animal herds, as well as the handling of internal and external disease transmission.” The veterinary position in Denmark is that too little focus has been put on preventing infections in mink farms in the first place. Instead, the Danish mink strategy spiralled out of control, working against the government’s own commitment to save the mink industry in Denmark. Minister of Agriculture steps down Meanwhile, the illegal order to cull healthy mink will stand until mid-December. Since all Danish opposition parties refuse to provide 3/4 of the parliamentary vote needed to make the culling order constitutional, only the normal, more time consuming, the democratic process will work to make the order legal for the government. In practical terms, the delayed legislation makes no difference: The Danish mink farmers have loyally culled their mink in spite of the unconstitutional order given to them by the government. Until now the scandalous handling of ‘minkgate’ has led to the departure of the Danish agricultural minister on 18 November, but the government’s refusal to withdraw the illegal culling order rightfully raises questions over the state of democracy in Denmark. The last consequence may not have been seen yet in what commentators and politicians have coined the biggest democratic scandal in Danish history. The ban on mink farming in Denmark is temporary, and the law proposal in making works with an option for mink farmers to return to business, when the global pandemic is under control. The full potential of Danish mink farming is, however, unlikely to recover given the uncertain circumstances. To date, 284 mink farms have been infected in Denmark. They have all been culled.

Society

No International Recommendations to Cull Healthy Mink Herds


Nov 16 2020 - International scientific bodies recommend increased biosecurity and monitoring of mink farms in the wake of Denmark’s controversial decision to cull all mink in the country. But neither the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) nor the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) advises to follow the Danish example and cull healthy mink. In a rapid risk assessment published 12 November, ECDC makes a call for increased biosecurity and monitoring of mink farms with regular testing of animals and people but said national authorities should consider culling mink from infected farms and destroying raw pelts in accordance with appropriate biosecurity measures. ECDC also concludes that "the overall level of risk to human health posed by SARS-CoV-2 mink related variants is low for the general population and no different than other SARS-CoV-2 variants." Global veterinary body OIE follows the same track in their publication of 16 November and suggests the introduction of farm biosecurity plans, that set out to prevent the transfer of disease. Farm biosecurity plans should address animal and manure movement, movement of people, safe handling of containers, and other associated materials that could serve as fomites. Detailed plans for increased monitoring, disposal of dead animals, and cleaning and disinfection should also be addressed together with protection equipment for employees. Fur Europe cooperates with ECDC on the ongoing risk assessment. CEO Mette Lykke Nielsen said international coordination of the mink issue is relevant because Covid-19 is an international pandemic. "Both OIE and ECDC stress the need for more research and knowledge, and we support the decision to get more scientific knowledge into this debate. Mink farms are only problematic to the extent they become infected in the first place. There is no scientific foundation to cull healthy animals," she said.

Society

Political Support to Steer Mink Farming Through Corona Crisis


Oct 29 2020 - Mink farmers in Denmark and The Netherlands have been hard hit by the global pandemic as mink have proven susceptible to SARS-CoV-2, and more than 200 mink farms in the two countries have been infected. While the Netherlands decided to compensate mink farmers, and accelerate an already existing decision to ban mink farming, there is broad political support in Denmark to help the industry through the crisis. In a meeting in the Environment and Food Committee 28 October, the Danish Minister for Environment and Food, Mogens Jensen, (the Social Democratic Party) said public health is of highest priority, but that does not mean the government are planning to close the mink production. On the contrary, the minister announced his willingness to work out forward-looking solutions in cooperation with the mink farmers, as well as other political parties. "There would be many industries we would have to close down in order to be sure there is no spread of the virus in society. The government has no plans to close mink farming," the minister said. A total of 166 mink farms have been infected by the coronavirus in Denmark since June. In late September the authorities changed their original isolation strategy to a culling strategy and decided to cull healthy farms within 7,8 kilometres of infected farms as a precautionary measure. This has led to massive criticism from both opposition parties and veterinary experts and coupled with the increasing number of infected farms. The culling strategy further led to the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration not having enough manpower to cull all the animals targeted by the strategy - perhaps as many as 6 million mink. Meanwhile, some of the infected mink farms have achieved herd immunity and developed antibodies. Danish research has revealed the virus no longer live on in the mink farm environment after 5-6 weeks, and the Danish mink farmers want to avoid culling healthy animals. Fur Europe Chairman John Papsø welcomed the government support to mink farming but said the short-term culling of healthy animals is inefficient and expensive. "It is a waste of resources to cull healthy animals, which are otherwise ready to be pelted and sold in 1-2 weeks. Public health must be the priority, but we all have to remember that Covid-19 is a global pandemic upheld by the human-to-human transmission of the virus," John Papsø said. Outside the mink farmer community, only four people in Danish society have been infected by a covid-19 strain from a mink farm. Looking into the next production season, John Papsø said solutions for mink farmers are likely to involve increased biosecurity and monitoring. Sweden, Italy and Spain have each had a mink farm infected by coronavirus as well.

Society

Here is what You Should Know About COVID-19 Disease and Mink Farms


Sep 15 2020 - Humans, not mink farms, spread coronavirus in society. This is one of the conclusions of a new study from experts in the Dutch Outbreak Management Team Zoonosis (OMT-Z), who have conducted research on Covid-19 infected mink farms in The Netherlands. Genetic comparison documented that DNA sequences in people living in the local communities around mink farms reflected the general diversity in The Netherlands, and were not related to DNA sequences found in mink farms in the area. Yet, caution is needed with regards to Covid-19 and mink farms. The study also confirms that mink-to-human transmission of coronavirus is possible, and strict biosecurity measures are essential to keep the virus in check on mink farms. People spread coronavirus between mink farms. In The Netherlands 52 farms have been infected with coronavirus since April. The infected Dutch farms have not contributed to spreading the virus in human society, but mink farms have spread coronavirus to other mink farms. The OMT-Z research was able to link DNA sequences from most farms in the research with each other. Humans turned out to be the most common epidemiological link, for example between farms with the same owner, exchange of farm workers or common feed supply. In some cases, there was no obvious link between farms with shared DNA sequences. Therefore, farm cats or other animals are mentioned in the OMZ-T research as potential transmitters between mink farms. Mink farms as Covid-19 reservoirs is a theory, not a fact As a consequence of the increased number of Covid-19 infected mink farms in The Netherlands, the Dutch state decided to compensate mink farmers, and accelerate the ban on mink farming from original 31 December 2024 to March 2021 (effectively the end of the ongoing production season). As healthy mink farms pose no risk to public health, the Dutch decision is also tied to mink farms’ assumed potential as so-called reservoirs for coronavirus. While OMT-Z considers this potential “likely”, they also conclude that more research is needed to demonstrate if mink can be an actual reservoir of SARS-CoV-2. In all likelihood, we will get more knowledge about this soon. Currently, research is taking place on Covid-19 infected mink farms in Denmark. As a starting point, Denmark chose a different strategy from The Netherlands. Instead of culling infected mink farms, the Danish authorities decided to isolate such farms under strict biosecurity rules, coupled with a nationwide monitoring programme. This strategy provides a unique opportunity to study the development of Covid-19 disease on mink farms. New research may challenge reservoir theory The question is this: Will mink populations infected with Covid-19 achieve herd immunity and virus die out - or will virus continue to live on in the mink farm environment? If the virus continues to thrive in the farm environment, even after Covid-19 disease have swept through the farm, it makes up a reservoir. It was the Dutch experts from OMT-Z who originally coined the theory about Covid-19 mink farm reservoirs. While the theory also underpins the accelerated farming ban in The Netherlands, it was necessarily based on epidemiological assumptions since the ‘clinical trial’ to prove it was aborted with the political decision to cull mink farms as a precautionary measure. This happened approximately four weeks after the farm was infected with Covid-19. This is not the case of the mink farm research in Denmark. Due to the current Danish no-cull strategy, the on-farm study of coronavirus can continue, and the researchers can directly monitor if the virus lives on in the farm environment or not. The research from Denmark will be published in the coming months. Besides mink farms in Denmark and The Netherlands, Covid-19 has also been found in one Spanish farm, and two farms in Utah, USA. The Spanish farm was culled as a precautionary measure, while an isolation strategy was imposed on the two farms in Utah.