In the pork industry, COVID-19 has been swiftly replacing African swine fever (ASF) headlines over the last few weeks. According to Pig Progress, the coronavirus does not directly affect swine, but it does significantly impact the business side of the industry. Various regions around the globe are being quarantined, stock markets are plummeting, and important events have been cancelled.

Although COVID-19 is negatively affecting various agricultural industries worldwide, researchers are still on the hunt for an ASF vaccine.

The pork industry and COVID-19

In Argentina, for instance, pig breeder Topigs Norsvin urged its consumers not to shake hands, and to take all the necessary precautions, including to self-sanitise, in a bid to avoid contamination.

Many companies have implemented additional safety measures, which means that pork producers can expect a lower level of interaction within the agricultural sector.

Food safety is still of the utmost importance. Various international nutrition companies are reassuring the public that they are taking every possible measure to guarantee that products do not pose any risk for COVID-19 contamination.

In Austria, Biomin announced an international travel ban for all employees and consultants, and strict limitations were set regarding external visits to offices and production facilities.

ASF vaccine progress

According to Pigg Progress, the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute in China recently reported that they have developed an effective live-attenuated vaccine by deleting seven gene segments from the original virus. So far, the virus has been tested on both pigs and sows.

In the United States (US), Dr Douglas Gladue and Dr Manuel Borca’s teams at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York are also working on an ASF vaccine.

In Dr Gladue’s opinion, the most interesting part of the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute’s research is that the Chinese tested the new vaccine candidate in pregnant sows with no negative side effects observed, which hasn’t yet been done in the US. This gives hope that live attenuated vaccines could be used as an effective tool for controlling disease outbreaks.

What will the first ASF vaccine look like?

According to Dr Willie Loeffen, head of the statutory task unit for transmissible animal diseases at Wageningen Bioveterinary Research in Lelystad in the Netherlands, the first ASF vaccine will most likely be injectable and focus on homologous protection. However, to vaccinate wild boars, the vaccine will also have to be available for oral administration. – Claudi Nortjé, Plaas Media