The USDA has granted a conditional license for the nation's first E. coli O157:H7 cattle vaccine. The vaccine is designed to reduce the level of E. coli O157:H7 in the intestines of host cattle, and to prevent the bacteria from spreading in feed lots.
Although additional efficacy tests still need to be conducted, the conditional license granted by the USDA will allow Epitopix LLC, the manufacturer of the vaccine, to begin offering the product for sale. The company developed the vaccine along with researchers from Kansas State University and West Texas A&M University.
During testing, researchers conducted a challenge study, a natural infection trial, and two large-pen field studies of the vaccine at commercial feedlots. According to reports, the vaccine reduced the number of cattle testing positive for the O157:H7 bacteria by 85 percent. Of the animals that did test positive for the pathogen, the vaccine reportedly eliminated 98 percent of the bacteria. "Those are impressive numbers," said Dr. Michael Doyle, director of the University of Georgia's Center for Food Safety. In turn, Jim Sandstrom, of Epitopix, confirmed that the vaccine “represents a significant breakthrough in the beef industry's ongoing effort to reduce E. coli O157:H7."
Following additional studies, Epitopix will likely gain full approval for the vaccine. The company estimates that, eventually, the vaccine will protect as many as 10 million cattle every year (about 1/4 of the country's annual cattle supply), and will likely cost less than $10 per head. One of the country's largest beef producers has already expressed interest in purchasing the vaccine.