Yamal reindeer get mass vaccination against anthrax

At least 658,000 animals are set to receive the vaccine, with efforts starting earlier than ever this year in hopes of preventing an outbreak like the one in 2016.

By Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer - March 22, 2018
Reindeer in Russia’s Arctic are being vaccinated en masse to prevent anthrax outbreaks. (Thomas Nilsen / The Independent Barents Observer)

Regional authorities in Russia’s Yamalo-Nenets region on March 12th kickstarted this year’s major immunization effort as the first teams of veterinarians moved out to remote tundra areas with bags filled up with vaccine doses against anthrax.

In the course of the year, at least 658,000 reindeer are to be vaccinated, the first 50,000 already in the course of March, regional authorities say.

It is all part of an effort to prevent an outbreak of the deadly infection, similar to the one in 2016. That year, a young boy died and at least 115 people were hospitalized. Military personnel were sent to the region and burned the bodies of more than 2,300 infected reindeer to halt the spread of the infection.

About 667,000 reindeer in the region were subsequently vaccinated in a huge immunization effort.

This year, about 160 people will be engaged in the efforts. They will operate 30 stationary and 100 mobile vaccination units. It is the second year in the row that reindeer have been mass vaccinated against anthrax, but the first time that they start as early as March.

According to regional chief veterinarian Andrey Listishenko, spring is the most practical and cheapest period for the vaccination effort. Furthermore, many reindeer herders have themselves requested vaccination at this time, he says in a press release.

Listishenko and his people now have on hand a total of 520,000 doses and another 800,000 is to arrive in the course of the year. That will be sufficient both for this and next year, the regional authorities say.

The 2016 anthrax outbreak is believed to have come from an old burial site with reindeer that died of the disease more than 70 years ago. Veterinary authorities fear that more outbreaks will occur as climate change is melting the tundra permafrost bringing more similar burials sites to the open.

“There are thousands of such cattle graves across Russia and many of them are inside the Arctic Circle,” says Sergey Netesov, Chief of the bionanotechnology, microbiology and virology laboratory with Novosibirsk State university told the media.

Anthrax infections are lethal unless treated with antibiotics.