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Monday, 19 October 2015
Page: 11488

Myxomatosis Vaccine

Dear Dr Jensen,

Thank you for your letter of 18 August 2015 to the Hon. Greg Hunt MP, enclosing a petition submitted for the consideration of the House of Representative Standing Committee on Petitions on allowing a myxomatosis vaccine in Australia for pet rabbits.

I understand the expectation that, as Minister responsible for these matters raised in the petition under Standing Order 209(b), I will lodge a written response with the petitions committee.

The Australian Government remains concerned that wild rabbits have been implicated in broad scale land degradation, the near-extinction or extinction of small native mammals and plants and are a food source maintaining populations of other introduced pests. Pest animal control is complex and many factors—including technical, environmental, social and animal welfare issues—must be considered when developing appropriate policies and solutions. Biological control agents such as the myxoma virus are a necessary option for controlling some pest animal species so that native biodiversity can be protected. In this case, the myxoma virus remains an important measure in keeping wild rabbits under control.

There are no vaccines registered for use in Australia for protecting rabbits against myxomatosis. Historically, the vaccines available overseas have been live attenuated vaccines, also known as modified live vaccines, and these have not been allowed to be used in Australia. The myxoma virus can be present in the skin of infected rabbits and can then be spread from one rabbit to another via mosquitoes or fleas. When domestic rabbits are vaccinated with a modified live vaccine, there may still be enough of the vaccine virus in their skin for it to be spread by these insects into wild rabbit populations.

This potential spread could result in wild rabbits increasing their immunity to myxomatosis, which would allow wild rabbits to dramatically increase in number. Overseas, this has been seen as positive by some looking to conserve wild rabbit populations. In contrast, the potential spread of the vaccine virus is a concern in Australia because an increase in wild rabbit numbers would cause further damage to the environment and economic loss.

The CSIRO and the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre identified myxomatosis vaccines that might be suitable for use in Australia; however, these vaccines have not been developed beyond the experimental stage. If a vaccine was successfully developed the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority would require an application from a vaccine manufacturer to register the product for use in Australia. Only vaccine manufacturers can decide whether it is commercially viable for them to engage in this process to develop a vaccine. The relevant Government agencies would then need to consider whether to approve its use. The potential for the use of the vaccine to increase wild rabbit immunity to myxomatosis would be a key consideration in this process.

Protecting domestic rabbits from myxomatosis in Australia must be done by means other than vaccination. As the virus is spread from one rabbit to another by mosquitoes and fleas, protecting rabbits from these insects can help prevent a myxomatosis infection. I encourage rabbit owners to ask their veterinarians for advice on how to do this.

I would like to draw your attention to a statement from the Chief Veterinary Officer on myxomatosis vaccine availability in Australia and also some frequently asked questions, which can be found at:

Thank you again for bringing your concerns to my attention.

from the Minister for Agriculture, Mr Joyce