Sheep are suffering in the most appalling and inexcusable manner, to produce a rabies vaccine that has been discredited by the World Health Organisation (which has recommended a global ban), and which is already banned by several State goverments in India including Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala1.
The Semple or Neural Tissue Anti-Rabies Vaccine (NTV or ARV) is outmoded. There is a safer vaccine available, which is produced from human cells, without animal suffering.
NTV is made by injecting rabies virus into the brains of living sheep through a hole drilled into their skulls. After one to two weeks the sheep become paralysed and are then killed by decapitation so that their brains can be removed1 and homogenised in a blender. The virus is inactivated by physical or chemical means2. Annually, 35,000 litres of anti-rabies vaccine are produced by this shocking method, using 30,000 sheep.
NTV causes suffering not only to the sheep involved but also to many of the human patients injected following a bite from a potentially infected animal. A series of 14-21 painful injections of inactivated virus vaccine is given into the skin of the abdomen to produce antibodies (blood proteins which attack foreign invaders) to the rabies virus2. Side-effects range from painful abdominal swellings, asthma and nosebleeds to serious nerve complications resulting in paralysis and death, and can affect up to 70% of vaccine recipients.
The Tissue Culture Vaccine (TCV) is produced, as its name indicates, in a culture dish. Tissue cultures, commonly grown from human cells, are infected with a strain of rabies. The virus is then inactivated, purified and administered by 4-6 injections into the arm. In addition to being a humane alternative option and being more potent it is safer for people too, having no known side-effects.
The Indian Ministry of Health appears unwilling to abandon the outdated sheep brain vaccine and comply with the WHO’s recommended ban and switch to the TCV. All other countries, with the exception of Tunisia, have already done so. Cell culture vaccines cost around a hundred times more than the nerve tissue vaccine but the financial cost should be weighed against the cost in animal and human suffering.
Three centres in India are already producing TCV. The National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) is currently producing around 4 million vials of the TCV but is reported to have the capacity to meet the entire 14 million vial requirement for the entire country and has said it is prepared to drop the price.
The NAVS is calling for this method of rabies vaccine production to be banned.
1Manushi No. 132
2Kaplan MM & Koprowski H. Rabies. Scientific American (offprint) January 1980, 242 (1): 120-134
3Pettricciani, JC. Ongoing tragedy of rabies. The Lancet October 30 1993, 342: 1067