CHEYENNE – The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has begun a multi-year study at its Thorne-Williams Wildlife Research Unit (formerly Sybille) near Wheatland to evaluate the efficacy of a vaccine against chronic wasting disease.

Chronic wasting disease is a neurological disease of elk, deer, and moose. The disease appears to be invariably fatal to the animal, but it is not thought to affect humans.

The vaccine was developed in Canada by the Pan-Provincial Vaccine Enterprise (PREVENT), a partnership of three leading infectious disease centers. PREVENT works closely with academia, industry, government, and not-for-profit sectors to accelerate vaccine development so that promising vaccines can move readily into clinical development and production.

In January, researchers trapped 50 elk calves at Game and Fish’s South Park feedground (south of Jackson) and transported them to the research unit. There, calves were split into two groups. One group was vaccinated and one was an unvaccinated control group. “Previous research has demonstrated that elk will naturally contract chronic wasting disease by being housed at the unit,” said Game and Fish Chief Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. Terry Kreeger. “We predict that the vaccinated group will live longer than the control group. It’s important to understand that even if the vaccine does not provide lifelong protection from chronic wasting disease, every extra year of survival the vaccine provides will mean increased production in an affected population.”

The vaccine is administered by hand at the research unit, which would not be practical for vaccinating wild elk. However, if the vaccine is found to be effective, future research will focus on delivery methods more appropriate for wild elk, such as baits. At a minimum, an effective vaccine administered to elk raised on private ranches could greatly reduce the spread of the disease. Chronic wasting disease is thought to have been primarily spread throughout parts of the United States and Canada by the unintentional movement of infected deer and elk among private game ranches.

“We figured that research over time would start providing wildlife managers with tools that could be used to combat this disease,” said Kreeger. “This is just the start of a long journey to evaluate and perfect these tools.”

A parallel vaccine study is being conducted on deer in Colorado.

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