The principal wildlife reservoir of Mycobacterium bovis in Ireland is the European badger. Studies in the Republic of Ireland (RoI) have shown that badgers culled in association with cattle herd tuberculosis breakdowns (focal culling) have a higher prevalence of infection than the badger population at large. This observation is one rationale for the medium term national strategy of focal badger culling. A vaccination strategy for the control of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in badgers is a preferred long-term option. The Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine has been shown to decrease disease severity in captive badgers under controlled conditions. As the vaccine has been tested in a controlled environment with precise information on infection pressure, it cannot be assumed a priori that the effects of vaccination are similar in the wild, where other environmental and/or ecological factors prevail. For this reason we have designed a vaccine field trial to assess the impact of vaccination on the incidence of TB infection in a wild badger population. The selected study area for the vaccine trial (approximately 755 square kilometers) is divided into three zones each of which has similar characteristics in terms of size, number of main badger setts, cattle herds, cattle and land classification type. Three vaccination levels (100%, 50% and 0%) will be allocated to the three zones in a way that a gradient of vaccination coverage North to South is achieved. The middle zone (zone B) will be vaccinated at a 50% coverage but zone A and C will be randomly allocated with 100% or 0% vaccination coverage. Vaccination within zone B will be done randomly at individual badger level. The objective of this paper is to describe the design of a field tuberculosis vaccination trial for badgers, the epidemiological methods that were used to design the trial and the subsequent data analysis. The analysis will enable us to quantify the magnitude of the observed vaccination effect on M. bovis transmission in badgers under field conditions and to improve our knowledge of the biological effects of vaccination on susceptibility and infectiousness.
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