U.S. veterinarians believe another 2.5 million pigs will die over the next year, Reuters reported today, despite the conditional license granted by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for a new vaccine combatting a deadly pig virus which first entered the U.S. in May of last year. According to the USDA’s Livestock Slaughter report released on May 22, 2014, pork production was down two percent from the previous year, while hog slaughter decreased a full five percent from April 2013. Following a summer lull, some veterinarians claim, piglets might once again sicken with Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) and so contribute to a rise in pork prices projected for this coming fall.

PEDv is a highly contagious swine disease that causes vomiting and diarrhea in older animals and extreme dehydration and mortality of up to 100 percent in piglets less than one week of age. Since entering the U.S., PEDv has spread to nearly 30 states and throughout North America, causing the death of millions of piglets. PEDv cannot spread to humans, the USDA reports, and does not threaten food safety. In recent weeks, the spread of PEDv, which thrives in cold and damp conditions, has slowed due to warmer temperatures.  

Since late 2013, Harrisvaccines has sold nearly two million doses of its new PEDv vaccine, called iPED, through veterinary prescription. “The impact of this disease has been devastating,” said Dr. Hank Harris, founder and CEO of Harrisvaccines. With the conditional license, the company’s vaccine will be sold directly to veterinarians and swine producers battling PEDv. Veterinarians will use iPED to vaccinate sows with the expectation that it will build antibodies to the virus and transmit those through their milk to newborn piglets.

Generally, the USDA grants a conditional license to meet an emergency or unmet need. Such a license widens the marketing and distribution channels for a product, and assures potential customers that it has demonstrated a reasonable expectation of efficacy while also meeting all safety and purity requirements.  The company plans, as reported in Feedstuffs, to move forward with gaining full USDA approval so it will be able to market iPED even more broadly to distributors and veterinarians. 

On Wednesday, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he was confident the vaccine would help fight the deadly virus. Yet, some veterinarians do not believe U.S. pork producers are out of the woods. "There is still plenty of disease out there and it will be back with a vengeance in the fall," Eric Neumann, a veterinarian studying the transmission of PEDv, told Reuters.