US approves first bee vaccine amid global hay fever crisis

Com­mer­cial bee­keep­ers in the Unit­ed States will soon have a vac­cine that can save their hives from the most dev­as­tat­ing dis­ease fac­ing bees today.

The drug was designed by biotech­nol­o­gy com­pa­ny Dar­ran Ani­mal Health to pre­vent Amer­i­can foul­brood (AFB), an epi­dem­ic caused by the spore-form­ing bac­teri­um Paeni­bacil­lus larvae.

The oral vac­cine, incor­po­rat­ed into the food of the work­er bees in the hive, is trans­formed into “roy­al jel­ly” and fed to the queen bee.

This pathogen is known to have a sole host, the bee lar­vae. Once a nest is infect­ed, it is very dif­fi­cult to erad­i­cate. The only effec­tive way to per­ma­nent­ly kill the germs is to set the hive, tools, and the bees them­selves on fire.

Unburnt spores can live for over 70 years, ready to infect the next colony they pass by. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the bac­teri­um kills hives in as lit­tle as three weeks, leav­ing bee­keep­ers lit­tle time to react.

In 2022, Dar­ran spon­sored a place­bo-con­trolled tri­al to test the safe­ty and effi­ca­cy of the vac­cine, with great success.

The tests con­firmed that the drug not only pro­tect­ed work­er and queen bees from dying from AFB dis­ease, but also act­ed on the queen’s ovaries to immu­nize the next generation.

The US Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture will grant a two-year con­di­tion­al license for Dar­ran’s bee vac­cine, but it seems like­ly that the treat­ment will be wide­ly avail­able beyond that time.

Over the next two years, Dar­ran plans to dis­trib­ute the vac­cine on a lim­it­ed basis to bee­keep­ers in the Unit­ed States. After that, if all goes well, bee­keep­ers may be able to obtain direct access to the vaccine.

“For bee­keep­ers rely­ing on antibi­ot­ic treat­ments, which are lim­it­ed in effi­ca­cy and require a lot of time and ener­gy to apply to hives,” said Trevor Tauzer, bee­keep­er and board mem­ber of the Cal­i­for­nia Bee­keep­ers Asso­ci­a­tion. This is a wel­come step for­ward,” he said.

If we can pre­vent hive infec­tion, we can avoid cost­ly treat­ments and focus our ener­gies on oth­er impor­tant things that keep our bees healthy.”

The world­wide decline in hon­ey bee pop­u­la­tions is a seri­ous prob­lem for mod­ern society.

In the Unit­ed States alone, fac­tors such as inten­sive agri­cul­tur­al tech­niques, harm­ful pes­ti­cides, and cli­mate change have led to a 90% decline in hon­ey­bee pop­u­la­tions since 1962, lead­ing to what has been described as a “glob­al hay fever crisis.”

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