US greenlights first vaccine to save honeybees

The vaccine, conditionally licensed by the US Department of Agriculture, is designed to protect honeybees, one of the world's most vital species, from American Foulbrood disease.

bees on honeycomb illustrative (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
bees on honeycomb illustrative
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)

The US Department of Agriculture approved the first-ever honeybee vaccine in order to protect the precious pollinators from being killed off by American foulbrood disease, the vaccine-makers Dalan Animal Health announced last week.

The licensed vaccine is administered by mixing it into the food eaten by the worker bees. The worker bees then produce royal jelly, which now incorporates the vaccine, and feed it to the queen bee. 

After this, the queen bee deposits fragments of the vaccine into her ovaries, which exposes all the still-developing larvae to it. This means all the new bees will be born with immunity.

What is killing all the honeybees?

Honeybees are one of the most important animal species in the agriculture sector. In fact, bee pollination is responsible for an estimated 75% of all global produce, and not just honey. 

Honeybee (credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)Honeybee (credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)

Despite this, bee numbers are in heavy decline around the world. This is due to a number of reasons, but one, in particular, is American foulbrood disease, which is one of the most widespread and destructive pathogens plaguing honeybees.

Caused by the Paenibacillus larvae, this disease can essentially kill off an entire hive. Not only that, but the hive will also be contaminated, so robber bees that come to steal honey will end up spreading the infection.

There is no way to prevent American foulbrood disease from spreading and the only treatment is to incinerate the infected beehive.

But this vaccine can change that.

"Our vaccine is a breakthrough in protecting honeybees," Dalan Animal Health CEO Dr. Annette Kleiser said in a statement. 

"We are ready to change how we care for insects, impacting food production on a global scale."

Trevor Tauzer, owner of Tauzer Apiaries and a board member of the California State Beekeepers Association, hailed the announced vaccine as "an exciting step forward for beekeepers."

"If we can prevent an infection in our hives, we can avoid costly treatments and focus our energy on other important elements of keeping our bees healthy."

Trevor Tauzer

"If we can prevent an infection in our hives, we can avoid costly treatments and focus our energy on other important elements of keeping our bees healthy," Tauzer said.

The vaccine will likely be available for purchase in the US for commercial beekeepers sometime in 2023.