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A new vaccine will protect honeybees from a bacterial disease affecting their larvae

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

There will be a new vaccine on the market, but not for humans. Last week, the Department of Agriculture conditionally approved the first vaccine for honeybees. It fights against a bacterial infection called American foulbrood.

CHRIS HIATT: It'll kill the hive. The brood, the new bees, they will - you'll have a snotty, disgusting larva come out. It won't be - you will not hatch out new bees.

RASCOE: That's Chris Hiatt, president of the American Honey Producers Association. Along with his brothers, Hiatt runs 19,000 hives. Their bees pollinate almond farms. They also took part in the vaccine trials, which were run by a biotech company called Dalan Animal Health.

HIATT: I think I had 800 hives with vaccinated queens. And so far, so good. It's early, early stages, but, yeah.

RASCOE: So I hear you. How do you vaccinate a bee? Do you have tiny little needles? No. The vaccine is put into a sugar candy that the queen bee eats. Queens love candy, if you didn't know that already, and the immunity is passed along to her developing offspring. And the vaccine isn't genetically modified. It contains a little of the dead bacterium.

HIATT: It's a more natural way to control the foulbrood. And we can have healthier hives without using antibiotics, which is harder on the bees.

RASCOE: Honeybees are critical. They pollinate all kinds of crops - passion fruit, squash, blueberries - plus plants grown for spices and medicine. But their numbers have been declining because of disease and climate change. Hiatt said he was very excited about what the new vaccine means for keeping bees alive.

HIATT: I just think the potential for, you know, solving, hopefully, other diseases - maybe we get in the varroa mite or viruses or anything. You know, we're still averaging 40% of the hives dying in the United States every winter. And so hopefully this will continue us down the road.

RASCOE: That was the president of the American Honey Producers Association, Chris Hiatt. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.