August 07, 2007

Petition Presented to Texas Health Services

The rule change to exempt sick or senior pets will be published for public comment; however, this is far from a done deal.

There are two barriers:

1. Dr. Tom Sidwa, the Texas State Veterinarian who manages the Zoonosis division, is looking for support from the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians. He is skeptical of the current knowledge of vaccinology because it does not come from the manufacturer. And he fears that giving an inch will allow a mile.

In one state that grants this exemption, a veterinarian who does not believe in vaccinations, wrote an exemption for all her patients.

So Dr. Sidwa must be assured that any multi-year vaccine protocol comes with a USDA approved drug. And he needs guidelines and language to write the rule to support the exemption without compromising what is perceived as a successful program to control rabies.

2. The Council members themselves were disturbingly ignorant and alarmingly obtuse.

It was just like any committee meeting I've ever attended. 12 people are present. They've all been briefed and agreed before the meeting what they're going to do. The same 3 or 4 people comment on everything. The rest of the committee members are there to vote.

Of the 18 proposed rule changes, all were approved. This was the only one to excite controversy and any evidence of emotion.

In Dr. Bob's comments, he stated that Michel F. Aubert determined that the chances of an animal that has received one rabies vaccination contracting rabies is less than 1 in 8 million.

Glenda Kane, the chairperson from Corpus Christi, responded fearfully. There has been a whole bunch of possums in her neighborhood that had rabies; "they were really big."

James Springfield, an executive with Valley Baptist Health System, ridiculed the idea.

"If Mr. Aubert thinks that there's only a 1 in 8 million chance of a vaccinated pet getting rabies, I wonder what the chances are for a pet that has no vaccination."

Dr. Lewis Foxhall, associate vice president for health policy at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center and is an associate professor of clinical cancer prevention was cautious.

"Rabies prevention is a successful program; we have to proceed cautiously."

There you have it.

A rich lady from Corpus Christi whose career has been serving on boards. A fat cat MBA profiting from state sponsored drug programs in the Texas Rio Grande Valley. A former family physician and professional policy wonk.

I won't hold it against them that they are appointed by Rick Perry, affectionately known as Governor Good Hair.

I'll also forgive them their ignorance of current vaccinology. Unless they were informed in advance by Dr. Sidwa, they can't know what they don't know.

I can object to their apparent inability to grasp the point.

No one was asking them to change the rabies law. We are only asking them to relax the rules insofar as it affects companion animals who are judged to be unhealthy or especially vulnerable by a licensed veterinarian.

I feel strongly that this is a reasonable request and did not remotely deserve to be met with condescension and ridicule. And I am more than a little annoyed that I let Madame Chair cut me off before I could finish reading our petition.

I accept responsibility.

I should have condensed it to fit the 3 minute limit for public comment. I could have insisted on more time since I am representing 500 taxpayers. So that's on me. Still, I got the distinct impression she cut me off before 3 minutes elapsed because she didn't like what she heard.

With good reason.

When you read aloud the laundry list of potential negative side effects, they are overwhelming. Virtually every organ can be affected. I wanted to crack a joke to break the tension, but time was dear.


So I got a lot of information yesterday, not the least of which is the public sound system in the state conference room sucks. I could hardly hear anything and I'm afraid I missed a lot of what Glenda Kane said. I think she declared that changing the law was outside the scope of the Council's authority.

I knew that, so condescending only emphasizes my failure to get to the point in the allotted time.


Oh well.

In any case, the petition got into the public record. The science got into the public record. The council approved the publication of a proposed rule change nevertheless. And we are off to the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians with scientists and studies in December.

I have left open the petition, which is still getting signatures despite the fact that public support seems to have little effect on an appointed board. A few good words from well placed friends of the Council leaders would certainly help to calm their fears and open their minds.

More important, giving Dr. Sidwa the support he needs is probably the surest route to success. He's not going out on a limb to recommend a rule change without substantive support.

Dr. Rogers thinks I should take the petition nationally.

While I agree that this is a national issue, in dire need of national guidelines, its tentacles hold so fast locally, I'm thinking to bloom where I'm planted.

Even if the State relaxed the rules to exempt sick and senior pets, we still have county and city ordinances tied to licensing dogs and cats that supercede them.

And whatever we accomplish in Texas can inform advocates and activists in other states. Combined with a national awareness campaign to shape guidelines by the National Association of Public Health Veterinarians, this could effect substantive reform.

Not only would state and local public health officials be more open to extending the interval for the rabies vaccine, but they would also be friendly to an exemption for sick and senior pets - both consistent with the USDA approved drug labeling that says 'FOR HEALTHY ANIMALS ONLY.'

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