March 27, 2008

Wyoming Tribune-Eagle: Vaccine overkill?

Vaccine overkill?

By Baylie Davis

CHEYENNE -- Even though city residents might have the option of getting rabies vaccines for their pets that last three years, according to city ordinance, the vaccine has to be administered every year.

There are two types of vaccines available. The only difference between them is how long they’ve been proven effective, Wyoming State Veterinarian Walter Cook said.

A one-year vaccine might be the same formula as the three-year vaccine, but it may or may not work as long, he said.

Depending on what the dog owner asks for and what the veterinarian has available, pets can be vaccinated with either type.

But even if the animal gets the three-year vaccine, the city requires that rabies tags be updated every year, which means a new shot every year.

Cook said the state will recognize the three-year vaccination, but local jurisdictions are allowed to make their own rules.

In Cheyenne, a yearly update is required; in the county, the tags must be updated based on “current veterinary standards,” said Paula Cook, Cheyenne and Laramie County animal control supervisor. That means a three-year vaccine is current for three years outside of Cheyenne.

Paula Cook said ensuring accountability is one reason for requiring a yearly update in Cheyenne. It’s a lot harder to keep track of vaccine records for three years than for one year, and it’s harder to determine if they’re current, she said.

The bottom line, Cheyenne Animal Shelter Executive Director Rick Collord said, is there are two schools of thought among experts: one, that requiring yearly vaccinations is overkill; the other that requiring yearly vaccines is safer and more reliable.

Collord said he tends to agree with the latter, after having been through a rabies outbreak in Texas.

“My main concern is that we don’t get a rabies outbreak,” he said, adding that requiring a yearly vaccination means people are less likely to forget about it.

For people who can remember to do the vaccination every three years, however, the yearly requirement might feel excessive. But for those who have trouble remembering to follow even a yearly schedule, a three-year schedule might be even harder.

Frontier Veterinary Center head veterinary technician Amanda Adsit said using the three-year vaccine is “sort of like insurance” because they have a few clients who don’t follow the yearly schedule, despite the ordinance. This way, they know the dogs are protected for three years, even though they may get fined by the city for out-of-date tags.

The cost of yearly visits is one concern of pet owners at Frontier, Adsit said.

The vaccine itself only costs $16 there, but an office visit costs $46, and other vaccines can increase the price also. Plus, it isn’t always convenient to make an appointment, coax Fido into the backseat, hold him down when he sees the cats in the office and then hold him down some more when it’s time for the needle.

Some people are pretty vocal about their frustration with having to come in every year, even though they get a three-year vaccine at Frontier, Adsit said.

Another concern pet owners have is whether their dogs could get sick from getting a vaccine every year that is meant to last for three years.

Walter Cook said there is no danger of that. In fact, dogs that have been exposed to other animals with rabies will often be given another vaccination, even if theirs is current, just to make sure they don’t get sick.

Having a tag with the animal’s current veterinarian on it also is valuable if the dog gets lost, hit by a car or needs to be taken to a vet quickly, Paula Cook and Dr. Christopher Church, a veterinarian at the Cheyenne Pet Clinic, added.

Not having current tags “wastes precious time” in getting the animal taken care of, Paula Cook said.

Although she said she felt the one-year ordinance was reasonable, Paula Cook added that if the law would allow it, she doesn’t see any problem with three-year vaccines having tags that last three years.

“What the law says and what we can do are two different things,” she said.

Walter Cook recommends that curious pet owners ask about the vaccine that their dog will receive. The type, whether three-year or one-year, can be found on the label of the vaccine itself.

Mayor Jack Spiker said the issue of how often vaccinations are necessary has come up several times in the City Council, and that he didn’t have a good answer for why the city requires a yearly vaccination.

“I would take a lead from the animal shelter folks,” he said. “If we had a recommendation from the animal shelter and the board, we’d certainly amend our ordinance to reflect that.”

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