October 02, 2011

States Consider Controlling Rabies Intervals

In response to pet owner concerns and the loss of many healthy animals to dysfunction triggered by rabies vaccination, officials in Minnesota and Delaware are considering punitive measures for veterinarians who vaccinate more than legally required.

Squawks from opposing vets are quite revealing. They protest that they are medical experts and that the state would be removing their ability to practice medicine.

“The veterinarian is a professional,” said Dr. Heather Hirst, Delaware State Veterinarian. “A veterinarian is a source of medical expertise and they need to be allowed to use clinical judgment to make decisions about how they use vaccines.”

How ironic. That's exactly what mandatory rabies vaccination does.

They protest that if they don't vaccinate "off label," more than manufacturers recommend and states mandate, that clients will not remember to bring them in before the "vaccination expires."

But what constitutes need is another open question. Dr. John Baillie, a clinic owner in Lake Elmo, Minn., said he routinely administers three-year rabies vaccines to patients every two years. 
The reason, which he said he explains to clients, is that he prefers to alternate the years in which patients receive distemper and rabies shots. “Then we’re not overloading them with the viral vaccinations,” Baillie said.
A biennial schedule also ensures that patients aren’t late for their required rabies shot, he said. “If everyone was always in on time (with their pet) it would be a moot point,” Baillie said. “But that doesn’t happen.”
He recently monitored how many clients visited the clinic on time for their pets’ rabies vaccinations. In two weeks, he counted 11 clients whose pets were behind schedule, one by six months.
 However, because he had used a three-year vaccine on the patient, Baillie said, “that animal was still protected against rabies and the client was protected against legal ramifications.”

It's true that ethical veterinarians prefer to see fur-patients annually in order to practice preventative medicine. So do dentists who are also prefer to prevent dental issues rather than remedy them. But responsible pet owners, like people who take care of their teeth, seek annual wellness visits without the need for manipulation.  And for the 999th time, rabies certificates lapse, immunization never expires.

Some ethical veterinarians oppose this measure on the basis of its unintended consequence. If the state punishes "off label" use of rabies vaccine by fines or other sanctions, then they are duty-bound to administer it according to the manufacturers recommendations even when they concede this is entirely too often.

Damned if we do. Damned if we don't.

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