A significant number of pet owners in the U.S. refuse to have their dogs vaccinated despite experts' warnings and reminders.
About 37% of dog owners in the United States believed that getting their dogs vaccine causes autism.
40% believe that canine vaccines are unsafe.
22% said they are ineffective, and 30% consider them to be medically unnecessary.
This was the result of a survey conducted by a researcher from the Boston University School of Public Health to quantify Canine Vaccine Hesitancy (CHV) among pet owners in the United States.
The study, which was published in the journal Vaccine, asked about 2,200 dog owner-participants through the research sampling firm YouGov.
It concluded that there exists a “pervasive canine vaccine hesitancy (CVH) in dog owner subpopulations.”
This hesitation translates to owners refusing to vaccinate their dogs even against rabies, despite existing state laws and public health risks.
On Vaccines, Autism, and Canine Vaccine Hesitancy
A research paper written by physician Andrew Wakefield in 1998 first suggested the link between vaccines and autism, fueling the refusal of anti-vaxxers to human medications.
And while this study has already been retracted and debunked by many subsequent studies, the fear and refusal of vaccines remain among some.
This vaccine resistance was further exacerbated by the recent Covid-19 pandemic.
In light of this new study about CVH, it looks like the issue of vaccine resistance also overspilled to pet ownership.
According to BU-SPH Assistant Professor Matt Motta, the study's lead author, anti-science beliefs have a big impact on public health policies.
“The vaccine spillover effects that we document in our research underscore the importance of restoring trust in human vaccine safety and efficacy,” Motta said. “If non-vaccination were to become more common, our pets, vets, and even our friends and family risk coming into contact with vaccine-preventable diseases.”
“There is currently no reliable scientific evidence to indicate autism in dogs or a link between vaccination and autism,” former BVA president Gudrun Ravetz said.
“We know from the example of the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine and its now disproven link to autism in children that scaremongering can lead to a loss of public confidence in vaccination and knee-jerk reactions that can lead to outbreaks of disease. Distemper and parvovirus are still killers in pets – and the reason we no longer see these on a wider scale is because most owners sensibly choose to vaccinate,” Ravetz added.
Pet Ownership and State Laws about Canine Vaccination
According to the American Pet Products Association, 66% or equivalent to 86.9 million households in the U.S. own pets.
And most of this number (about 65.1 million households) has dogs.
There are different local laws and regulations when it comes to vaccinating dogs, depending on where you live.
Out of the 50 states in the United States, 24 of them require vaccination at a certain age, plus booster shots at certain intervals.
16 states have specifications exempting some dogs from vaccination if deemed medically unnecessary by the vet.
8 states only require rabies vaccination for imported animals at around 3 months old and above.
Only two states have no laws or regulation that mandates vaccination against rabies statewide.
It's important to note that some cities and counties also implement their own rabies vaccination laws.
You can check this PDF about Rabies Vaccination Laws by State published by the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Canine Vaccines and Public Health
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 59,000 people die each year because of rabies across the globe.
Rabies, according to the World Health Organization, is vaccine-preventable.
The American Animal Hospital Association also calls vaccinations “a cornerstone of canine preventive healthcare.”
They recommend that all dogs receive a core set of vaccines against rabies, distemper, adenovirus, parvovirus, and parainfluenza.
AAHA also encourages pet owners to vaccinate their dogs with non-core vaccines for Lyme disease, Bordetella (which causes kennel cough), and other diseases.
The study's co-author and veterinarian, Dr. Gabriella Motta, stressed that vaccines are safe and effective in preventing dogs from contracting these diseases.
“With any drug, treatment, or vaccine, there is always a risk of adverse effects, but the risk with the rabies vaccine is quite low—especially when compared to the risk of rabies infection, which is almost 100 percent lethal,” she said.
For those who worry about the cost, Dr. Motta said that pet owners may inquire about the low-cost options at local veterinary clinics.
While the researchers believed that the Canine Vaccine Hesitancy observed today is not widespread enough to threaten public health safety in the U.S., the possibility is always present given the rapid spread of another ‘disease' among people and pet owners—misinformation.
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