A Crisis of Historic Proportions?
Although times have changed, the emotions and beliefs—which may be philosophical, political, or spiritual—underlying vaccine opposition have remained relatively consistent since Edward Jenner introduced vaccination. Health and medical scholars have described vaccination as one of the top 10 achievements of public health in the 20th century.1 Yet, opposition to vaccination has existed as long as vaccination itself, since the times of the anti-vaccination leagues.
Recently, vaccination controversies surrounding the safety and efficacy of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine have become polarizing in public opinion. Again, the reasons behind this “movement” are multiple and a mix of nonsensical, misinformed, and unscientific, but the concern for the veterinary profession is the bystander effect that such opinion has on the vaccination of pets.
Some “anti-vaxxers” are increasingly voicing loud opinions that vaccines are unnecessary and dangerous and that they can even cause a form of (canine) autism! There is no evidence that dogs can develop autism but in this day and age it seems we have to prove the preposterous is wrong rather than the sensible is right.
“Strange times are these in which we live… the person that dares to tell the truth is called at once a lunatic and fool.” — Plato
The animal health charity People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) surveyed 4600 U.K. pet owners and found that about 25% of dogs had not had their required vaccinations (according to PDSA, if this number is extrapolated to the general public, that equates to about 2.2 million dogs).2 The most common reason people gave for not vaccinating their dogs was that “it’s unnecessary.” Whatever the justification, every owner who does not vaccinate their pet contributes to endangering population-level immunity. A contributing paradoxical aspect to low vaccination rates is that because vaccines have been so successful at controlling animal diseases, many people have no experience with how devastating those diseases can be.
While the veterinary anti-vaccination movement may be niche, it shows no sign of stopping; in some U.S. states, anti-vaccination activists have recently pushed to make state laws about mandatory pet vaccinations laxer. It’s not only pet owners, though, that create a new acceptance of lower vaccination requirements. The AAHA has introduced an online “Lifestyle-Based Vaccine Calculator” that may seem to encourage reduced vaccination rates.3 If you check the boxes that describe how your dog lives, it will recommend the most important vaccines. We can’t complain that owners are not vaccinating their dogs appropriately if we do not educate with clear guidelines as to what is necessary and why. We may be standing on the precipice of a historic veterinary vaccination crisis and it is that history which is mocking us.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ten great public health achievements—United States, 1900-1999. MMWR. 1999;48(12):241-243.
- People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. PAW PDSA animal wellbeing report 2018. pdsa.org.uk/media/4371/paw-2018-full-web-ready.pdf? Published June 2018. Accessed May 10, 2019.
- American Animal Hospital Association. AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines. aaha.org/guidelines/canine_vaccination_guidelines/vaccine_calculator.aspx. Accessed April 10, 2019.