Mistaken beliefs about pet vaccines and a growing hesitancy towards vaccination reported amongst pet owners could give rise to deadly diseases that not only affect our much-loved companion animals but also people.
With PDSA’s annual PAW Report signalling a 7% drop in vaccination rates for both dogs and cats between 2011 and 2017, and only 50% rabbits receiving a primary vaccination when young in 2017, with 55% not receiving their annual booster vaccinations (1) vaccine coverage is falling dangerously low for achieving the 70% coverage recommended to ensure ‘herd immunity’, which means pets could once again be at risk from painful and potentially deadly illnesses.
NOAH chief executive Dawn Howard says: “Vaccination has to some extent been a victim of its own success, as many pet owners no longer see preventable diseases, such as parvovirus or distemper in dogs, first hand. Therefore, they may not feel it is necessary to keep their animal protected. Vaccination by responsible owners has kept many diseases in check, but control is not the same as eradication.
“There are also some misconceptions: for example, many cat owners believe that indoor cats do not need vaccinations. Unfortunately, cats can still contract disease even when kept indoors, even though the risk is lower. Some of the diseases we vaccinate cats against can only be passed on via direct contact, however a few can also be brought in from outside by their owners.
“The consequences of the ‘anti-vaxx movement’ in human medicine in the United States has led to an emergency outbreak of measles being declared in New York state. Measles cases in the UK increased sharply in 2018: disease came mainly from Europe but spread particularly in teenagers who had missed out on vaccinations when they were young.(2) Vaccine hesitancy has been named by the World health Organisation (WHO) as one of the top 10 health threats of the year.(3) It has been suggested by a leading vet that lack of uptake in the veterinary medicine sector could similarly increase the risk of previously eradicated or seldom seen diseases in our pets (4)”, she said.
According to the PDSA, one of the key misconceptions affecting vaccine uptake relates to affordability which also needs to be addressed. "While a NOAH study showed 50% of pet owners would spare no expense to treat their pet if it was ill, vaccination is the most effective and least expensive way to keep pets healthy in the first place.”
Some vaccinations are advised to help prevent zoonoses, diseases that can cause illness in both animals and people. Examples of zoonosis are rabies and leptospirosis. Rabies is a deadly disease for both humans and animals. While it is not present in the UK, with an increase in pet travel to countries where there may be rabies, having your animal correctly vaccinated for rabies is vital and is a legal requirement.(6) Leptospirosis is endemic in the UK and can cause severe liver failure in dogs and humans. Annual vaccination of dogs reduces the risk of leptospirosis keeping humans and animals healthy.
“It is important to understand and overcome these barriers to vaccination. NOAH will continue to work with others to help educate pet owners, farmers and the general public on the benefits, as well as the safety, efficacy and working mechanisms, of vaccination”, Dawn said.
“To help do this, NOAH supports World Animal Vaccination Day, an initiative of global animal health association HealthforAnimals and the World Veterinary Association”, added Dawn.
“Pet owners can take positive action by talking to their vet about the best protection for their pet, and what vaccinations they need. This can depend on an animal’s lifestyle and things like contact with other animals. The success of vaccination in controlling disease in our pets has led to a perceived diminished risk – but we cannot stop vaccinating because we think all disease has gone,” she said.
Notes for editors
1. For more information please contact Dawn Howard or Alison Glennon at NOAH on 020 8367 3131 or see www.noah.co.uk
2. NOAH represents the UK animal health industry. It promotes the benefits of safe, effective quality products and services for the health and welfare of all animals.
3. World Animal Vaccination Day on 20 April is an initiative of the global animal health association HealthforAnimals and the World Veterinary Association, occurring annually. HealthforAnimals represents the animal health sector: manufacturers of veterinary pharmaceuticals, vaccines and other animal health products throughout the world, as well as the associations that represent companies at national and regional level, such as NOAH. Across Europe it is supported by AnimalhealthEurope, which represents 12 of Europe’s leading manufacturers of animal health products and 20 national associations, again including NOAH.
(3) Ten threats to global health in 2019 https://www.who.int/emergencies/ten-threats-to-global-health-in-2019
(4) In an age of vaccine hesitancy, complacency over animal immunisation is a deadly mistake, Wolfgang Dohne (President FECAVA) https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/04/12/age-vaccine-hesitancy-complacency-animal-immunisation-deadly/?WT.mc_id=tmg_share_em
(5) Stats on ‘our pet obsessions’ were taken from research carried out on behalf of NOAH by Opinion Matters among 1,094 small pet owners over the age of 18 living in the UK between 30 July and 08 August 2012