The recent pandemic brought vaccine hesitancy to the forefront in the US and now a new study shows this skepticism has extended to our canine companions.
With the pet population on the rise in the US, the new study led by Boston University’s School of Public Health in partnership with YouGov, showed that dog parents consider vaccines administered to dogs to be unsafe (37%), while 22% consider it to be ineffective and/or unnecessary (30%). The study also showed more than half, or 53%, of dog parents endorse at least one of these three positions.
Data for this study was derived from a nationally representative online survey of US adults, conducted between March 30 and April 10, 2023.
Meanwhile, 37% of dog parents also believe that canine vaccination could cause their dogs to develop autism, even though the School of Public Health maintained there is no scientific data that validates this risk for animals or humans.
“Canine vaccine hesitancy (CVH) can be thought about as dog owners’ skepticism about the safety and efficacy of administering routine vaccinations to their dogs,” the study stated. “CVH is problematic not only because it may inspire vaccine refusal, which may in turn facilitate infectious disease spread in both canine and human populations, but because it may contribute to veterinary care provider mental/physical health risks.”
According to the School of Public Health, the findings show indication of a Covid vaccine ‘spillover’ effect in the US, that people who hold negative attitudes toward human vaccines are more likely to hold negative views toward vaccinating their pets. These dog parents are also more likely to oppose policies that encourage widespread rabies vaccination, and less likely to make the effort to vaccinate their pets.
These attitudes are in contrast to most state-level polices in the US, where almost all states require domestic dogs to be vaccinated against rabies.
The rabies disease still poses a potential health threat, as it carries a near 100% fatality rate, and the canine rabies vaccine is much less accessible in developing countries than in the US and other high-income countries. More than 59,000 people die from canine-mediated rabies across the globe each year.
“The vaccine spillover effects that we document in our research underscore the importance of restoring trust in human vaccine safety and efficacy,” says study lead and corresponding author Matt Motta, assistant professor of health law, policy & management at Boston University, who studies how anti-science beliefs and attitudes affect health and health policies. “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.”
The American Animal Hospital Association calls vaccinations ‘a cornerstone of canine preventive healthcare’ and recommends that all dogs (barring specific medical reasons), receive a core set of vaccines for rabies, distemper, adenovirus, parvovirus, and parainfluenza, and advises that many dogs receive additional “non-core” inoculations for Lyme disease, Bordetella, and other diseases.
The study’s coauthor Gabriella Motta, a veterinarian at Glenolden Veterinary Hospital in Glenolden, Pa. (and sister of Matt Motta), said working with animals that are not current on their rabies vaccine poses increased risks for veterinarians and all animal care attendants at a hospital.
Gabriella Motta added, “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.”
The researchers do not believe canine vaccine hesitancy is widespread enough to pose a current threat to public health in the US, but that could change if vaccine misinformation and mistrust about animal and human vaccines are not quelled with sound, scientific data.
For pet parents who plan to travel with their pets, many countries require an updated rabies vaccine before your dog or cat could enter the country or return to the US.