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To Jab Or Not To Jab

Obviously this would have happened a lot sooner if the US were affected by equine influenza in the same fashion, but it seems that a class action lawsuit is starting to come together in Australia. I am intrigued to see exactly who they plan to sue.

Disagreement continues over whether or not vaccination should be the next step — in this corner, we have veterinarian John Walker:

Asked his solution, Walker replied: “Vaccinate ASAP and get on equal footing with the rest of the world.

“If we don’t vaccinate, we will have another nave (horse) population that is susceptible to the flu in five or 10 years time and we will go through this whole rigmarole again.

“This AusVet plan is clearly a failure. It can’t contain the virus. That has been evidenced in New South Wales and Queensland, with new cases spreading up all the time. Why are we attempting to control it?

“This containment policy in NSW is sending people to the wall and they are dying by slow strangulation.”

And on the other side of the debate, we have Dr. David Pascoe:

“This could all be over in one or two months if people comply, but if they don’t then it will be a long and drawn out process,” Dr Pascoe said.

“It’s a highly contagious virus and it can spread 100 km/h in a truck and that what’s people don’t realise. That’s how fast it can spread.”

Dr Pascoe’s warning followed reports that people stranded at Morgan Park at Warwick, the site where EI was first confirmed in south-east Queensland, have frequently left to make trips into the town where they mingled with locals.


“The vaccine we have in Australia probably won’t stop this virus, which means we’d have to import a new vaccine which would be very expensive,” he said.

“The biggest threat with this outbreak is the breaches of horse movement.”

Even if a a vaccination program were introduced immediately, it would not be a speedy solution; quarantines would still be in place, even though it seems that people are violating them quite openly in some places.

The larger issue this brings up is that there is no real international standard for dealing with horses that fly in and out from country to country — they have passports with health certificates, but the standards each ‘host’ country employs vary widely (rather like the situation with what drugs are allowed in different racing jurisdictions — this document makes for fascinating reading in that regard).

(In case any of the Tin Hat Brigade were wondering, the EU requires horse passports with detailed medical information mostly so that they can determine which horses are ‘fit for human consumption’ — feel free to insert your own New World Order conspiracy theory there if you are so inclined, but please check Snopes first). The reality is that by allowing horses from other regions into your country, you are inviting disease, even with isolation procedures in place.

Racehorses in the UK (indeed, in most countries) are required to be vaccinated against EI — in fact, a vet was struck off earlier this year for falsifying vaccination dates in the horses’ passports. The International Federation of Horse Racing Authorities maintains specific guidelines on EI — but note that they are simply recommendations:

20.19. Equine Influenza Vaccination

20.19.1. It is most strongly recommended that because of the highly infectious nature
of this viral respiratory disease, all horses should be properly vaccinated
against equine influenza.

20.19.2. Vaccines containing the most updated strains of equine influenza viruses
should be used and administered according to manufacturer’s

20.19.3. A primary equine influenza vaccination course must have comprised at least
2 doses given within an interval of 4 to 6 weeks. Following a primary course
a horse must have received annual boosters within a regular 12-month
period. Failure to do so will necessitate the horse receiving a primary course
prior to export.

20.19.4. During the 60 days immediately prior to export from its country of origin
(permanent/usual residency), but not within 14 days of export, the horse
must have been administered a certified primary or booster course of
approved equine influenza vaccinations as defined in 20.19.3.

Given that Australia allows importation of horses who are coming from countries where vaccination is required (and disease endemic), it would follow that a change of the rules is in order in the long run — but whether it can solve the current crisis is another matter. For now, whether vaccination goes ahead or not, maintaining the biosecurity procedures will need to remain a reality for now if Victoria is to remain flu-free.

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