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Staff and Client Education

The Veterinarian’s Role and Responsibilities

  • A veterinarian should assess every patient regardless of appointment type (wellness, acute care or follow-up visit) for current vaccination status based on age and lifestyle. Informed by this assessment, an individualized patient vaccination plan should be developed or modified and then discussed and agreed upon in collaboration with the cat owner.
  • In addition to overseeing the development of feline vaccination protocols, the veterinarian should provide staff education on the following:
    • Zoonotic disease prevention.
    • Separate administration sites for each vaccination (based on consistent vaccination site guidelines for that practice).
    • Potential life-threatening adverse events (i.e., anaphylaxis) and minor adverse events (i.e., localized swelling) following vaccination.
    • Vaccine reconstitution and handling (the AAFP recommends using vaccines within 30 minutes of reconstitution).53
    • Standard sharps safety procedures to prevent accidental needle sticks.63

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) online training module, “You Call the Shots: Vaccine Storage and Handling,” is a useful resource for staff training on vaccination.64 The practice should designate a person to be the primary vaccine coordinator for the facility. This person will be responsible for ensuring all vaccines are stored and handled correctly. A second staff member to serve as an alternate in the absence of the primary coordinator should be appointed (this is particularly important in case of after-hours emergencies). Both coordinators should be fully trained in routine and emergency policies and procedures.65

The healthcare team, led by the veterinarian, should emphasize and educate clients that they are part of a team approach to vaccine management, requiring the entire staff ’s understanding of zoonotic disease, core and non-core vaccines determined by the pet’s lifestyle, hospital policy, state law, client compliance, and adverse vaccination events.

Credentialed Veterinary Technician or Veterinary Assistant Roles and Responsibilities

A veterinary technician or assistant often assumes the role of designated vaccine coordinator, assisting in vaccination storage and inventory management. AAHA guidelines on vaccine storage and handling, and the CDC Vaccine Storage and Handling Toolkit are useful resources for this purpose.64,65 The vaccine coordinator is often responsible for reconstitution of vaccines and administration of vaccinations as directed by the attending veterinarian in compliance with state law.66 This individual is also often given responsibility for implementing feline-friendly handling techniques in the hospital setting to minimize stress during examinations and vaccine administration67 and for maintaining effective client education and follow-up, including verbal and written instructions on potential adverse events after vaccine administration and disease prevention.

Roles and Responsibilities of Reception and Other Client-Service Personnel

The reception staff is typically charged with maintaining patient files with vaccination information, including date administered, along with the production lot serial number and expiration date of the vaccine. Reception personnel are also responsible for contacting clients and scheduling follow-up appointments for booster series and yearly vaccinations in advance as directed by the prescribing veterinarian. Non-clinical staff should understand the potential lifethreatening and minor adverse events that can occur following vaccination that require veterinary assistance.

Vaccination Talking Points for Clients

Vaccines help protect against specific infectious diseases. They stimulate the body’s immune system to recognize and fight an infection. Without vaccination, many cats would become seriously ill or die from preventable diseases. Some infections are more difficult to prevent using vaccination than others. For example, vaccination is very effective against feline panleukopenia infection but does not entirely protect against respiratory virus infections. However, cats vaccinated against respiratory tract infections generally have milder illness and are far less likely to die from their disease.

A veterinarian is the best person to evaluate a cat’s individual vaccination needs. Many factors need to be taken into consideration when deciding how often and for what diseases a feline patient needs to be vaccinated. These considerations include health status, age, and lifestyle of the cat; a vaccine’s duration of immunity; what diseases are prevalent in the area; and the severity of endemic diseases. Even cats living exclusively indoors require regular vaccination because they still may be exposed to diseases in many circumstances, such as when traveling or boarding, visiting a veterinary practice, interacting with other cats, or through viruses carried on the pet owner’s hands or clothing.

Veterinarian-administered vaccination is particularly important with respect to rabies. Rabies is a fatal but preventable disease that can be spread to humans by contact with saliva from an infected individual. If an unvaccinated cat is scratched or bitten by a wild animal, or if it bites a person, it should be quarantined or euthanized. In many US states, it is against the law for anyone other than a licensed veterinarian to administer a rabies vaccine. Rabies vaccination of cats is required by law in many but not all states. Ontario is the only Canadian province that requires rabies vaccination of cats. Even in areas where it is not required, feline rabies vaccination is still recommended (i.e., it is a core vaccine).

Severe vaccine reactions are rare. Veterinarians should convey the appropriate risk-benefit analysis of any vaccination. Cats may experience mild, short-lived reactions (malaise) such as poor appetite, lethargy, and fever that will resolve without treatment. Clients should seek immediate veterinary attention if their cat begins vomiting or scratching, develops bumps (hives) or facial swelling, or has difficulty breathing within a few hours of being vaccinated. The client and veterinary practice team have the same goal: to provide the best possible care for the pet.

Client Education

Pet owner clients are an essential member of a cat’s healthcare team. Although clients can be instrumental in helping improve healthcare for their cats, the Task Force recommends that vaccination be performed by a veterinarian. Vaccination is a medical procedure. Vaccines are available through sources other than a veterinarian, but they may not protect a cat against disease unless properly stored, handled, and administered. The principles of feline vaccination outlined in the box below represent a basic client education overview for cat owners. To help educate clients about vaccine and general health issues, both AAHA and the AAFP have handouts available to members and non-members. 

Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health USA Inc., Elanco Animal Health, Merck Animal Health, and Zoetis Petcare supported the development of the
2020 AAHA/AAFP Feline Vaccination Guidelines and resources through an educational grant to AAHA.