Vaccine Legislation Rejected in Maine and Nevada, Will Other States Follow Suit?

Controversial bills that would have required veterinarians to disclose vaccine risks to clients were defeated and expired in Maine and Nevada on April 6 and April 15, 2005, respectively. The Maine legislation will not be formally defeated until the full legislature meets at the end of this month, but William Bell, executive director for the Maine VMA said, “With a vote of 11-1 the legislation is virtually dead.” If passed, the legislation would have been the first in the nation.

In Nevada, veterinary professionals are concerned that language from an original vaccine bill, which would have required informed consent for vaccinations, could be added to two bills that are pending approval, said Michelle Wagner, executive director for the Nevada VMA. The legislation was heralded by a client who said that her dog died as a result of several live vaccines that were given at the same time. The state’s veterinary board is investigating the claim.

The client’s intent, Wagner said, was to protect consumers but “what she doesn’t understand is that [such protection] already exists” in our Veterinary Practice Act. Wagner urges other state VMAs to actively review bill drafts and advise members to talk with clients about every aspect of diagnostic procedures and vaccines.

“These consumers are talking,” Wagner said. “The woman in Maine knew that there was legislation pending in Nevada. You can’t just sit back and think, ‘this isn’t going to happen in my state.’”

The Maine legislation was introduced in May 2004, when a pet owner began lobbying for greater consumer education about vaccine side effects. She was effective in prompting a change to the state’s rabies vaccine requirement and licensing rule, which now requires veterinarians to vaccinate every three years. The law was confusing and antiquated, Bell said. “Our profession readily agreed” with that change, he added.

That was not the case with the pet owner’s next step, which was to propose a law that would require veterinarians to disclose vaccine risks to clients. Veterinarians educate their clients about the pros and cons of vaccines, Bell said, “but we do not want to be mandated into a one-size-fits all approach” to that education, he added. The pet owner and the Maine VMA presented the AAHA vaccine brochure to committee members as evidence of existing client educational materials. Veterinarians argued that the brochure is one option used to inform clients about vaccine risks while the pet owner wanted the legislature to require veterinarians to distribute the brochure, Bell said.

During the committee hearing the Maine VMA told politicians about a seminar, scheduled for April 30, 2005, that will focus on vaccination issues. The training, led by vaccine gurus Drs. Ronald Schulz and John Ellis, is expected to draw 100 veterinarians and may have turned the tide for the legislation, Bell said. “We had hard evidence to show that we are working to raise the level of awareness of our members about the vaccine issue,” he added.

Bell does not believe that veterinarians can prevent such attempt, but advises colleagues to remember that “they [veterinarians] are the respected authority on this [issue]. The public does trust us.”

NEWStat Legislation & regulation