State with last annual rabies vaccination law prepares to change

Alabama is the last state in the union with a state law requiring annual rabies vaccinations for dogs and cats, but that is most likely about to change.

The existing law requires owners of dogs and cats to vaccinate their pets against rabies “when said animal reaches three months of age and annually thereafter.”

Under the proposed rule, known as SB 469, revaccinations would be required “when the animal reaches three months of age and subsequently in accordance with the intervals specified in the vaccines license.” The new rule would also require ferrets to be vaccinated for rabies.

Gov. Bob Riley is expected to sign SB 469 into law, since the measure was approved by the Alabama Legislature, 101-0, on May 14.

The law has been five years in the making, according to the Alabama Veterinary Medical Association (ALVMA), which supported the measure.

“While it was somewhat contentious, leadership in the ALVMA used an ad hoc committee, worked with other interested groups, and made the final verbage that was presented to the Legislature, about five years ago,” said ALVMA President Michael Newman, DVM, MS.“ They finally passed it this year.”

Newman said that he received some calls from disgruntled veterinarians when the bill passed, but most felt that the law was necessary and appropriate. The public was also in favor of the change, although not for the same reasons.

“This issue did create some significant image problems for our profession,” Newman said. “Many lay people felt that it was simply a money issue and veterinarians were ‘soaking’ the public by using the law to do it. … It will be interesting to see if vaccination compliance now goes up or down.”

State laws vary widely

Until this year, Arkansas also had a mandatory annual rabies vaccine requirement, but that state changed its law in February. Arkansas law now states: “All dogs and cats shall be vaccinated against rabies annually or as required by the State Board of Health.” But even though the new law is official, the change won’t take effect immediately, according to state authorities.

“The Administrative Procedures Act for changing rules and regulations established by the State Board of Health will take some time,” according to the Arkansas Department of Health. “Until these rules and regulations are changed, the requirement will remain for dogs and cats to receive their rabies vaccinations annually.”

Most states have some kind of law regarding rabies vaccinations. Many states that don’t specify a time interval for administering booster shots defer to the rules laid out in the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians (NASPHV) Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control. The compendium recommends the three-year vaccine over the one-year.

“Vaccines used in state and local rabies control programs should have at least a 3-year duration of immunity,” it reads. “This constitutes the most effective method of increasing the proportion of immunized dogs and cats in any population. No laboratory or epidemiologic data exist to support the annual or biennial administration of 3- or 4-year vaccines following the initial series.”

Other states require revaccinations according to what the manufacturer‘s vaccine label says. Some states say that vaccination schedules and requirements are to be determined by counties or municipalities, and still others do not mention rabies vaccinations in the state law books at all.

Alabama may be the last holdout on the annual vaccinations, but Newman said the real issue is not about the specifics of the law, but rather about compliance.

“I have been told we are last but frankly, I dont see any relevance in that especially if vaccination compliance drops,” he said.

NEWStat Legislation & regulation