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AAHA releases interim vaccination considerations for dogs and cats

2020-4-16 iStock-966384466 Vaccination Guidance 2 - blog.jpg

Most people know that the Veterinarian’s Oath focuses on caring for animals and protecting animal welfare. But there is also a very important line in the Oath: a newly minted veterinarian must also swear to benefit society through “the promotion of public health.”

It is in light of this that AAHA is releasing pandemic-specific interim considerations for vaccinating dogs and cats.

As the 2017 AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines task force lead editor Richard B. Ford, DVM, MS, DACVIM, DACVPM (Hon), notes, the official companion-animal vaccination guidelines are not changing, but there are suggested adjustments being made during this unprecedented time.

“These are interim vaccination recommendations that highlight which vaccines could be prioritized throughout the period that social distancing and shelter-in-place mandates restrict interaction with patients and clientele,” said Ford.

The main premise of the document is to balance the safety of the clients and veterinary staff and the safety of our veterinary patients, points out Amy Stone, DVM, PhD, chair of the 2020 AAHA/AAFP Feline Vaccination Guidelines (due to be released in the fall of 2020).

“These considerations are to give veterinarians tools to help determine which cases may be urgent to be seen for vaccinations for the safety of that patient and the owner,” Stone said.

For puppies between 6 and 20 weeks of age, the core vaccines for distemper, parvovirus, and adenovirus are still recommended. Others, such as noncore vaccinations for Leptospira or Lyme disease, are left to the discretion of individual doctors based on risk assessment. The document notes that adult dogs who have been vaccinated with the core vaccines are at lower risk and booster doses can likely be safely postponed.

“We know from many years of studies that the core canine vaccines are capable of providing long-lasting immunity,” said canine vaccination guidelines task force member Laurie J. Larson, DVM. “Because our modified live vaccines must infect and replicate to be effective, there is no benefit to administering this vaccine to an already-immune dog.” 

Recommendations for kittens between 6 and 20 weeks of age are similar, in that core vaccines (panleukopenia, herpesvirus, and calicivirus) are still recommended for kittens, while boosters for adult cats who have been vaccinated previously may be safely delayed.

“Our feline patients are likely very happy that their owners are home more with them,” Stone said. “As veterinarians, we need to make sure that they are protected adequately to keep them healthy and alleviate any anxiety their owners may have about common feline infectious diseases.”

For canine and feline rabies vaccinations, veterinarians are urged to comply with state and local public health regulations, which are likely not optional.

It will not surprise the veterinary community that vaccinating for canine or feline coronavirus is not recommended, but this recommendation may be important to continue to convey to the pet-owning public. Although coronavirus vaccines are licensed in the US for administration to both cats and dogs, the document notes that the coronavirus vaccine should not be administered under the premise that it will either limit or prevent COVID-19 in a pet. 

Regarding how veterinarians might communicate these considerations to clients, Ford believes in the individual practitioner’s voice: “It has always been my impression that individual practices are best qualified to communicate critical changes impacting operational policies, including vaccination protocols, to clientele.”

While keeping animal patients healthy and protected from disease is still a priority, the safety and health of the humans who care for them is paramount and must be given extra weight in this unusual time.

“COVID-19 has forced veterinary practices to make numerous changes in the way that care is delivered, with the goal of continuing to provide outstanding care for patients and clients while minimizing the risk for staff members and pet owners,” said Link V. Welborn, DVM, DABVP, CCRT, past president on the AAHA Board of Directors. “These interim considerations are designed to be a resource to help practices make appropriate recommendations to balance these goals.”

The full document, “Interim clinical considerations for companion-animal vaccination practice during the COVID-19 pandemic,” can be found here.

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