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Veterinary practise staff & the Hendra virus vaccine

Posted in Our Community @ Apr 2nd 2013 - By Judy Gillespie
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A few weeks ago I published a link to an article from the Weekend Australian Magazine ‘High Stakes of the Hendra Virus’ (March 16 -17) which discussed the Hendra virus and its subsequent vaccine.  It also quoted two experienced horse owners as saying they wouldn’t be using the vaccine.

What should veterinary staff with equine clients in vulnerable areas be saying to their clients with regards to the vaccine?

Three readers of the article had their opinions published in the ‘Inbox’ section The Weekend Australia Magazine (March 30-31):

Horse sense

With the Hendra vaccine now available (“High stakes”, March 16-17), why should a vet visit an unvaccinated, unwell horse on a property in a vulnerable area, risking their own life as well as those of their staff and families?  Hendra’s arrival has seen many leave this sector and suggesting vets will use the vaccine as a revenue raiser is a slur on the profession.  The ignorance and short-sightedness of some horse owners is disappointing.  Surely a vaccine is a small price to pay for the privilege of owning a horse.

L. Clarke, Upper Brookfield, Qld

It’s no surprise that the take-up of Hendra vaccine by horse owners is low.  First it’s not free. Second, if two women so intimately associated with the disease who are witnesses to the deaths of two veterinarians are not going to have thir precious horses vaccinated, previously unaffected owners will not be encouraged to use it.  Horse owners must understand that this is about saving human, not equine, lives.  If you own susceptible horses, it is your public duty to have them vaccinated.

Graeme Garde, Coolum Beach,  Qld

Horse owners obviously accept that their recreational pleasure outweighs the increased risks, but it is inconsiderate to expect others, such as veterinarians, to also face the risk of a serious but vaccine-preventable infection.

Paul Prociv, Mount Mellum, Qld

So what are your thoughts on the Hendra vaccine & the veterinary profession?

Is it fair for horse owners to not vaccinate their horse if they are not convinced that the vaccine is ‘safe’?

Or is the risk to those that work in the veterinary industry – both vets and vet nurses – just too great?

Should veterinary practices refuse to visit unwell horses in vulnerable areas unless the horse has been vaccinated? How would staff feel about this decision?

Will it become an occupational health and safety issue for veterinary practice owners?  Could a practice owner become liable if they allow staff members to attend an unvaccinated horse and the staff member subsequently becomes ill?

According to ‘Cost of Hendra vaccine deterring some horse owners’ (ABC Rural 27/11/2012) the cost of the vaccine is around $300.00 which is seen as a deterrent to some.

Should the vaccine be subsidised?  By whom?

Is this an individual vet practice issue or should there be industry wide standards?

The AVA Website has a page of information on the ‘Hendra Virus’ with some basic resources for horse owners.  Under the heading: ‘Hendra vaccine’ there is mention that ‘Resources and guidelines on the Hendra vaccine are available for vets and horse owners.’  Unfortunately the information is only available to those who can log in to the ‘Equine Veterinarian Australia’ website – should this information be freely available?

Or is it all about communication?

Do you think all of your equine clients are aware of the Hendra vaccine and the potential dangers the virus presents to unvaccinated horse and those in contact with them?

If you do think communication is the key then you may be interested in this banner for your Practice Facebook Page - for only $20.00, International Veterinary Branding (IVB) will customise it for you to add to your Facebook Page.

What do you think?  Tell me your opinion on the Hendra virus vaccine and how you think the veterinary industry should be dealing with the issue in the comments section below.


Toni Trollope @ Apr 8th 2013 10:42am
I sent this letter to the AVA just after the article. Maybe a bit long to put in as a comment but just thought you might like to read it. To whom it may concern, I also read the Hendra Vaccine article in the Weekend Australian which was quite disappointing. I was unable to open the letter of apology attached to the member alert so I haven't been able to read it. I hope it has some promise in it to have a written apology on the FRONT PAGE of the Australian so the readers of the newspaper can see that this is nothing to do with vets. I imagine the poor uptake is more to do with price of the vaccine and that they can't administer it themselves. Perhaps if the price was reduced (somehow) and/or they were able to administer the vaccination themselves there would be greater sales of the vaccine. You might say price should be no object in the face of danger but we all know it is. Vets get the reputation of charging too much when it's the drug companies that are responsible for the pricing structure most of the time so it would be nice to point out that as well, otherwise we get the "blame" for high prices. There must be other ways to deliver the message and if the safety and health of our colleagues and horse owners is so important, then profit shouldn't be the priority and we should be aiming to find suitable ways to get the vaccine out there whilst of course covering our costs. Profit is good but won't happen if the vaccine is not popular. I don't agree with the one sided negative publicity about our native bat populations either, which should also be important to the veterinary association and would like to see more balanced media coverage of this issue and perhaps the AVA could become more involved publicly. Hysteria never solved anything and you are more likely to die from a car crash I believe. At this stage anyway. I do not profess to know fully about Hendra virus or Lyssavirus but I can't see an epidemic out there and wonder why we humans can't just settle a little and get things in perspective. We share the planet we don't own it. Regards Toni Trollope
Judy @ Apr 9th 2013 11:02am
Thanks for adding in your letter to the AVA Toni - have you received a reply? I agree with your comments - so much is dependent on communication. I too was quite dismayed to see the comment in the article "I hope vets won't try to make a profit from it". This concerned me for so many reasons that I was pleased to see the letters published in support of vets. Now it seems the message needs to get out to everyone else!!
Kelly Manchee @ Apr 10th 2013 10:26am
The vaccine should Never be able to be administered by owners unless they don't want a veterinarian to ever attend their horse. Most owners are concientious but there are also many people who would say they have vaccinated & have not. Many strangles outbreaks are started by owners who say they have vaccinated or thought they were up to date. We should be like other countries where horses have passports for vaccination records. Hendra Virus is Deadly to humans & horses!
PAUL CLYNE @ Apr 10th 2013 6:55pm
I was talking to someone who was told by a vet here on the tablelands that he was going to charge $600 fee to attend horses that were not vaccinated and showed signs of the virus. Greedy or not.At that price people will not make the call and we will not know if there is the virus there or the horse just has a cold
Judy @ Apr 11th 2013 3:24pm
Thanks Kelly - I think your idea of vaccination passports is a good one. At least then the veterinary staff would know where they stand with each horse & could make their own judgement call.
Judy @ Apr 11th 2013 3:32pm
Hi Paul, I guess the vet in question may be trying to put such a high cost on attending unvaccinated horses that owners will prefer to pay for the vaccination? I know it sounds like a lot but it also seems that people's lives are at stake and the vaccination seems to offer good protection for veterinary staff AND owners & their families as well.
Steve @ Jun 30th 2013 10:13pm
To whom it may concern, I own a Farmstay that has limited resourses, I am 62 yrs old and need to vaccinate 16 horse every year, at the price of getting vaccines for that many it makes it almost impossible to afford it, is there any way to make it affordable for horse owners with multiple numbers.
Judy @ Jul 1st 2013 4:56pm
Hi Steve, thanks for stopping by. I can understand your concerns - 16 horses is a lot to vaccinate. Have you spoken with equine vets in your area and asked if they could do a bulk rate? Some other suggestions: contact the AVA or you may also find the 'Equine Veterinarians Group Australia' ( may be able to help? I'll add your question in to my weekly members newsletter & see if anyone has any suggestions for you. Regards Judy

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