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Animal Welfare Bill -
compulsory vaccination required?

COMPULSORY VACCINATIONS for dogs and cats may be built in to the Animal Welfare Bill as it is currently drafted – and as such looks set to cause outrage amongst pet owners who do not favour vaccination for their pets for fear of allergic reactions which can sometimes lead to illness or even death.

The AWB received its Third Reading in the House of Commons earlier this month and is now being considered by the House of Lords prior to its Second Reading in the Upper House on April 18th.

Much of the Bill’s finer detail is contained in Secondary Legislation that will be enacted over the months after the main Bill becomes law – and the vaccination issue is contained in the secondary legislative elements of the AWB.

Catherine O’Driscoll of the Canine Health Council has studied the Bill carefully and has found areas that cause concern. Under the relevant parts of the Bill, certain wording relating to ‘prevention of disease’ could be interpreted as making vaccination for dogs and cats compulsory.

As has been previously noted with the AWB, the devil is in the detail and although vaccination is not mentioned outright, it could be deemed to be ‘included’ within the meaning of certain segments of the Bill – a fact which O’Driscoll believes is deliberate obfuscation.
The following sections of the AWB contain the points of concern:

Animal Boarding Establishments Act 1963

Establishments where the boarding of animals is being carried on as a business are subject to the 1963 Act, which requires such establishments to be licensed by the local authority. For the purpose of this Act the keeping of such establishments is defined as the carrying on at any premises, including a private dwelling, of a business of providing accommodation for other people's cats and dogs.

The licence is granted at the discretion of the local authority which may take into account the suitability of the accommodation and whether the animals are well fed, exercised and protected from disease and fire.

'Puppy Farms'

Anyone who is in the business of breeding and selling dogs will require a licence from the local authority under the 1973 Act as amended by the 1999 Act. The local authority has discretion whether to grant a licence and must ensure that the animals will be suitably accommodated, fed, exercised and protected from disease and fire. It is for local authorities, which have extensive powers to check on the standards of health, welfare and accommodation of the animals, to enforce the requirements of the Act.

The 1999 Act provides that bitches are not mated until they are at least one year old and that they give birth to no more than six litters in a lifetime and no more than one litter per year. Accurate breeding records must be maintained by the establishment for tighter controls on the sale of dogs by dealers and pet shop; for identification for traded dogs; and stiffer penalties, including imprisonment.

Ms O’Driscoll told OUR DOGS: "The phrase ‘protected from disease’ could be interpreted that vaccination is mandatory for kennels and breeders. Yet there are circumstances in which vaccination is contraindicated yet poorly understood by the veterinary profession. According to many of the vaccine manufacturers’ data sheets: ‘A good immune response is reliant … on a fully competent immune system. Immunocompetence of the animal may be compromised by a variety of factors, including poor health, nutritional status, genetic factors, concurrent drug therapy and stress’.

"So what does it mean if ‘immunocompetence is compromised’? Vets and inspectors should stand back and consider this question.

"If the animal’s immune system is not ‘competent’ at time of vaccination, there can be a number of consequences. The first is that the animal may not be able to mount an immune response to the viral challenge in the vaccine, in which case the vaccine will cause the disease it is designed to prevent. This is, in my opinion, the main reason why we get outbreaks of disease in rescue situations: the animals are arriving in poor health, in a malnourished state, and they are probably under a lot of stress – their immune systems are compromised.

Any dog going into a boarding situation should not be vaccinated immediately prior, either, since the animal is bound to be under stress. Similarly, if an animal is being given steroids for existing inflammatory conditions, then a vaccine could overwhelm the animal (since steroids effectively turn the immune system off so it can’t respond to the vaccine challenge)."

Genetic factors can also render vaccines harmful, which would mean that vaccines should be contraindicated. The Merck Manual for humans, for example, cautions that individuals with B and/or T cell immunodeficiencies – or from families with B and/or T cell immunodeficiencies - should not receive live virus vaccines since they can cause death. Features of B and/or T cell immunodeficiencies include allergies, skin problems, heart problems and neurological problems.

O’Driscoll contends that if a breeder had taken this advice on board and decided that a particular line should not risk the MLV vaccine, he or she could potentially be prosecuted for using her best judgement, based upon sound scientific principles.

"Many dog owners now choose not to put their dogs in kennels because kennels typically demand evidence of annual vaccination," says O’Driscoll. "This itself is unscientific, since duration of immunity studies show protection against the major diseases for at least seven years, and serology tests show protection for life.

Now, however, the Bill includes any premises in which dogs are given accommodation – which means we potentially can’t look after a friend’s dog any more unless we demand that the dog is vaccinated? So potentially, the Animal Welfare Bill will be demanding annual vaccination, despite the science which says it is unnecessary and potentially harmful."

The matter of diet – which is another of the Canine Health Council’s concerns – also plays a crucial part in the equation. O’Driscoll concludes: "On the other hand, the Bill doesn’t mention the word ‘vaccination’ – maybe because those with vested interests don’t want to test it in the courts. It’s important that people reading the Animal Welfare Bill don’t assume that we’re going to be forced to vaccinate animals against the scientific evidence.

Suitably protected could mean biologically appropriate food for the species to support the immune system (and not ‘complete and balanced’ fast food). Appropriate diet is, in my view (based upon much research), the best way of preventing disease. The relationship between the veterinary profession and the pet fast food industry has of course also been questioned in the House of Commons."