Three Yearly Vaccination

Category: Clinic

The debate over vaccination duration

In July 2011 The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) released a position statement regarding the vaccination of dogs and cats. It stated vaccination was required no more frequently than every three years for "core vaccines"1. This was to bring Australia into line with most international recommendations for vaccination and in particularly the recommendations of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) (Read their guidelines here).

You can read the AVA position statement by clicking here.

This has caused considerable controversy within the veterinary community. Different vets have very strong opinions about the validity of the recommendation.
Some vets believe this will compromise pet health. It will certainly have impacts on the way veterinary clinics financially operate.

In January 2011, in anticipation of this official position, Boronia Veterinary Clinic moved proactively to adopt 3 yearly vaccination.
We believed the benefits for pets and owners clearly outweigh the arguments against triennial vaccination.

1 "Core vaccines"
Dogs : Canine distemper virus, canine adenovirus and canine parvovirus.
Cats : Feline parvovirus, feline calicivirus and feline herpesvirus.

What about cats?

Since 2011 there has been vigorous debate about the three year recommendation in cats which might be going into high risk environments such as catteries. The debate is based on two international groups;
a) The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) which endorses three year vaccination in cats
(Read their guidelines here)

b) The European Advisory Board on Cat Diseases (ABCD) which says herpes virus and calicivirus (feline flu) should be vaccinated annually in high risk environments such as catteries.

(Read their guidelines for herpes virus vaccination here and calicivirus vaccination here)

But there is no registered three year vaccine for cats...

1Off label dispensing
Vets are allowed to recommend using a product contrary to the manufacturers registered claims when the recommendation is based on evidence such as that provided by the WSAVA. This is called "off-label" dispensing.

The feline situation is made more complicated as unlike with dog vaccines, there are no cat vaccines that have a registered claim for three years. The recommendations of the WSAVA are therefore considered "off-label"1.

All these issues have resulted in confusion as to what is the "right" answer. It has also resulted in situations where our owners have had their cats refused boarding because they were only vaccinated every three years.

Accordingly, and with some reluctance, we have adopted a policy of annual vaccination for cats using catteries but maintain that for cats not using catteries, three yearly vaccination reflects an international consensus of experts, regardless if this advice is off label or not.

What are the arguments against vaccinating every three years?

1. The current recommendations work so well and we have almost no side effects. Why change?
It is true. The rate of side effects to vaccination is extremely low. However, vets have an obligation to make sure their recommendations reflect the most efficient and safest approach supported by peer reviewed scientific research. If there is a way to achieve the same degree of disease control with less intervention, we should adopt that approach.

2. We will see more parvovirus infections in puppies
This assertion is not supported by any scientific evidence or by the experience of any countries that have adopted these recommendations. The biggest risk for parvovirus infection remains if puppies are left unvaccinated.

3. Will preventative health care for pets be diminished due to fewer people having their pets seen every year?
The recommendation by the AVA is still to have your pet examined annually. We will be sending letters annually to remind owners of key health considerations regarding their pet’s health.

Our clinic policy is different to the AVA policy in that we recommend annual health checks in animals less than seven years of age to be optional. We came to this decision in consultation with our vets who felt that seven years of age was about the time that we started to detect silent health problems. This is a generalisation and there will be exceptions. For example, very large breed dogs can get health problems earlier than seven years and pets with ongoing medical conditions (such as diabetes or epilepsy) will need more frequent examination. Owners may still choose to come every year to have their pet checked up.

4. Will my cattery and/or kennel accept 3 yearly vaccination?
Dog Kennels
For dogs there is no justification for not accepting three yearly vaccination as the product we use is registered for three yearly administration. At the Boronia Veterinary Clinic we use a vaccine that is registered to be given triennially (every 3 years).
The kennel cough vaccine MUST be given annually though.
It is reasonable for kennels to insist on an up to date kennel cough vaccination.

As discussed earlier, in the absence of a consensus on feline flu vaccination and without a registered vaccine in Australia that will certify 3 yearly duration of effect for animals in high risk environments, almost all cat boarding facilities require cats to have received a vaccination booster within the 12 months prior to admission to the facility.

For both dogs and cats, every boarding establishment will have a policy on required vaccinations. Please check the vaccination requirements of your boarding facility at the time of booking

What are the arguments in favour of vaccinating every three years?

1. It works
Australia is not the first to adopt these guidelines. International experience and a consensus of international specialists, tells us that three year vaccination and tailored vaccine programs work. We feel that vets have an obligation to use these recommended protocols.

2. It reduces the overall cost of pet ownership over a pet’s lifetime
Whilst this statement is true at Boronia Veterinary Clinic, this is a very controversial point. Very few vets feel comfortable discussing the financial implications of three year vaccinations.
The fact is that annual vaccinations subsidise all the services that vet clinics provide. A likely consequence of three yearly vaccination is that;

a) Vaccination will be less frequent so therefore will become more expensive.
b) The cost of other veterinary services will become more expensive.
It is very likely that this uncertainty is what is making many vets nervous about adopting three year vaccination programs.