Vaccine hesitancy among pet owners
There are four main reasons for a lower booster uptake among pet owners:
- Vets having to ‘catch up’ missed vaccinations during the lockdowns and prioritising certain vulnerable groups of pets – mainly initial courses for puppies and kittens.
- The increase in pet ownership during the pandemic causing a rise in demand and subsequent shortages.
- This supply and demand pushing up prices to levels that some owners will be reluctant to pay.
- Owners reluctant to vaccinate due to safety concerns.
Supply issues are expected to even out through 2022.
Justine Shotton, president of the British Veterinary Association says: “Vets are working with vaccine suppliers and may need to prioritise allocations. Your vet may be in contact if delays are likely, but we’d like to emphasise that a short-term delay shouldn’t be cause for concern for either pet or public health.”
So if you’ve had to delay your pet’s booster, now’s the time to contact your vet and get them booked in.
If price is a concern, you can find out the average cost of vaccinations for cats and dogs near you. Delaying boosters to save money is unwise. It could mean having to pay more for your pet to have the initial course of injections again, which will cost more in the long run.
But what about owners who just don’t believe pet vaccines are safe, or that boosters aren’t necessary because their pet will still have immunity from previous vaccinations?
What vets and experts say about boosters
All expert UK veterinary organisations, including the British Veterinary Association, PDSA, Veterinary Products Committee, Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) and British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA), believe vaccinations are safe and help save millions of pets' lives every year, both directly and through herd immunity.
But a previous PDSA PAW Report in 2019 expressed concern about the growth of an anti-pet-vax movement and said that increasing concerns about over-vaccination are resulting in fewer people vaccinating their pets regularly, which could weaken pets' herd immunity in the UK.
In 2020 The VMD echoed these concerns. “In dogs and cats, diseases that were once chronic scourges have now become relatively rare in the UK. As the public memory of the consequences of these diseases fades so the rationale for routine vaccine programmes is increasingly questioned,” it says.
“A healthy debate of the pros and cons of vaccination is valuable as it is entirely possible that a disease can become so rare that risks associated with vaccination can outweigh the risk of contracting the illness. However, such events are rare and likely to remain so as world-wide travel of people and their pets increases.”
And it’s not just animals that are at risk from low pet vaccine uptake. "Some diseases that our pets carry can be transmissible to humans, so vaccination can be an important factor in protecting your family," adds Vet Sophie Bell.
Dog and cat vaccines are safe
"You may have found reports online of some worrisome reactions that have been observed by vets following a vaccination,” says Dr Bell.
For example, in 2016 reports circulated on social media about dogs suffering serious side effects after receiving the new L4 leptospirosis vaccine.
The Government’s Veterinary Medicine Directorate (VMD) responded by pointing out that there were fewer than seven adverse reactions per 10,000 doses of L2 and that even this tiny figure includes every suspected adverse event reported, even cases that were considered unclassifiable or were later found to be unrelated to the vaccine.
“The overall incidence of suspected adverse reactions for both L2 and L4 vaccine products is therefore considered to be rare,” Concluded the VMD.
Even where adverse reactions do take place, most aren’t serious.
“Like with any veterinary medicines, there will always be side effects observed, and they’re graded from mild to severe, says Vet Sophie. “Vaccinations, thankfully, carry only a very small adverse reaction risk. Most reactions observed have no long-lasting side effects."
Pet vaccination side effects are rare and usually mild
Puppy and dog vaccination side effects in the UK are unusual.
In its 2020 Position Paper on Authorised Vaccination Schedules for Dogs, the VMD says that between 2000 and 2020 over 166.8 million doses of dog vaccines were sold with adverse events reported in just 0.0213% of these.
Some of these adverse reactions are likely to be ‘coincidental’ and may not even be related to vaccination.
An adverse even could be anything from redness or swelling, right up to death, but the majority will be mild reactions.
Spot the signs of vaccine side effects
Serious vaccine side effects in cats and dogs are very rare. Mild reactions can include loss of appetite, decreased activity, mild fever, sneezing, coughing or a runny nose.
A small, firm swelling may develop where the shot was given but should disappear a few days later. If it doesn’t and gets bigger, contact your vet.
"Once your pet receives their first vaccine, be sure to monitor them for the rest of the day,” advises vet Sophie Bell. “Make sure you know what to look out for if they're having a reaction such as increases in vital signs – temperature, pulse and respiration rates – and also monitor their food and water consumption, note any behavioural changes and report anything abnormal to your vet.”
- More serious vaccine side effects include:
- Vomiting and diarrhoea
- Difficulty breathing
- Severe cough
If your pet experiences any of these, seek immediate veterinary help.