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Pet Vaccine License Exemptions

August 19, 2010

How to Find Out if Your Municipality has an Rabies Vaccine Exemption Procedure

Many laws in the US are available online.  If yours are not, then you can get copies from the county courthouse, chat up a good clerk if you’re in a small town, or ask the local veterinarian if they know about an exemption.

Propose a Rabies Vaccine Exemption Clause if You Can’t Find One!

A rabies vaccine exemption clause is a reasonable guideline or law detailing what to do in the event a pet cannot be vaccinated safely.  

If your local ordinances do not allow for these special circumstances, and the people involved have to appeal to the better side of a clerk or authority, or else pay fines, or else vaccinate their pet, then an actual written process for how to achieve a legal exemption is a great idea.  Propose it, write it, and get it passed!

Components of a Well-Written Vaccine Exemption Clause

These clauses usually outline specifically how they can be activated:

  • Current physical examination
  • Veterinarian certification letter
    • Statement that animal is unfit for vaccination for “physiologic reasons”
    • Specific reason the vaccine would harm the pet
  • A time when the exemption status will be reassessed (no longer than one year)

Why Do We Give Pets (Children, People) Vaccines?

There are two main over-arching reasons we give vaccines.  One will make sense to you.  The other, I’ll have to explain a little.

We Give Vaccines to Prevent Disease

Duh.  Your pet (or you!) gets a vaccine in the hopes that the vaccines prevents the disease altogether (rabies), or lessens the severity of disease if you do catch it (flu, etc).  This makes sense to most people.  If the disease itself is worse than the vaccine (rabies), then get the vaccine.  If the disease is much, much worse (smallpox), than the vaccine, get the vaccine faster!

Some vaccines do have the proven potential for catastrophic effects (death, crippling, brain damage…), but in general, the courts in the United States agree that if a vaccine reaction, or any other bad medical side-effect, is likely to be less than 1 in 20,000 chance of happening to you or your pet, then the veterinarian or doctor is not obligated to sit in a room for days and list all the possible terribly unlikely things that could occur.

“Doc, could he die?” says the pet parent.

“Of course!” says Doc Truli cheerfully. What?  I’m not gonna lie…

Now, if you want a feline leukemia vaccine for your cat because you insist you can;t keep your cat safely indoors, then you will get a vaccine side effect talk.  Why?  Because the feline leukemia vaccine has a 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 1o,000 chance of causing cancer (a vaccine induced fibrosarcoma) at the vaccine injection site.  You need to be informed about that!  Think twice!

We Give Vaccines to Prevent the Spread of Disease

Well, double duh.  Now wait!  This is different from what you think.  Here’s the deal.

You, and your pet(s) are part of a group.  No one knows which group will be the tastiest for a certain disease.  But we do know, from scientific mathematical research, if we vaccinate a certain percentage of the “at risk” population (the Tasty group), the disease stops dead in its tracks.

Statisticians call this number the “k” number, and it is different for each disease.  It depends on the strength, biology, lifestyle, and features of the disease.  There is a unique “k” number for each disease.

Let me repeat — we can stop diseases by vaccinating, or protecting, a certain percentage of the at-risk “tasty” part of the group.  So, if 75% of puppies in a city get their parvovirus vaccine, the disease stops spreading.  If 80% of children get their diptheria (whooping-cough) vaccine, the disease can’t spread through the at-risk “tasty” population.

This “k” number explains why a few people can refuse childhood vaccines and nothing horrible happens.  But, if too many people refuse, and the protected number of children dips too low, bam! Whooping cough is back!  And guess what?  It is back!  So many parents in the UK refused childhood vaccines that old diseases are new again.  (Of course, always talk with your pediatrician and doctor about your vaccine needs.  Every disease and every vaccine is different.)

So, aside from the personal benefit of vaccination, there is a group, societal protection, just a calculation by the numbers.

The Case for Pet Licenses

Pet Rabies Vaccines Protect People

Enter pet licenses.  Rabies is so deadly.  So expensive.  So devastating.  So variable in the months it takes from bite wound to symptoms.  So impossible to test for without removing and analyzing the brain, that the United States and many other countries have adopted national strategies to keep people safe from rabies.

Did you know Rabies is the #1 infectious disease killing people in China today?  Over 1,000 people a month contract Rabies in India from unvaccinated stray dogs?  Neither country has a national rabies control strategy, although many American organisations are helping them set up Rabies control programs.

In the US, cats and dogs must be vaccinated against rabies.  Period.  No talk-backs!  The alternative, vaccinating people against rabies, is expensive (US$1,000/person).  (I know, veterinarians get vaccinated!)  Instead, the pets are vaccinated.  It makes sense,  The vaccines for them are cheap, safe, and our pets get into the wildlife and the edges of the yard much more than the humans do.  Vaccinating our pets creates a buffer for us and our children. The pets are protecting us in this way.

Pet Licensing Fees Directly Pay For Local Animal Control Services

Furthermore, most governing bodies, be it the town or county level, have enacted rabies license requirements.  Many people find this silly, “If I have the Rabies vaccine certificate, why do I also need the license certificate?”  Well, a redundant system helps keep unvaccinated pets off the streets.  It also is a tax, basically, to help pay for the animal control services you want to call when there’s a raccoon under your bed, a bat stuck in your chimney, or an injured bird by the road.

“If I have the Rabies vaccine certificate, why do I also need the license certificate?”

Every governing animal control organization has its own structure and duties.  This is a local effort for national protection.  You must become familiar with the operations of your animal control unit in your area.  For example, is it run through the local police department?  Or is it a separate department?

Person on phone:  “Hello?  Animal control?  I need a deceased racoon carted away from the street in from of my house.”

Animal Control: “You need ‘dead animal control.’ Click.

Person on phone: “?”

Learn your town!  In the town in the exchange (above) there was a “live animal control officer” and a “dead animal control officer.”  If the person who called knew this (they lived in the town), they might not have been half so frustrated and angry when they called the animal hospital for help!

Keep your pets vaccinated and licensed as required by law.

Sometimes Vaccines Make No Sense at All

Certain health conditions in a dog or cat make a vaccine seem ridiculous:

  1. Pet has cancer.
  2. Pet has autoimmune disease.
  3. Pet has serious infirmity (heart disease, etc)
  4. Pet is temporarily super-sick when the vaccine renewal becomes due.
  5. Pet has family history of dying from certain vaccines.
  6. Pet almost dies from the last jab.

In these extreme cases, some licensing agencies have a clause for how your veterinarian should handle the situation.  You do not ever want to ignore the situation and “work it out later.”  Government employees frown on that sort of thing!  An exemption clause might be worded, “If, for physiologic reasons, your veterinarian feels a vaccine is not healthy…”

These clauses usually outline specifically how they can be activated.  Usually, a current physical examination, a veterinarian certifying the situation, and a time when the exemption status will be reassessed (no longer than one year) are basic components of a good rabies vaccine exemption clause.

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