Guidelines draw mixed industry reaction; question support data

Apr 01, 2003

Industry applauds the effort invested in the American Animal Hospital Association's (AAHA) canine vaccine guidelines, but critics question the execution and data to support the recommendations.

Taking them to task are Merial and Biocor, who admonish the association for not inviting industry input.

In a written statement, Biocor notes it communicated with the task force that their lack of contact with the animal health industry appeared "to have provided for an analytical environment where instructive comment was absent from those very organizations that could have provided acutely critical insights"

Zack Mills, DVM, director of marketing for the biologicals and therapeutic pharmaceuticals for Merial Ltd., adds that although AAHA invited industry to review the guidelines, companies weren't asked to contribute their own data supporting use of specific vaccines.

Furthermore, upon final review of the guidelines, Mills says he disputes they are based on solid science.

"When it comes down to duration of immunity with vaccines, there is no solid science," says Mills. "They're using a limited amount of data and saying yes, these vaccines do last longer than a year's time period." (Merial vaccines carry labels based on one year of immunity.)

In a statement, Fort Dodge Animal Health adds, "Until more conclusive scientific evidence exists supporting a shift in vaccination protocol, we will continue to recommend the vaccination schedules approved by the USDA on our product labels."

Ralph Barrett, DVM, on the AAHA canine guidelines task force, concedes the guidelines are a work in progress.

"These are recommendations based on the present state of our knowledge about the value of vaccinations and the risk of side effects," says Barrett, chief of medicine of National PetCare Centers, Fort Collins, Colo. "It will be controversial because the science is not complete."

But Ronald Schultz, Ph.D., who significantly contributed to the research behind the guidelines, says the research is there. Schultz, an immunologist at the University of Wisconsin, says he and other researchers have tested vaccines on more than 500 client-owned animals, as well as Beagle colonies, Dalmatians, Coonhounds and Labrador Retrievers.

"Nothing in the document that we've made recommendations for can't be demonstrated to be true," he adds.

Outcast vaccines

As for the vaccines AAHA is not recommending, Mills fervently disagrees.

"There are times and needs for every vaccine that's out there. It's up to the veterinarian to make the right decision as to what antigens the dog should have and how often the dog should be vaccinated," he says.

But Barrett defends AAHA's position.

"With reasoned information published that there can be risks and side effects of using vaccinations, we shouldn't use a product that has potential risk if we don't have to," he says. "If you don't vaccinate them every year, you're reducing the risk of side effects, vaccine reactions, autoimmune diseases, and other types of risks."

No beefs

Ralph Massimmei, spokesman for Intervet, had no qualms with AAHA's recommendations.

"I don't have any particular beef with the guidelines. I think the industry needs to respond to the needs of veterinarians. This is one more opportunity to respond to them while still accommodating the safety and health concerns of their clients and patients," he says.

Schultz stresses the goal of the AAHA recommendations is not to eliminate vaccines. "It's important for us to continue to get the message out that vaccines, especially core vaccines, are important and should actually be given to more animals than are getting them now, but maybe shouldn't be given as often."

Underlying message

In the end, as AAHA notes in its closing statements, the decision to vaccinate should be left in the hands of the veterinarian.

Biocor couldn't agree more. "Any and all recommendations aside, Biocor Animal Health feels strongly that final decisions regarding an individual patient's vaccination protocol must be determined by its veterinarian after due consideration of the animal's risk of exposure," the company said in a statement.

Merial, Intervet and Fort Dodge all concur.

Fort Dodge states that it "strongly encourages veterinarians to evaluate each pet and together with the pet's owner, decide the vaccination protocol that will provide the animal with the best protection based on risk assessment."

Pfizer declined comment. Schering-Plough did not return calls seeking comment.