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Rabies Vaccinations During the Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 Pandemic

Currently there is no evidence that companion pets or other domestic animals can spread the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that can develop into the COVID-19 disease – to humans or other animals.

As many of us across the world settle in due to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic that can become the COVID-19 disease, veterinary clinics are deemed essential businesses in many U.S. states. Most veterinary clinics are adopting protocols and procedures for the safety of clients and staff to stem the spread of the virus. Indeed, many veterinary practices will no longer schedule routine appointments until stay-at-home orders are lifted, and will only attend to companion pet patients needing critical care.

Before accepting your companion pet’s case, the veterinarian can request that he/she first evaluate the pet’s health to determine if the condition would fall into the routine case or critical case category.

However, this brings questions about the legally required rabies vaccinations in the majority of states and localities:

  • What if my companion dog is due for the legally required rabies vaccination in my state?
  • Will my state allow an extension of the rabies vaccination in light of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic?

The question of rabies vaccinations is a conundrum as the majority of states and localities have strict rabies vaccination laws such as the age a companion pet must be initially vaccinated. As well, many states have equally strict laws on revaccination, like:

“An initial rabies vaccine should be boostered within one year. If a 3-years rabies vaccine is administered as the booster vaccination, the animal should be re-vaccinated prior to the 3-year vaccine’s expiration date.”

“If an animal is overdue for a rabies vaccination, the rabies vaccine that is administered should always be boostered within one year (regardless of the rabies vaccine that is administered).”

Will states allow an extension on the rabies vaccination time period? Are states deeming rabies vaccinations as critical? We looked at a handful of state websites for clarity on the rabies vaccination and revaccination guidelines with current the SARS-CoV-2 virus restrictions.

As of April 4, 2020 – these states offered no guidance on the rabies vaccination question:

California, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Ohio, New York and Washington

Maryland provided guidance as of April 1, 2020:

“Essential – Rabies Vaccination Guidance: In order to prevent another public health hazard during the current pandemic, the State Board and the Maryland Department of Health consider keeping animals up to date on rabies vaccinations an essential service.”

We applaud Maryland and other states that bring clarity to the issue of rabies vaccinations during the pandemic.

While we understand that states and their resources are overwhelmed by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, pet companion caregivers deserve an answer on rabies vaccination.

It is not just about whether their companion pets are “legally vaccinated against rabies”, but also involves economics and pet health. If caregivers need to factor in missing a deadline and having to get pets boosters within one year, they must also budget their money for a possible re-vaccination requirement in one year opposed to three years, and also prepare for the potential of adverse vaccine events, albeit rare.

As a pet companion caregiver, you can do your part. You will need to check when your companion pet is due for the rabies vaccination. If it is before August, 2020, we suggest contacting your veterinarian to find out the clinic’s policies and your state’s laws regarding rabies vaccinations during the coronavirus pandemic.

If the state or veterinary clinic do not have a policy or your clinic is uncomfortable giving the rabies vaccination at this time, we suggest finding a few backup clinics that give thimerosal-free (mercury-free) canine rabies vaccine (Merial IMRAB TF-1 or TF-3; Boehringer Ingelheim RabVac 1-TF or 3- TF) and are still giving rabies vaccinations.

If you are not feeling well and have symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing or fever, please have another household member take your pet to the veterinarian and follow all of the clinic’s safety procedures. As well, you can reschedule the appointment if you give yourself time. The best thing to do is get the vaccination earlier than at the deadline in case you or members of your household do become ill.

Review Dr. Dodds’ Minimal Vaccination Protocols for other vaccinations:

Dog

Feline

References

Administration of Rabies Vaccination State Laws. American Veterinary Medical Association, Mar. 2020, https://www.avma.org/advocacy/state-local-issues/administration-rabies-vaccination-state-laws.

Dodds, Jean. “Rabies: The Science & the Current Law.” Pet Health Resources Blog, Hemopet, 11 July 2015, https://www.hemopet.org/rabies-vaccine-law/.

Maryland Department of Agriculture Office of Marketing Animal Industries and Consumer Services. “Updated Guidance for Maryland Veterinarians (April 1, 2020).” 1 Apr. 2020, Annapolis, Maryland, https://mda.maryland.gov/vetboard/Documents/Updated%20Guidance-04-01-2020.pdf.

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