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Vetpractice PanPac 2015.indd 1 6/05/2015 2:43 pm
EQUINE VETERINARIANS AUSTRALIA (EVA) has a membership of over 1,000, and is the peak professional association representing Australias equine veterinarians. We write in regard to the April cover story, Hendra - The Vaccination Debate. For an article that the cover claims is an in-depth investigation covering the facts from vets and horse owners, the article was surprisingly lacking in depth, and suffered from very limited research. It was, in summary, a poor article. Your readership are professional veterinarians, together with their clinical staff; these are highly educated people, who expect a high standard of journalism from a magazine purporting to investigate and report on the issues confronting a veterinary practice today. EVA has now received numerous member complaints with regard to the article, and we are compelled to bring this to your attention and to ask for the right of reply in your next hard copy edition of Vet Practice Magazine.
Hendra virus is a deadly and infectious disease which has killed people, and continues to kill horses on the east coast of Australia every year. Horse owners are fortunate that a safe and effective Hendra vaccine has now been developed by the CSIRO in Australia, in conjunction with internationally renowned, leading US scientists. The CSIRO is one of the worlds most internationally respected scientific research bodies. The Australian Governments Veterinary Medicine Authority, the APVMA, are the approving and regulatory authority for the vaccine; this vaccine has met the most stringent requirements of the APVMA, and was released for widespread use under APVMA Permit Number 14876. The article states that, the vaccines been released on a minor use permit, which means its supposed to be used to control outbreaks of the disease. The article
also states that, until the vaccine is a registered product, it should be used as it states on its minor usage permit, which is purely around the disease itself to stop outbreaks. These assertions as fact are completely incorrect. The vaccine is permitted by the Australian Government for use in all areas of Australia, and your journalist should have, at the very least, checked the conditions of the Permit, which are readily available online, and quick to read.
Your article states that, there are now growing concerns over the safety of the vaccine. Where is the evidence of this growing concern? Where is it growing? Over 350,000 doses of the vaccine have been administered; what numbers of growing concern did your journalists investigation uncover? What instrument did your journalist use to measure this claim? Are these results available for scrutiny, and are
they statistically valid?Anti-vaccinationists exist in all walks
of life. It appears that your journalist has relied on a combination of rumours, anecdotes, commentary and innuendo sourced from social media. Any assertion or assumption by your journalist or others that comment sourced from social media is a true representation of scientific fact is a dangerous and invalid misinterpretation and misrepresentation. This has been well-demonstrated than in the United States, which is currently experiencing deaths in a human epidemic of measles. This epidemic could have been avoided if the people infected had been vaccinated with a safe and effective measles vaccine, and not been misled by ill-informed anti-vaccinationists using social media to distort the true scientific facts and benefits of a safe, efficacious vaccine. The same situation has occurred in Australia with
L E T T E R T O T H E E D I T O R
have been growing unverified reports
of horses having adverse reactions to
the injections, ranging from localised
swelling, hair loss, rashes and fever, to
colic, and horses dropping dead in the
days following the vaccine.
Seven horse deaths are currently being
invested by the Australian Pesticides and
Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA)
for a possible link to the vaccine.
While Zoetis claims that reactions
are possible with any vaccine, theyve
seen a reaction rate of less than 0.3 per
centthats 960 reactions out of the
320,000 vaccines administered so far.
And the majority of these reactions are
localised swelling at the injection site.
Vicki Roycroft, a six-time Olympic
equestrian rider, has seen many of these
side effects first-hand, however,
and believes that can be
more severe than Zoetis
describes.I knew a horse who,
after the first injection,
was so swollen that
it couldnt feed in the
paddock for a week.
I understand a bit of a
sore neck and swelling,
but if a horse cant put their
head down to feed, thats not
right, she says.
Shes also seen more severe
reactions develop after subsequent
boosters. A neighbours horse had a
reaction the first time she gave him the
vaccine, so she decided to inject it into
his chest the next time. The next day
he developed laminitis problems. Ive
also seen horses getting really sick and
horses are dying after the vaccine. Of
course, the two could be unrelated, but
there are too many coincidences.
Equestrian rider Sue Vickery has had
both of her horses react to the vaccine.
The first two reactions were quite mild.
The horses were off colour, not eating
for 24 hours and very lethargic. The
second reaction was far worse, with a
temperature of 39 degrees for 24 hours,
muscle soreness and swelling after a
short walk. They didnt eat normal feed
for four days, she says.
My older horse is now 16 and has
ongoing wind problems, green mucus
continually comes out of one or other
nostril at random, and he doesnt have
the energy to be trained for more than
10 to 15 minutes.
All these reactions experienced by
horses are reported by veterinarians
to Zoetis, who then passes them onto
the APVMA for investigation, which
is standard practice for all animal
pharmaceutical products in Australia.
The vaccine itself has been thoroughly
researchedits made up of a protein
called sG, which helps the
Hendra virus infect cells.
Because it doesnt
actually contain any of
the live virus, theres
no risk of infection
from the vaccine.
And veterinarian Dr
a spokesperson for
Zoetis, explains that its
safety isnt in question when
used on a healthy horse
over the age of four months.
Equivac HeV went
through the same safety and efficacy
testing any vaccine goes through prior
to being released, says Dr Armstrong.
Efficacy was proved through challenge
studies and serology studies, while safety
studies were also completed. The vaccine
performed very well in all studies.
Dr Armstrong explains that all of the
safety and trial information has been
submitted to the APVMA, and that the
vaccine has now been gazetted by
the APVMA, which is one of the final
steps before registration is finalised. A
spokesperson from the APVMA added
that this is a normal processing time for
With growing concern over the safety of the
Hendra vaccine, Fiona MacDonald talks to
vets and horse owners to get the facts
Inside the Hendra vaccine debate
IN JULY 2009, DR ALISTER RODGERS
was called out to a stud farm near
Rockhampton, Queensland to examine
a couple of horses that had fallen ill.
The 55-year-old did a full physical
and took blood samples, but couldnt
determine what was wrong. A few
days later, one of the fillies died,
and the post-mortem confirmed that
she was infected with the Hendra
virus. Unfortunately, Rodgers had
He was rushed to hospital for
anti-viral medication but his health
quickly deteriorated, and at the
start of September, he passed away,
becoming the fourth person in
Queensland to die from the Hendra
virus since it was discovered in 1994,
in addition to almost 100 horses.
Rodgers death, which came just
months after the death of another young
Queensland vet, was met with renewed
demand for protection against the virus.
Hendra is transferred from bats to
horses via bodily fluids, and then from
horses to humans in the same way, and
so vaccinating horses was determined
the best way for us to stay safe.
In 2012, after more than a decade of
research by the CSIRO, an Equivac HeV
was released, and the equine industry
breathed a sigh of relief.
Three years on, however, and the
vaccine is still waiting to be registered
by the Australian Pesticides and
Veterinary Medicines Authority. Despite
this fact, its already been widely pushed
out by vets and event organisers across
Australia. And there are now growing
concerns over the safety of the vaccine,
how necessary it is in areas that arent
exposed to bats and also how often its
Early in 2014, vets reported that
the uptake of the vaccine had been
disappointingly slow. Most likely
because the immunisation costs around