For immediate release
Johannesburg, 5 January 2022
Animal lives matter – so be sure to vaccinate them for their health as well as ours
We depend on pets for companionship and on livestock for food, so it makes sense to look after their health and well-being as carefully as we would our own – and this includes having them vaccinated.
“Animal lives are just as important as human lives, and healthier animals mean healthier humans,” says Dr Alison Lubisi, the research team manager of the Diagnostic Services Programme at the Agricultural Research Council – Onderstepoort Veterinary Research.
The intricate connection between human and animal health has come into sharp focus with the recent increase in the number of human rabies cases reported in South Africa. Rabies is one of the deadliest diseases in the world, but the National Institute for Communicable Diseases says that unlike most other vaccine-preventable diseases, rabies vaccines can be given for both pre- and post-exposure to rabies.
Dogs and cats must get regular rabies shots by law. “Rabies is endemic in South Africa, and we’ve seen horrific cases in humans, with rabid dogs biting small children. It is mostly fatal,” says Dr Lubisi, who is also a veterinarian, virologist and former reviewer of vaccine dossiers.
She points out that companion animals and production animals are an essential link in the public healthcare chain. This ties in with the “One Health” approach advocated by the South African Veterinary Council (SAVC), the regulatory body for the veterinary and para-veterinary professions.
Certain vaccines are optional, but the core vaccines are mandatory for dogs and cats every year. These are combination jabs such as the DHPP for dogs, which protects them against canine distemper virus, canine adenovirus-2 (infectious canine hepatitis and kennel cough), canine parainfluenza virus and canine parvovirus (which affects puppies severely). Cats need to get a combination vaccine that protects them against feline viral rhinotracheitis, feline calicivirus and feline panleukopenia virus. Vaccination against feline hepatitis virus-1 is also core in South Africa.
Similarly, livestock farmers and owners of companion and performing animals such as horses must vaccinate against controlled animal diseases such as brucellosis, foot-and-mouth disease and African horse sickness, as applicable to them by law. Farmers must also vaccinate against economically important infectious diseases that are prevalent in their geographic areas and those that are common for their production systems.
Vector-borne diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans such as Rift Valley fever, as well as non-zoonotic diseases such as blue tongue and lumpy skin disease, may need to be prevented in livestock in certain areas through regular vaccinations as well as booster shots during high-risk seasons, she says.
Why is vaccination important?
It’s essential for pets and production animals to be vaccinated because disease-causing pathogens or germs spread quickly and are not only transmitted through direct contact, Dr Lubisi explains.
“In the case of kennel cough, for example, the germs causing it are also airborne and a mere cough can release it into the air. Disease-causing pathogens or germs can be in the soil, water, animal excretions, on the surfaces of utensils, in the air – anywhere.”
Puppies and kittens should be vaccinated early to give them the best chance of survival, and thereafter once a year. In the case of livestock, vaccinated, healthy animals mean higher productivity (and, potentially, profits) for farmers, benefiting the local economy and taking care of both food security and food safety, as well as ensuring a flow of animal products for export, she says.
The primary dose of a vaccine introduces an animal’s immune system to an antigen that stimulates antibody production and other immune responses, followed by a booster shot a few weeks later. “This is so the immune response can increase and build a memory of the disease-causing germ, so it reacts quickly when it comes around again.”
There may be minor side-effects, such as swelling at the vaccination site – but allergic reactions are rare, she says.
How is an animal vaccine developed?
Similar to how vaccines for people are developed, animal vaccines require a painstaking amount of research, development and trials by experts with multidisciplinary knowledge before they are approved for commercial use.
Dr Lubisi says the ideal vaccine is protective, safe, cost effective, easy to administer, stable in the environment and affords long-lasting immunity.
Types of vaccines include those using a weakened live germ; those using an inactivated or dead germ; and those using genetically modified and engineered germs.
A candidate vaccine needs to first undergo feasibility studies and small-scale laboratory trials to establish the protective response it elicits, its safety, and the practicality and costs of manufacturing it at large scale.
“The laboratory and real life are not the same thing – you need to test the candidate vaccine on a large scale in the field and provide acceptable field and laboratory data before a vaccine gets registered. A lot of work and sweat go into it. Vaccine production is very expensive, and care needs to be taken to get it right,” says Dr Lubisi.
Educating the public about this pressing public health issue is critical, she adds. “We find that vaccine hesitancy really comes down to a lack of proper knowledge, so we need to continually educate pet owners and farmers about the importance of getting their pets and livestock vaccinated.”
She says it’s also vital for people to be aware of the threat of disease-causing pathogens or germs mutating if left unchecked. “Animals need constant booster shots, or they might not be protected against new strains. Globalisation and global warming are real; we have seen how germs and diseases change their characteristics and behaviour over the years, sometimes even crossing between species.
“I vouch for vaccines. We need to keep telling the good stories and raising awareness. It’s very important to get everyone on the same page, for the benefit of us all.”
- For more information about why it’s important to vaccinate animals against rabies, visit https://savc.org.za/vaccinate-your-animals-against-rabies/
Issued by Flow Communications on behalf of the SAVC. For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Khaya Thwala on firstname.lastname@example.org or 078 349 0668.
About the South African Veterinary Council (SAVC)
The South African Veterinary Council (SAVC) is a Veterinary Statutory Body in South Africa, with powers and functions for the registration of persons practising the veterinary and para-veterinary professions. The SAVC has legal authority over the practising of veterinary and para-veterinary professions, and for matters connected therewith.
The South African Veterinary Board, which is the predecessor of the SAVC, was established in 1933 in terms of the Veterinary Act (No. 16 of 1933). The SAVC then later became an independent, self-funding statutory body in 1982 under the Veterinary and Para-Veterinary Professions Act (No. 19 of 1982). The current SAVC, therefore, has a proud and rich history of playing a role in the regulation of the veterinary profession in South Africa.
It is compulsory in South Africa for all practising veterinary and para-veterinary professionals to be registered with the SAVC, as stated in the Veterinary and Para-Veterinary Professions Act. The SAVC is therefore the custodian of the veterinary and para-veterinary professions in South Africa, and enables the veterinary team to practise ethically by setting and monitoring veterinary standards, to create a safe environment for animals and people.