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Rabies ‘over-vaccination’ targeted in Delaware

Delaware state lawmakers have approved a bill aimed at reducing what proponents call the overuse of rabies shots for cats and dogs.

The Rabies Challenge Fund, an animal advocacy group, announced July 2 that the measure will prevent veterinarians from issuing one- or two-year rabies certificates when a three-year vaccine is administered.

“The bill simply requires that veterinarians include the duration of immunity, per the manufacturer’s specifications, on rabies certificates,” said Sen. Karen Peterson, the measure’s main sponsor. “It is needed because some veterinarians tell their clients that rabies shots must be administered annually when, in fact, they are using three-year vaccines. This practice can and has resulted in the deaths of dogs who were over-vaccinated.”

By unanimous votes, the bill passed the Senate on June 12 and the House on June 30. Gov. Jack Markell is expected to sign it into law, Peterson said. A Markell aide had no immediate comment except to say “this bill is not on the list for possible vetoes.”

Peterson said she became interested in the issue when she was contacted by a Delaware woman whose dog died from over-vaccination.

“Her veterinarian sent yearly notices saying it was time for Molly’s ‘annual rabies shot,’” Peterson told Examiner.com. “The vaccine being used on Molly was a three-year vaccine. I was already aware of another case involving a young dog that died from over-vaccination, so when I found out that there were at least two large veterinary practices that were over-vaccinating, I decided to introduce legislation.”

Peterson did not identify the dog owners or the two veterinary practices that prompted the legislation.

Lynn Appel, executive director of the Delaware Veterinary Medical Association, told Examiner.com that “this bill does not change what Delaware veterinarians are already doing. When the rabies certificate is completed, the veterinarian indicates what the bill has outlined.”

Appel added that there is already a system in place for handling complaints against veterinarians, who are licensed by the state.

“In the state of Delaware, if a citizen feels they have been ‘wronged’ by a professional whose profession is licensed by the state, a complaint can be filed with the Division of Professional Regulation,” Appel said. “This is the established process.”

The Rabies Challenge Fund said it is unaware of any other state considering similar legislation, though the Minnesota Board of Veterinary Medicine recently issued guidelines to veterinarians to address rabies over-vaccination concerns. The guidelines say rabies vaccination certificates should display the vaccination date and duration of immunity, even if veterinarians recommend more frequent vaccinations.