‘Scaremongering’ press may deter owners from vaccination, warn vets


VETERINARY chiefs fear that cautionary articles about a vaccine for leptospirosis may lead to owners being too scared to have their dogs vaccinated.

  A recent piece in a national newspaper claimed that dogs were dying or suffering severe allergic reactions after receiving Nobivac L4.

  The article also alleged the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) was urging owners not to use the vaccine on puppies less than three months old, and claimed that ‘according to reports made to the Government’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) by owners, more than 120 dogs are feared to have died after receiving a dosage in the three years the product has been on the market’.

  But this week British Veterinary Association (BVA) junior vice-president Gudrun Ravetz said she feared this would prevent owners getting their dogs vaccinated, adding that it was essential owners made ‘fully informed choices’ in partnership with their vet on a suitable vaccination plan. 

  “We’re very concerned that the recent articles about L4 vaccine risks scaremongering owners into making blanket decisions and avoiding vaccinations for their dog,” she said in the Veterinary Record.

  “Vets, many of us being pet owners ourselves, completely understand the upset and concern when pets are unwell. However, vaccinations save lives and are an important tool in keeping animals healthy.”

  However, it was also reported that MSD, which makes Nobivac L4, had been asked to add more warnings to the product information saying that ‘in very rare cases’ immune-mediated reactions had been reported, including anaemia affecting red blood cells, a drop in the number of platelets, and arthritis in more than five joints.

  The Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) said it did not ‘currently’ intend to remove the vaccine from the market but that it was working with various agencies to assess the adverse reaction data and the ‘benefit:risk balance’ of the product.

  Anyone who suspects their animal has had an adverse reaction to any medication or has concerns should report these to their vets so they could be ‘thoroughly and scientifically investigated’ and reported to the veterinary medicines regulators, Ms Ravetz said.

  The WSAVA said it was not true that it was urging owners not to use L4 on young puppies. It said it would never ‘urge owners’ and would never make recommendations about named commercial products. It referred to its current guidelines  saying that when ‘non-core vaccines’ were chosen for a dog – on the basis of national or regional knowledge on the prevalence and risk of leptospirosis – they should be given from eight weeks of age with a second dose two to four weeks later, and then an annual booster vaccine.

  The VMD has advised vets to make clinical judgments on the benefits of using the vaccine for an individual dog based on their knowledge of the local epidemiological situation and risk of leptospirosis versus the potential risks outlined in the product literature.

  In the first three and a half years since L4 was authorised, the incidence of adverse reactions recorded was 0.064 per cent which meant that for every 10,000 doses sold there had been six reported adverse reactions. The most commonly reported clinical sign following vaccination was lethargy, the VMD said, followed by vomiting and then diarrhoea. 

  It encouraged vets and owns to report adverse reactions at www.gov.uk/report-veterinary-medicine-problem.

  MSD Animal Health said that as a responsible animal health company it took every adverse reaction report seriously and investigated thoroughly.

  “Whenever possible we work with the owner and attending vet to assemble as much clinical information as we can to help determine the cause of a pet’s health issue, and whether or not the product may have been involved,” a spokesman said. The overall frequency of all pharmacovigilance reports received for this product is what regulatory authorities classify as ‘rare’. The safety profiles of veterinary pharmaceuticals and vaccines are established from rigorous clinical trials and safety warnings for the product are provided on the product data sheet.

  “All suspected adverse events need to be reported through the correct channels so that they can be properly recorded, investigated, reviewed and eventually leading to appropriate actions…”

  Adverse reactions can be caused by underlying disease, using other drugs at the same time or another reason.

  “Therefore, marketing authorisation holders and the authorities are obliged in the EU to apply a causality assessment to each case indicating the likelihood of an adverse event being linked to product administration,” the spokesman said.

  “Veterinary professionals are best placed to advise pet owners about the use for specific veterinary medicines and we would always recommend that owners should talk to their veterinary professional with any concerns they may have about the use of a particular product.”