Rabies Revaccination and the Law: Simply Complex

The CDC’s Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control, 2007 states that dogs, cats and ferrets “should be placed on a vaccination schedule according to the labeled duration of the vaccine used.” Sounds simple right? Whoa Nellie.

In my state of South Carolina, there is a state sponsored effort each year to get pets vaccinated for Rabies by teaming up with Veterinarians to offer $3 shots. (If you are interested in this year’s clinics, set for April, please visit SC DHEC for a list of clinics by county.) Like most other states, and in accordance with the CDC statement above, South Carolina mandates that pets be revaccinated according to the vaccine’s labeling. That is, if your Vet purchases and administers the Rabies vaccine labeled for 3 years, your pet does not require revaccination for 3 years. However if your Vet purchases and administers the Rabies vaccine labeled for 1 year, your pet must be revaccinated annually. States which do not honor the manufacturer’s instructions for revaccination include AL, AR, CO, HI, LA, ME, MA, MS, NM, NC, OK, RI, SD, TN, UT and WV. In other words, if you live in or are traveling to any of those states, you will want to check with a government office regarding their Rabies vaccination requirements as they do not necessarily consider whether your pet was given a vaccine labeled for 1 year or 3 year immunity.

And it gets even more complicated. Vermont statutes for example, dictate “All vaccinations, including the initial vaccination, shall be with a U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved three-year rabies vaccine product” – which means if your pet had the 1 year labeled Rabies vaccine, you may not be compliant. Then there’s Kansas, which does not mandate Rabies revaccination schedules but leaves it up to city officials. So traveling from one city to the next in Kansas, you might encounter different laws on the books regarding Rabies vaccination for your pet.

In Ontario, Canada, there is confusion among pet owners and Veterinarians alike as to what constitutes compliance regarding Rabies vaccination. It certainly would not surprise me to find out there are other places where confusion exists. (Note: If you are traveling to Hawaii, Canada or overseas with your pet, you’ll want to research Rabies requirements in advance.)

Finally, I don’t know if it will simplify things (hope springs eternal!) but there is a Rabies Challenge Fund set up to determine if the existing Rabies vaccines actually convey immunity for longer than currently known. They are running two concurrent studies for duration of immunity – one for 5 years and another for 7 years. They are seeking contributions from supporters to fund their research. If they are able to prove the longer duration of immunity, it’s possible that Rabies revaccination protocols may be changed which would mean less vaccines required for pets.

My thoughts: Ask your Vet before having your pet vaccinated whether he is administering the Rabies vaccine labeled for one year or three year immunity. They are not “all the same”, even though many people think they are, because they are labeled differently. (I’m not a virologist so can’t comment on whether the vaccines contained within the differently labeled vials are actually different except to say that would be my assumption.) It will be important information to know in case you decide to take your pet to an area with a different Rabies revaccination law. Also, check with your state’s government offices to find out the Rabies revaccination requirements for your area. Your Vet may not have current, accurate information on the laws.

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