Vaccines are perennially controversial in veterinary medicine. However, there is one vaccine that causes almost no controversy whatsoever. I am referring to the canine rabies vaccine.
In the United States, local or state governments dictate the frequency of rabies vaccination in dogs. Veterinarians and people with dogs must comply with the laws.
Most municipalities require an initial rabies vaccination after the dog is 16 weeks old. Vaccines given before that date may be considered invalid. The initial vaccine generally is valid for one year. In some places, subsequent vaccines are good for three years. In other places, annual revaccination is mandated.
In rabies-free areas such as the United Kingdom, Hawaii or Australia rabies vaccinations may not be required at all.
Legally mandated rabies vaccination requirements have nothing to do with dogs’ needs. Because rabies can spread to humans, governments generally are concerned only with protecting public health.
And, like most issues involving government oversight, rabies vaccination regulations may be logically spurious. A recent case of rabies in a young puppy (less than 16 weeks old) in Alaska has led some vets to question the rationality of making dogs wait until they are 16 weeks old to be vaccinated. Also, many municipalities will not license a dog whose rabies vaccine was given when it was 15 weeks and six days old. Some veterinarians have been known to get around this problem by changing the dog’s birth date in their records.
Despite the capricious nature of rabies vaccination laws, one thing is certain. Legally mandated canine rabies vaccines have dramatically reduced human exposure to the most lethal infectious disease on earth.
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