The vaccine was one of the major inventions of the twentieth century and has allowed humans to reduce the spread of certain diseases and even eradicate some. Our animal friends have also been the target of long-term illnesses. During the nineteenth century, Louis Pasteur did a lot of research on diseases that affected chickens and pigs. He remained famous for developing the rabies vaccine in 1885.
But for several decades, groups and individuals have been voicing their refusal of preventive inoculation; anti-vaccination (or ‘antivaxxers’) are becoming more numerous and more audible. They sometimes virulently propagate the idea that vaccines are useless or even dangerous.
Whilst a reduction in the number of children being vaccinated has led to a resurgence of diseases such as measles, animals are also being affected by the movement.
A way of life... now imposed on animals
Last year, two veterinarians from Britain and New Zealand were alarmed by this trend in an article published in the New Scientist journal. Equally concerned, members of the UK veterinary order issued a statement in April 2018 to sound the alarm about the growing number of unvaccinated animals by the choice of their owners. In the United States, it is also a rising ‘trend’ that is worrying professionals.
‘Among the arguments, we find many people who tell us that vaccines can make children autistic, and they do not want this to happen to their dog. Which is completely crazy, because there has never been a dog diagnosed with autism, and I do not even think it's possible,’ says an American veterinarian interviewed by French newspaper Paris Match in 2017. Aberrant, but some people continue to believe these baseless rumours.
Prejudices about animal vaccination are hard to overcome because they fall under the personal beliefs of the owners. Some believe that vaccination goes against nature, and that an immune system can be strengthened by contact with the disease. These are misconceptions, as recalled by the National Order of Veterinarians on its website.
Misinformation on the internet?
It is also difficult to fight against false information when it is available everywhere and all the time; anti-vaxxers have made the internet their favourite mode of spreading ‘information,’ with countless sites and videos aimed at proving the misdeeds of preventive inoculation.
On Facebook, anti-vaccination groups have between a few tens and a few thousand subscribers. The official page of Professor Henri Joyeux, representative of the anti-vaccine movement in France, has been liked more than 150,000 times.
‘We are poisoning our animals,’ ‘Fight against harming our pets,’ ‘Vaccines AND Animals’... The administrators of these pages call to boycott the vaccination of animals for two reasons, to avoid chemicals that ‘poison,’ and boycott pharmaceutical companies that develop these treatments solely for the purpose of generating profits.
On one of these pages, the creator explains ‘I dedicate my fight to my 2 dogs, as well as to all the others, as well as to the families having lived this canine and cat genocidal mess.’ On another page, the creator shares scientific articles on his wall; veterinarians disapproving vaccines, shocking photos of dead animals, slaughtered so that their tissues can be used for the preparation of substances…
However, the sources cited by these pages cannot be considered reliable. Indeed, the majority of them are private writings, or come from collaborative sites like Agoravox. On these platforms which are open to all, nothing can guarantee the expertise of the one who is writing them. Same when it comes to the photos, it is impossible to trace their origin.
On these groups, the risk of the propagation of ‘fake news’ and questionable information is thus higher.
Prevention is better than the cure!
The refusal of vaccination for animals entails a real and proven risk, that of the return of eradicated diseases. As in human society, with episodes of measles and whooping cough returning, decades-old diseases such as rabies could return to dogs and cats. Vaccination remains the only effective way to prevent the onset of disease.
Recently, dogs with distemper were identified in Germany. Very contagious and deadly, this condition has spread because of unvaccinated puppies in the east of the country. Health authorities have asked all dog owners to do what is necessary.
For owners of dogs and cats who are a bit lost, the 30 Million Friends foundation gives advice on vaccination and explains which injections are mandatory and which ones are recommended.
Take a look at the video above for more details.