We all know that millions of Americans have become vaccine deniers, exposing their fellow humans to Covid-19 and other contagious diseases by choosing superstition over science. Now a study finds that dogs have the same problem, thanks to their owners.
The study found that nearly 40 percent of dog owners believe that canine vaccines are unsafe, more than 20 percent believe these vaccines are ineffective, and 30 percent consider them to be medically unnecessary.
Not only that, many dog owners said they're afraid the vaccines may cause their dogs to become autistic. There's no scientific support for this, according to the CDC.
Published in the journal Vaccine, the study's authors analyzed a nationally representative sample of adults in the United States and found that more than half of people who own dogs expressed some level of "canine vaccine hesitancy" — i.e. skepticism about vaccinating their pets against rabies and other diseases.
Researchers say it's an apparent "spillover" reaction to skepticism about Covid-19 vaccines.
“The vaccine spillover effects that we document in our research underscore the importance of restoring trust in human vaccine safety and efficacy,” says study author Dr. Matt Motta, assistant professor of health law, policy & management at Boston University, where he studies how anti-science beliefs and attitudes affect health and health policies.
“If non-vaccination were to become more common, our pets, vets, and even our friends and family risk coming into contact with vaccine-preventable diseases,” Motta said.
The American Animal Hospital Association calls vaccinations “a cornerstone of canine preventive healthcare” and recommends that all dogs (barring specific medical reasons), receive a core set of vaccines for rabies, distemper, adenovirus, parvovirus, and parainfluenza, and advises that many dogs receive additional “non-core” inoculations for Lyme disease, Bordetella, and other diseases.
Rabies isn't a fantasy
Rabies and other contagious diseases that dogs can contract and transmit aren't imaginary. Rabies carries a fatality rate of nearly 100 percent and is blamed for more than 59,000 deaths a year worldwide.
Failing to vaccinate dogs thus puts not only the dog, other dogs and dog owners and friends in danger, it also poses a very real threat to veterinarians and others whose work brings them into contact with animals on a regular basis.
One veterinarian says she encounters an unvaccinated animal or a vaccine-hesitant pet owner every day in her job. Dr. Gabriella Motta, a sister of Boston University's Matt Motta, works at an animal hospital in Pennsylvania and is a coauthor of the vaccine study.
"When a staff member is bitten by an animal, there is always concern for infection or trauma, but the seriousness of the situation escalates if the animal is unvaccinated or overdue for its rabies vaccine,” Motta says.
Like many states, Pennsylvania requires that when an unvaccinated animal bites someone, it must be placed under observation for a specified period of time and the person who was bitten is encouraged to seek immediate medical attention.
These situations place a mental health burden on the person bitten, as well as the rest of the veterinary staff, in an industry that already struggles with widespread burnout, understaffing, and job turnover, she says.
While any medication can cause a reaction, medical authorities stress that the rabies and other common animal vaccines are overwhelmingly safe, especially when compared to rabies infection, which is nearly always fatal.
About the study
The study analyzed a nationally representative sample of adults in the United States and found that more than half of people who own dogs expressed some level of canine vaccine hesitancy — i.e. skepticism about vaccinating their pets against rabies and other diseases.
The study is the first to formally quantify the prevalence, origins, and health policy consequences of concerns about canine vaccination. The survey was conducted between March 30 and April 10, 2023 among 2,200 dog owners who answered questions through the research sampling firm YouGov.