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Vaccine hesitancy

Dr. Sarah J. Wooten, a small animal veterinarian from Greeley, Colorado, has had first-hand experience with clients who are concerned about vaccinations but says listening to their concerns without judgment may be beneficial.

“People are afraid of what the vaccines may do to their pets,” she said. “The intentions of people that don't want to vaccinate are pure. They just want their pets to be healthy, and they're afraid.” Dr. Wooten retired from clinical practice and is now a public speaker and author.

In recent years, human medicine has faced a growing number of individuals who reject mainstream science regarding the safety and efficacy of vaccines. In the same vein, many veterinary professionals say that, increasingly, they are hearing concerns from pet owners regarding the safety or necessity of vaccines for their pets.

Many websites that identify as natural or holistic warn about the dangers of over-vaccination of dogs and cats, but none define what they mean by over-vaccination. All agree, for most vaccines, that annual revaccination is unnecessary, but that is generally consistent with recommendations from the AVMA and other major organizations.

Some of these same sites warn about the potential long-term harms of over-vaccination, especially the potential for immune-mediated disease and cancer, but none provide any information on the specific types of diseases and cancers they associate with over-vaccination or the incidence. And none provide any data proving a cause-and-effect relationship between over-vaccination and these long-term concerns.

Still, in 2019, only 66% of dog, cat, and rabbit owners in the U.K. said their pet had its primary vaccinations when young, compared with 84% in 2016, according to the PDSA Animal Wellbeing Report, an annual analysis of overall pet well-being in the U.K.

However, despite this apparent increase in the reluctance to vaccinate their pets, most pet owners are willing to discuss the issue and just want their concerns to be heard and validated, according to veterinarians with whom JAVMA News spoke.

The trend has not gone unnoticed. The World Health Organization listed vaccine hesitancy as one of the top global threats in 2019, and the theme of the World Veterinary Association's 2019 World Veterinary Day was the “Value of Vaccination.”

The World Small Animal Veterinary Association has also observed the increase in hesitancy among clients and is surveying companion animal veterinarians about the issue to better understand the phenomenon. The association defines vaccine hesitancy as a “delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite availability of vaccination services.”

Dr. Michael Day, chairman of the WSAVA Vaccination Guidelines Group, said lower herd immunity is one of the biggest concerns around this issue, as it means that well-controlled infectious diseases might become problematic again.

“As I travel the world speaking to veterinarians about vaccination, it is clear that vaccine hesitancy is of great concern to our colleagues in practice,” Dr. Day said. “Interestingly, the phenomenon appears to exist in both mature and developing veterinary markets.”

“These are difficult discussions for any veterinarian to have with clients, who may firmly believe that vaccines are a potential danger to their pets,” he said. “Veterinarians need to adopt a nonconfrontational but persuasive communication style to convey correct, science-based information in an understandable fashion.”

To facilitate that conversation, the AVMA has several vaccination-related resources available for pet owners at jav.ma/VxResources. AVMA members can also download a handout version of the materials at jav.ma/Vaccinations.

Condensed from March 1, 2020, JAVMA News

NAVTA Veterinary Nurse Initiative a work in progress


Rachel O'Lone (left) is president of the veterinary technician club and a second-year veterinary technology student at Joliet Community College in Joliet, Illinois, and Jordan Trauscht is the secretary of the veterinary technician club and also a second-year student in the veterinary technology program at JCC. (Photo by Kaitlyn Mattson)

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 81, 4; 10.2460/ajvr.81.4.288

Rachel O'Lone often has to explain her future job to people.

“Anytime I say that I am a veterinary technician or I am going to school to be a veterinary technician to someone, they're like: ‘Oh, what is that?'” she said. “And I have to be, ‘Oh, it's like a veterinary nurse.’ I always have to say nurse for them to even know what it is.”

O'Lone is president of the Veterinary Technician Club and a second-year veterinary technology program student at Joliet Community College in Joliet, Illinois. O'Lone believes that changing the professional title from certified veterinary technician to registered veterinary nurse would help indicate to pet owners how important her role in the veterinary care team is.

The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America formed the Veterinary Nurse Initiative in 2016 to unite the name-change efforts.

Erin Spencer, past president of NAVTA, said the organization has been focused on professional recognition within the veterinary industry for the past few years, and it has paid off.

NAVTA has a seat at most tables now. For example, this past July, NAVTA was elected as a member of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association.

“We have the profession and the veterinary community behind us,” she said, noting that moving forward, efforts will focus on public education. “Let's move out and start having those conversations and getting that education to the public so they can also support us.”

Along with public education, the VNI is working on finding solutions to title protection issues by building resources for members.

Condensed from March. 15, 2020, JAVMA News

AVMA revises declawing policy


Dr. Catherine Lund, Rhode Island delegate in the AVMA House of Delegates, spoke in favor of the revision to the AVMA policy on cat declawing. (Photo by R. Scott Nolen)

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 81, 4; 10.2460/ajvr.81.4.288

The AVMA discourages declawing of domestic cats as an elective procedure.

On Jan. 11, leaders in the AVMA House of Delegates updated the Association's policy on declawing, or onychectomy, which states that the Association opposes the procedure but defers to veterinarians to decide what's best for each patient and client.

The resolution passed with 84% of the vote during the HOD regular winter session in Chicago. The House, which represents state and allied associations, is the Association's main policy-setting body.

The prior policy, last updated in 2014, indicated the procedure should be a last resort and encouraged client education. The new policy still encourages education on cat behavior and the surgery.

Both versions of the policy state that cats undergoing the surgery must receive pain management.

Discouraging elective declawing is consistent with positions from the American Association of Feline Practitioners and American Animal Hospital Association, which also discourage declawing and encourage veterinarians to educate clients about alternatives. The AVMA revised its policy partly in response to states and cities adding or considering bans on elective declawing.

AAFP leaders state in their policy that feline declawing is unnecessary in most instances and a response to behaviors cats inherit and learn. The AAHA position statement indicates a few circumstances—such as tumors or chronic infections—for which claw removal may be required, but it notes that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not list declawing among means of preventing disease in humans.

Condensed from March 1, 2020, JAVMA News

AVMA leaders discuss potential legal liability of student, volunteer work

Work on farms and in clinics provides future veterinarians valuable experience, but letting students and other nonemployees work or volunteer in a veterinary practice can raise concerns about liability.

Members of the AVMA House of Delegates called for guidance and education during a discussion on the use of students, externs, and volunteers in veterinary practices. The delegates met Jan. 10–11 in Chicago as part of the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference, a combination of AVMA governance meetings and professional development sessions.

In 2017, a Missouri jury found a veterinarian and a cattle owner each partly responsible for injuries suffered in 2009 by a then veterinary student who was vaccinating cattle on a farm when a calf crushed her hand against the wall of a cattle chute, causing a carpal bone fracture and painful chronic conditions, according to court documents. The jury also found the veterinary student partially responsible. A state appellate court affirmed the decision in March 2019.

Dr. Jim Brett, a representative on the House Advisory Committee, said volunteer work and externships with private practitioners have great educational value, noting that veterinary colleges consider such work experience in admissions and some colleges rely on those partnerships for distributed education models.

Dr. K. Fred Gingrich II, executive vice president of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners, called for education on what veterinarians should do when a student is injured, as well as what veterinarians can do to reduce their legal risk.

Condensed from March 1, 2020, JAVMA News

Veterinary students find leadership roles matter at every level

“Don't Be a Crab” was the slogan Kristina Williams used when running for class president at Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, which refers to the crabs-in-a-bucket mentality. That is, when two crabs are in a bucket, as soon as one tries to climb out of the bucket, the other will grab the escaping crab by the legs and try to escape itself, with the result that neither crab ends up escaping.


Left to right: Veterinary students Kristina Williams, Kayla Corey, Ava Mastrostefano, and Bryanna Andrews speak during the session “Our Passion, Our Profession, Our Perspectives on the Future” Jan. 11 at the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference in Chicago. (Photo by Malinda Larkin)

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 81, 4; 10.2460/ajvr.81.4.288

“In veterinary school, there's lots of competition. People don't learn how to work together, and then they get in the real world, where it's collaboration heavy, and they get culture shock,” Williams said. “I think a lot of mental health problems take root in vet school—it's very high stress … and difficult enough without that cut-throat mentality.”

Williams, a second-year veterinary student at Colorado State University; Kayla Corey, a second-year veterinary student at Texas A&M University; Ava Mastrostefano, a second-year veterinary student at Tufts University; and Bryanna Andrews, a third-year veterinary student at the University of Edinburgh, all spoke during the session “Our Passion, Our Profession, Our Perspectives on the Future” Jan. 11 at the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference in Chicago.

They also were among 30 students who received scholarships from SAVMA that covered travel, hotel, and registration expenses for them to attend the VLC.

Mastrostefano said she was inspired by the resources she learned about at the conference. As president of Tuft's SAVMA Wellness Committee, she's looking forward to sharing with fellow members the AVMA's “My Veterinary Life” podcast and resources from avma.org/wellbeing.

Condensed from March 1, 2020, JAVMA News

Taking steps against educational debt

The educational debt crisis was a key topic of conversation among students, association leaders, and veterinary college representatives on Jan. 10 at the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference in Chicago.

The session “Beyond Dollars and Cents: Leadership in Student Debt Strategies” included discussion of what the overall educational debt in the profession looks like, types of support associations can provide, strategies for leadership, and what effective financial resources are being and should be offered.

Specifically, the Veterinary Medical Association Executives compiled a list of resources to assist state and other veterinary associations in creating educational debt strategies.

Ralph Johnson, CEO of VMAE, announced the Ready. Set. Go! Tackle Educational Debt Initiative, which includes a step-by-step guide providing a menu of options that VMAs can take.

“We all own this problem,” Johnson said. “As VMAs, we must act.”

The guide includes the following suggestions:

  1. Start a conversation by the board of directors about what role the VMA will take in the debt crisis, how to create action against the issue, how to engage volunteers, and resources the VMA can use for this issue.
  2. Speak with early-career veterinarians about educational debt and how it affects their lives.
  3. Take action by, for example, creating an educational debt resource center, spreading the word, or creating a scholarship fund.
  4. Track and measure progress, and adjust actions based on best practices.

The guide is available courtesy of the Veterinary Debt Initiative, which is led by the AVMA, Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, and VMAE and is focused on helping veterinarians pursue financially sustainable careers. The guide is available at jav.ma/ReadySetGo.

Condensed from March. 1, 2020, JAVMA News

‘Monstrous’ Australian bushfires wreak havoc on wildlife

The most startling news about the recent Australian bushfires is the number of animals killed.

Chris Dickman, PhD, a professor of ecology, conservation, and management of Australian mammals at the University of Sydney, estimates the fires would kill more than 800 million animals in New South Wales alone and impact a billion animals nationwide. By way of comparison, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimated up to 1 million wild and domesticated animals died during the 2009 Black Saturday brushfires.


A snapshot of the destruction in Batemans Bay, New South Wales, Australia, where bushfires destroyed hundreds of homes (Photo by Dr. Kate Toyer)

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 81, 4; 10.2460/ajvr.81.4.288

As Dr. Dickman explained in a statement from the university, animals that survive the fires in the first instance by fleeing or going underground will return or reemerge into areas without the resources to support them. Others will fall victim to predators.

“I think there's nothing quite to compare with the devastation that's going on over such a large area so quickly,” Dr. Dickman said. “It's a monstrous event in terms of geography and the number of individual animals affected.

Dr. Julia Crawford, president of the Australian Veterinary Association, described Dr. Dickman's estimates as “a fair assessment.”

“I talked to veterinarians who assisted in the animal part of the response early on. They were waiting for injured wildlife to be brought in, but nothing came in,” Dr. Crawford said. “We think these fires are so hot and burn so fast that probably 90% of these animals died immediately.

“The deaths are just far more than we ever thought.”

Condensed from March 1, 2020, JAVMA News

Super Bowl ad prompts donations to Wisconsin veterinary school

Every dog has his day, and for Scout the Golden Retriever, that day was Feb. 2. He and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine—and by extension, the veterinary profession—were at the center of a 2020 Super Bowl commercial.

The 30-second spot told the story of Scout and the cancer treatment he received at the veterinary school. The commercial prompted several large donations to the UW Foundation's Pets Make a Difference Fund, which benefits the veterinary school and its work to improve animal and human health.

The veterinary school had not released official donation totals as of press time in mid-February, but the fund did report that it had received thousands of gifts from donors across the U.S., Europe, and South America after the commercial aired. The gifts ranged from $5 to a $250,000 donation from the Petco Foundation.


Scout and certified veterinary technician Ashley Onsager (Courtesy of WeatherTech)

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 81, 4; 10.2460/ajvr.81.4.288

“This is an amazing opportunity not only for the UW-Madison veterinary school but for veterinary medicine worldwide,” Dr. Mark Markel, dean of the veterinary school, said in a press release. “So much of what's known globally today about how best to diagnose and treat devastating diseases such as cancer originated in veterinary medicine. We're thrilled to share with Super Bowl viewers how our profession benefits animals like Scout and helps people too.”

The veterinary school first encountered the 7-year-old Scout after a heart tumor was diagnosed in July. The treatment plan from the team at the veterinary school led to the tumor all but disappearing.

Condensed from March. 15, 2020, JAVMA News

WSU names new dean

The Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine has named Dr. Dori Borjesson (UC-Davis ‘95) as its new dean, effective July 20.

Dr. Borjesson will replace Dr. Bryan Slinker, the former dean of the veterinary college, who announced he would step down but was later appointed interim provost. He will leave that position in June.

“Being from the Pacific Northwest, this feels like a homecoming,” Dr. Borjesson said in a press release. She was raised in Portland, Oregon. “Increasing engagement and outreach across the state is a top priority for me upon taking up this new role. In addition to engagement and strategic planning, I'm also eager to face some of the critical issues facing members of the veterinary profession, including student debt and enhancing the wellbeing of our faculty, students, and staff.” of the Department of Pathology, Microbiology, and Immunology at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. She has also worked as a clinical pathologist and served as the director of the Veterinary Institute for Regenerative Cures at UC-Davis from 2015–19. She is a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Pathology.

Dr. Borjesson is the former chair


Dr. Dori Borjesson will step into her new role as dean of the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine in July. (Courtesy of WSU)

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 81, 4; 10.2460/ajvr.81.4.288

Dr. Borjesson holds two patents in mesenchymal stem cells and immunomodulation, and some of her recent research has focused on naturally occurring inflammatory bowel disease in dogs, chronic gingivostomatitis in cats, and spinal cord injury in dogs.

She received the 2014 Zoetis Research Excellence Award.

Condensed from March. 15, 2020, JAVMA News

Education council schedules site visits

The AVMA Council on Education has scheduled site visits to nine schools and colleges of veterinary medicine for the remainder of 2020.

Comprehensive site visits are planned for the University of Glasgow School of Veterinary Medicine, April 26-May 1; the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, May 17–21; the proposed Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine, June 21–25; the University of Melbourne, Melbourne Veterinary School, Aug. 9–14; Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine, Sept. 13–17; The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Oct. 18–22; the University of Nottingham School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, Oct. 31-Nov. 6; and the University College Dublin School of Veterinary Medicine, Nov. 15–19.

A focused site visit is planned for the University of Arizona College of Veterinary Medicine, July 12–15.

The council welcomes written comments on these plans or the programs to be evaluated. Comments should be addressed to Dr. Karen Martens Brandt, Director, Education and Research Division, AVMA, 1931 N. Meacham Road, Suite 100, Schaumburg, IL 60173. Comments must be signed by the person submitting them to be considered.

From April 1, 2020, JAVMA News

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