Some thoughts on rabies vaccinations.

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Two things brought the topic of rabies vaccinations for dogs – and for people – to my mind recently: one was the fact that Rowley, being heartworm positive, has received from our county Department of Public Health a medical exemption from the requirement for any more rabies vaccinations; the other was coming across a reference, for the first time in years, to an article by a holistic vet, Dr. John Fudens, titled “The Big Scam: Rabies Vaccination.” This piece, which I am not going to link here, was posted in many forums and on many websites when Fudens authored it in 2008. It was reprinted in Dogs Naturally Magazine, and in the Whole Dog Journal. It’s still referenced today. Read now, it seems almost quaint, but it seems also dangerous.

Fudens starts out by asserting that “There are two basic forms of law. One is the legal Constitutional and Common law that this country was founded on, and the other is “colorable” law passed by Administrative agencies/bureaucrats who have been given so called authority to pass laws. Black’s Law Dictionary 5th Edition defines colorable law as “That which is in appearance only, and not in reality, what purports to be, hence counterfeit, feigned, having the appearance of truth.” Yes, I study the law, am a paralegal, and have an extensive law library.

He goes on from there, confident that readers who oppose the requirement for repeated rabies vaccinations won’t pick up on the fact that that paragraph is complete gibberish.

Know what administrative law is? It’s the body of rules, orders, and decisions issued by administrative agencies, such as the federal Securities and Exchange Commission or a state’s public utilities commission.  Laws requiring rabies vaccinations are passed by state legislatures or by county boards in the US, not voted on in the US Congress. This doesn’t make them any less binding, or any less enforceable. Next time a cop pulls you over for speeding, try telling him that Congress didn’t pass that law so he can’t ticket you under that law. It’ll give him a good laugh before he hands you the ticket. Fudens puts the legal requirements for rabies vaccinations over to one side and then for good measure, he pulls out a definition of ‘colorable law’ that has nothing to do with anything and adds it to that side. We’re left with the notion that somehow, laws that require rabies vaccinations are not ‘real’ laws and may even be un-Constitutional. Nice! Of course he has “an extensive law library”!

Then he says: “So any and all mandatory rabies vaccination programs are colorable law, in that they have been passed and mandated upon the pet owning public by certain vested interest groups. Who are these groups? First and foremost are veterinarians, in general, and veterinarian medical organizations. Second are the local animal control personnel, bureaucrats and politicians. What are their reasons? GREED, POWER AND CONTROL. Both these large powerful interest groups stand to benefit greatly by having rabies mandated by colorable law.”

Oh boy. Here’s the part that should set you off, I guess: bureaucrats and politicians are causing harm to your dogs (as he goes on to assure us) simply for greed, power, and control – but all capitalized (emphasis his, not mine). Cue the outrage! But don’t bother to look at the article to see if anywhere, even once, he mentions these things, because he doesn’t:

  1. Rabies is a fatal disease. There is no treatment for it, there is no cure for it. Your dog gets rabies, your dog is done like dinner, dead as the proverbial doornail. YOU get rabies, you are done like dinner, dead as the proverbial doornail. Curtains. I don’t know about you, but I tend to have some respect for diseases that have no cure and no treatment and result in death.
  2. Rabies can jump species. It can be transmitted by a rabid animal to an animal of another species, or to a human being. Once it’s transmitted, see #1.

For those reasons, which IMO are pretty simple to understand, rabies is a public health issue. While greed may impel many bureaucrats, politicians, and even veterinarians, the desire to not have rabies spreading through any populations, either animal or human, generally trumps that greed. There are laws in place in all 50 states that require vaccinations against rabies because, should anyone contract rabies, see #1 and #2 above.

Fudens doesn’t address that. Instead, he blusters that “Veterinarians receive a large percentage of both their gross income and profit from vaccines given in the office. On average vaccines cost 60 to 95 cents per dose and are charged to the client at $15 to $25 per injection and substantially more in the large cities. Therefore, if veterinarians lobby to have a colorable law passed to give rabies vaccine every year that enhances their financial picture.

Now, there’s where it sounds almost quaint. First of all, any veterinarian who relies solely or even in large part on rabies vaccinations for income is going to be a veterinarian who has a pretty low standard of living. Thanks in large part to Dr. Jean Dodds and the Rabies Challenge Fund (– about which, more later), 3-year rabies vaccines are now acceptable in all fifty states in the US. Second, many people have access to rabies vaccinations at lower costs than in their veterinary clinics: my county provides a mobile vaccination and microchip clinic every summer, and when Dee was due for a rabies vaccine, I took her to the county mobile clinic and paid $21 for the 3-year rabies shot she received. And finally, expecting to pay little more than what a vaccine cost, to receive it in a veterinary clinic, is just dumb. How is that different from confronting the manager of your favorite burger joint and telling him (or her) that you KNOW the ingredients for your double bacon cheeseburger and large fries cost no more than $3.85, and the bill they handed you for $10.50 is simply outrageous! The manager will be able to tell immediately that you are a clueless nitwit who knows nothing about how a business is run. So will the owner of your veterinary clinic when you protest that a rabies vaccination should not be marked up simply because the clinic has salaries and benefits to pay, utility bills and insurance premiums to meet.

The rest of Fudens’s article is equally silly, but this paragraph takes my breath away: “Is there rabies in this Country? You bet. Are there areas of this Country that have rabies in their wildlife population and do some dogs/cats become infected? You bet. But let’s be realistic. Rabies has been on this earth long before man walked here and will be here long after we are gone. The only way to get rid of rabies is to remove mankind and the upper animals susceptible to the virus. Then maybe the virus will die off. It is a self limiting disease in the wild as it is fatal. So the virus has an extremely hard time spreading far and wide.

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Check me on this, but I think the reason the virus has had “an extremely hard time spreading far and wide” in the canine world is because of vaccinations. That passage ought to be a reason to provide vaccinations wherever we can; instead, it reads as if the author is saying “Let’s not bother to immunize, let’s not stop the spread of a fatal, untreatable disease with a vaccine that IS ENTIRELY EFFECTIVE, let’s just take the long view and say ‘Too bad about Fido and Fluffy, but rabies has been on this earth long before man walked here.’” Wow. Has this guy actually read the Veterinarian’s Oath that he took?

“Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.”

Not seeing anything in there about a laissez-faire attitude towards rabies. And it probably wouldn’t promote public health to go with Fudens’s suggestion that we “educate the pet owner to the risks and dangers and let them decide whether the immune system damage from rabies vaccination is greater or lesser than contracting the disease.” Good grief.

As I said, this article was silly in 2008 and it’s more silly today. Not the concept and practice of vaccination against rabies: that’s not silly at all. But the notion that because the requirement was for unwarrantedly frequent vaccinations, we should eschew vaccinations altogether – that’s silly.

The real work here has been done, of course, by Dr. Jean Dodds. I encourage everyone reading this to support The Rabies Challenge Fund in any way you can, and they do accept donations.

https://www.rabieschallengefund.org/

Thanks to the work of the Fund and others, 18 of 50 states now offer medical exemptions for dogs whose health would be compromised by further rabies vaccinations.  A list of those states is here.  If your state doesn’t offer a medical exemption, perhaps there is a campaign to get one that you could support.

https://www.rabieschallengefund.org/states-with-medical-exemptions

Thanks to the work of the Fund, we probably WILL have a rabies vaccine, in the years to come, that has a 7-year Duration of Immunity study behind it. This will mean that many dogs can receive no more than three rabies vaccinations in their lifetimes, and be protected from a fatal and untreatable disease. The vaccine companies have dropped the ball on this because frankly, where’s their incentive to expand the DOI studies for rabies vaccines? Costs money, takes time, they consider the subject closed and the status quo sufficient. Consider, though, that veterinary workers are required to be immunized against rabies, since they may come into contact with the disease in their work; and they are not required to renew those vaccinations annually, or every three years. They can submit blood for titers, and those titers will be evaluated by The Rabies Lab at Kansas State and come back with either ‘protective’ or ‘not protective’ assessments. The veterinary worker would renew his or her vaccination only when titers were deemed ‘not protective’ in that test. So if titers are already being accepted as adequate substitutes for vaccines for humans, they can and should be accepted as adequate substitutes for vaccines for dogs. We need to push for that, and to support The Rabies Challenge Fund. The requirements of 20 years ago that mandated annual rabies vaccinations are gone now, because of the public attention paid to this issue and because of the work by committed pet owners and members of the veterinary community. No thanks to Dr. John Fudens, none at all.

 

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