by Esther Attard
Since the race to produce a COVID-19 vaccine began I’ve been thinking of the role vaccines play in shelter medicine. I remember a time, not that long ago, when cats would succumb to panleukopenia and dogs to parvovirus acquired during their shelter stay. It was devastating to say the least! Dogs and cats who entered the shelter were not vaccinated until stray time was completed and those who could not be handled or were confined due to a bite incident were never vaccinated. Many of them became ill with panleuk/parvo simply because they weren’t vaccinated quickly enough or with the right type of vaccine.
I remember one puppy in particular, he was so fearful on entry and was left in the same run for months while receiving care and training. When he started to really improve he was moved to another run, within a week the puppy had parvo and died despite aggressive treatment. We discovered that the puppy had never been vaccinated due to his behaviour on entry and the run he was moved to, had been occupied by a dog with parvo more than a year before. In all these cases the animals had not been vaccinated or had received a killed vaccine and immunity was slow to develop before disease struck. Despite all this evidence, it took a lot of convincing to ensure that all animals were vaccinated on intake with a modified live vaccine. Very quickly the results were seen – no more panluekopenia or parvovirus outbreaks acquired within the shelter and those that came in with the disease were isolated quickly and treated successfully. Makes a big difference when you’ve only got one animal to treat as opposed to 10 or more and a much better chance for recovery!
Vaccines in shelter medicine are certainly lifesaving as they have been for humans all through history. We’ve recently been witness to vaccine development to implementation within a year of the discovery of a new disease. This is a remarkable accomplishment and gives hope that we can work through other worldwide challenges. We’ve already seen the lifesaving benefits these vaccines have had in long-term care homes and this will continue as other age groups and priority communities receive their vaccines! I’m also optimistic that the information gathered in developing the COVID-19 vaccine will create interest in development of a new or improved feline coronavirus vaccine.