Wanted: Rabies vaccine

The early bird got a shot at the vet. All the other pets and their owners will need to look elsewhere

By Enru Lin  /  Staff reporter

Tue, Aug 06, 2013 - Page 12

Huang Tai-shan (黃泰山), a “loving-heart” father of stray dogs and cats, is leading a protest at the Council of Agriculture (COA) on Friday.

“The problem right now is that the COA is scrambling to figure out what to do about the rabies situation and contradicting itself in the process. It’s telling us to inoculate the pets, yet it won’t supply the vaccines,” Huang told the Taipei Times.

“People are going from vet to vet with their pets in tow but nobody can do a thing for them,” he said.

Last weekend, many Taipei City animal hospitals confirmed that they are short on supplies. As of press time, only one out of 10 clinics surveyed can still offer shots: Mingde Animal Hospital (明德動物醫院). The other nine are waiting on privately placed orders, which they expect to arrive in late August or September.

Try the shelter

Until then, a better bet is an unlikely place, one where no dog has willingly gone before. At many kill shelters across Taiwan, in-house veterinarians are offering rabies vaccination to local domestic animals.

The Taipei Animal Shelter (台北市動物之家) in Neihu has administered shots to 150 to 200 pets daily since July 16, according to division chief Sun Hsu-ming (孫旭明).

“There’s no trouble yet dealing with the demand. We’re not running low because we placed some orders on day one of the outbreak, and we’ve also had 500 free doses come in from the COA,” Sun said, adding that the central government has sent about 6,000 doses in total to shelters across Taiwan.

The COA has about 40,000 doses remaining, set to be gradually rationed out to local disease control departments, according to the council’s Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine (BAPHIQ, 防疫局).

As a result, some disease control departments may also be able to offer vaccinations unavailable in the private sector.

Try the train station

When available, a rabies vaccine costs between NT$200 and NT$1,000. In high-risk cities and counties, some disease control units have begun offering them at below cost.

In Changhua County, which sits by the outbreak’s epicenter, a traveling clinic stops at the Tianzhong Train Station (田中車站) today and at 24 other locations between now and Nov. 29. The clinic offers rabies vaccination for free and microchipping at NT$300 per pet. The complete itinerary is available at the Animal Disease Control Center Web site (Chinese): www.chcgadcc.gov.tw.

The Animal and Plant Disease Control Center in Yunlin County, which has two confirmed cases, offers free vaccines in red-zone Gukeng (古坑) and inexpensive vaccines to lower-risk areas. For details, call the control center at (05) 552-3250.

Limited free or inexpensive (under NT$100) vaccines are also available in Hualien, Taoyuan, Greater Taichung, Hsinchu and other cities and counties. Contact the disease control unit in your region for more information.

Pets only

In Taitung County, where rabies has been confirmed in eight ferret-badgers and an Asian house shrew, vaccines have been reserved nearly exclusively for pets.

Contrary to reports that the county is inoculating the stray dog population, this is not yet the case, according Agriculture Department Director Wu Ching-jung (吳慶榮).

“We haven’t been pushing catch and release. For us, the first move is to protect the people, which means we protect the animals closest to them,” Wu told the Taipei Times.

Last weekend, the disease control unit under Taitung’s Agriculture Department concluded phase one of a traveling vaccination program for pets and working dogs used to guard orchards in Taitung’s mountainous areas. The second wave is scheduled for mid-August, once fresh supplies arrive. At that point, the department may strengthen efforts to inoculate strays, Wu said.

Sean McCormack, founder of Taiwan Animal S.O.S., supports the government’s efforts to vaccinate dogs instead of killing strays in an organized campaign.

But Huang, another animal rights advocate, says that mass culling is happening even in the absence of a central mandate.

Spurred by public fear, many kill shelters have been strengthening their dog-catching operations; in Greater Taichung, a whopping 592 dogs and cats await death at pounds, according to Huang.

Wild Animals too?

Huang also believes that the government’s piecemeal response has missed the point so far.

“The COA needs to have a long-range plan. It needs to focus a little — rabies appeared in wild animals, so let’s address the issue of wild animals. Why is nobody doing that?” he said.

According to a BAPHIQ staffer who requested anonymity, COA officials are in fact considering a vaccination program for wild animals, but are divided over its cost-to-effectiveness ratio and the risk to tourists in baited scenic regions.

For now, it’s strictly about the dogs and cats, she continued. There are 500,000 and 200,000 doses arriving for the COA and private sector, respectively, and 270,000 doses were imported prior to the outbreak. Within a month, there should be enough doses to vaccinate some 70 percent of Taiwan’s 1.5 million dogs and cats and to contain the outbreak, according to the BAPHIQ.

Rabies is a viral disease that causes brain inflammation in mammals. It can spread from one species to another, through bites or contact with an infected animal’s saliva.

After exposure to the rabies virus, proper treatment can prevent infection in humans, but usually not in animals.