Who's allowed to give a rabies vaccine? And why should it matter?

Patty Khuly, DVM
Written by:
Published: November 14, 2008
Who's allowed to give a rabies vaccine? And why should it matter?

Lots of breeders and regular pet owners give their own vaccines as a way to save on multi-pet care. Many of them do research on the vaccines, ask their vets for advice, buy the vaccines online, store them properly, administer them carefully and keep excellent records.

I have no problem with this approach as long as self-vaccinators don’t skip steps and get all sloppy about it. After all, vaccination detail is not something to be undertaken lightly. That’s why so many pet owners ask their vets to manage this for them carefully.

But when it comes to vaccines that require regulatory oversight, vets are required to administer them or provide “direct supervision” whenever they are. (“Direct supervision” in this case means that vets must be in the facility at the time vaccines are administered but a technician is allowed to give the shots out of the doctor’s sight).

Vaccines that require this kind of oversight include those for zoonotic diseases (diseases transmissible to humans) such as rabies and brucellosis as well as for those required for regulatory health certificates.

But not all vets seem to understand this. Case in point:

I’m in this email group run by the FVMA where vets discuss the pros and cons of various issues affecting the profession and how regulatory concerns affect our patients’ care. This week’s big brouhaha concerned the issue of who is legally allowed to administer a rabies vaccine.

It seems some breeders in Florida are trying to administer their own rabies vaccines then get the vets to issue licenses and/or certificates of administration. Some vets think this is OK. They say the vaccine is no more likely to cause a problem (nor is the disease’s risk higher) if the shot’s administered by a non-veterinarian.

Others, however, are raising a red flag to such shenanigans. Guess which group I’m in? Here’s my reasoning:

  • If I’m required by law to administer a vaccine then I’m going to follow the law.
  • If I’m going to sign my name to paperwork attesting to the vaccine’s administration then I’m going to give the vaccine.
  • If my child is bitten by a dog, guess whose rabies vaccine records I’m going to have to trust?

It seems that some vets don’t get the problem of rabies. “Rabies hasn’t been seen in dogs and cats in this county for over 25 years,” they say. “Why can’t I offer my multi-pet clients a break on this one? I didn’t go to vet school to push vaccines, anyway.”

Here’s my rejoinder:

When I was a kid I was bitten by a neighbor’s white shepherd while riding my bicycle on the street near her house. Rabies? “Oh, I gave it myself. I grew up on a farm where we gave all our own shots. Here’s my receipt for the vaccine.”

Needless to say, this creepy woman’s records were not going to convince my mother. The dog was quarantined and I was very nearly subjected to a series of painful intraperitoneal injections (those “belly shots” required for rabies post-exposure back in the day). I know I didn’t sleep for many nights out of fear for my abdomen. The bite? Incidental. It healed fine.

So when it comes to you, your pets or your human children being bitten, whose records would YOU trust? Do you blame me for protecting my profession’s right to be the sole provider of vaccines in this case?

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