Leave Equine Vaccinations to the Veterinarians


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Help veterinary customers take back equine vaccinations for better business and best medicine.

Half of all horse owners don’t think twice about purchasing a vaccine and administering it themselves, according to a recent report from the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP). Yet, there are some important reasons why owners should leave vaccinations to veterinarians, including:

  1. Disease risk assessment
  2. Vaccine storage and handling
  3. Vaccine administration

Fortunately, these best practices also help create business opportunities for veterinarians, notes Jacquelin Boggs, DVM, MS, DACVIM, senior veterinarian, Equine Technical Services with Zoetis.

“Distributor sales reps play a key role in education,” Boggs says. “There are five core antigens all horses need every spring, and distributors can help increase compliance to make sure horses are receiving that protection. As I travel around the country, I hear owners and veterinarians tell me they have a hard time remembering to vaccinate for West Nile or rabies. We can remind veterinarians of the basics even as they are running and gunning to take care of their patients’ other concerns.”

Core reminders

The AAEP has a defined set of core vaccinations all horses should receive – regardless of whether the horse is a frequently traveling competitor or stays in the backyard year-round. These core vaccinations include:1

  1. Eastern equine encephalomyelitis (EEE)
  2. Western equine encephalomyelitis (WEE)
  3. Rabies
  4. Tetanus
  5. West Nile virus (WNV)

According to the AAEP, these diseases are defined as “core” due to their virulent nature, the risk of severe
disease and/or public health significance.

“For example, rabies is a core antigen. If a veterinarian is not ordering rabies vaccines, distributors can help bring that to
their attention,” Boggs says. “The USDA takes very seriously the danger of rabies and sets guidelines for proper manufacturing and handling of rabies vaccines to ensure safety. It’s required that a veterinarian administer the vaccine to ensure it’s properly handled and administered.”

Horses without a record of
rabies vaccination from a licensed veterinarian may be subject to quarantine – or even euthanasia – if exposed to rabies, she adds.

“In a situation where a there’s exposure to rabies, the state may not consider a horse adequately vaccinated if the vaccine was not administered by a veterinarian,” Boggs says. “The USDA has very specific guidelines for how rabies vaccines are handled and what happens in case of potential exposure.”

Risk-based vaccines

All other vaccines should be administered based on the horse’s risk, which only a veterinarian can adequately assess. Twice yearly appointments can provide a touchpoint for vaccinations – and offers veterinarians the opportunity to give the horse a complete exam, Boggs advises.

“When you think about it, you see a dentist twice a year,” she says. “On the small animal side, most owners get an annual exam for their dog. I encourage horse owners to do the same thing. I also encourage veterinarians to do other wellness checks at the appointment, like a fecal egg count test.”

Turning the appointment into an overall health checkup can help veterinarians catch diseases and conditions early. For example, a horse that has a change in body condition or coat quality might tip off the need to test for metabolic diseases, Boggs suggests.

Vaccine basics

Veterinarians have the expertise to assess disease risk, and they also know how to properly store, handle and administer vaccines, she says.

Maintaining vaccines at the appropriate temperature from transport from supplier to administration is an important aspect of proper immunization programs. For instance, leaving a vaccine in a hot car – or directly on ice or improper refrigeration – can result in lack of efficacy, vaccine failure or even an increased rate of adverse reactions post vaccination.

Safe administration of vaccines also requires a clean environment and injection site. This is crucial because, without both, horse owners could introduce harmful pathogens rather than protect against them, Boggs says.

Distributors can help ensure veterinarians understand the specific storage and handling requirements for products purchased.

“For distributors, there are opportunities to have a conversation with the purchaser or veterinarians about the available options,” Boggs says. “Distributors can also remind veterinarians about the AAEP Guidelines for core vaccinations for the horse – and capture the vaccine business.”

For more information on rabies and rabies vaccinations for horses, see our article “Rabies Realities” in the March 2018 issue.

  1. American Association of Equine Practitioners. Core Vaccination Guidelines. Available at: https://aaep.org/guidelines/vaccination-guidelines/core-vaccination-guidelines
  2. American Association of Equine Practitioners. Vaccine Storage and Handling. Available at: https://aaep.org/guidelines/vaccination-guidelines/vaccine-storage-and-handling


Key Points:

  • All horses should receive annual “core” vaccination against Eastern/Western Equine Encephalomyelitis, rabies, tetanus and West Nile virus.
  • All horses have exposure to these core diseases and should be vaccinated.
  •  Other vaccinations – such as those for anthrax, botulism, equine herpesvirus (rhinopneumonitis) or equine influenza – are based on the horse’s risk.
  •  Risk of contracting a disease can vary by geography or between individual horses residing in the same barn.
  •  Assessing a horses’ risk, handling and storing the vaccine appropriately, and safely administering a vaccine is best done by a veterinarian.
  •  A twice-a-year vaccination appointment allows veterinarians to perform a complete exam.

10 Vaccine Storage and Handling Tips

The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) recommends the following vaccine management practices:

  1. Have a designated individual responsible for handling and storage of vaccines.
  2. Maintain a vaccine inventory log, documenting: Vaccine name, manufacturer, lot number and expiration date, date and number of doses received; and arrival condition of the vaccine.
  3. Store vaccines in a refrigerator with a separate freezer compartment.
  4. Keep a working thermometer in the refrigerator; monitor the temperature twice daily.
  5. Store vaccines in the middle of the refrigerator, NOT in the door or against the back of the refrigerator.
  6. Organize vaccines according to the expiration date, avoiding wastage by ensuring that products with earlier expiration dates are used before products with later dates.
  7. In the event of refrigerator failure, promptly remove vaccines to an adequately refrigerated container.
  8. In the event of a power failure, keep the refrigerator door closed until power is restored or a suitable location for the vaccine has been identified.
  9. Ambulatory vehicles should have a thermometer in the refrigeration unit or portable cooler in which vaccines
    are carried.
  10. Consult the manufacturer if vaccine: is exposed to temperatures outside of the recommended range; undergoes color change during storage; and/or is exposed to ultraviolet radiation.