Fundamental to optimal horse health and care is the decision to prevent preventable diseases, and therefore an appropriate vaccination program is an important tool used to protect your horse from certain severe and fatal illnesses! There is no “standard” vaccination program as each horse’s set of circumstances (e.g. environment, season, travel and stress factors) may require evaluation for the specific risk factors. Proven vaccines are able to efficiently and reliably prevent debilitating/life threatening diseases such as Tetanus, Strangles, Equine Herpes Virus, Rattles (Rhodococcus), Rotavirus and Hendra Virus.
Equine vaccination protocols require a very small investment both in time and cost when compared to the financial and emotional cost of treatment or loss of the horse.
So, how does the horse vaccination work?
A vaccination comprises the administration of antigenic material (proteins) isolated from bacteria, viruses or other foreign host tissue that is capable of inducing a specific immune response, which creates antibodies to that particular protein. This “primes” the body to react to neutralise a specific disease. The immune response initiated by the horse vaccine may prevent, ameliorate or lessen the symptoms of disease produced by a potential infection or infectious disease. The vaccination program therefore not only protects the individual but also an entire population.
What are the concerns or adverse effects of a horse vaccination?
There is no denying that vaccinations are associated with a limited number of adverse effects, however, modern day horse vaccines that are used against Tetanus, Strangles, Equine Herpes Virus (EHV 1,4) and Hendra Virus (HeV) rarely cause side effects of much concern. Those that may be observed include muscle swelling at the site of injection, stiffness, mild fever, anorexia and lethargy. Other even less common side effects are anaphylaxis and local tissue irritation. Most side effects are rare and self-limiting with only a few requiring treatment with non-steroidal anti-inflammatories to alleviate the symptoms. In spite of the low risk of adverse effects, the vast benefit of vaccination for the horse outweighs these concerns.
How many and how often are horse vaccinations administered?
In general, most vaccination protocols commence with two (but sometimes three) vaccines given between 2 to 6 weeks apart. Thereafter, most vaccination protocols call for an annual booster, but dependant upon specific conditions such as horse population and density or disease prevalence, particular vaccinations may require more frequent administration (such as Equine Herpes Virus (EHV 1,4) every 6 months).
The appropriate use of vaccinations is directed towards the maximisation of horse health, productivity and performance, and form part of good managerial practices, which also include proper biosecurity, parasite control and optimal nutrition. For more information on vaccines, please contact your veterinarian.