‘Rabies is nearly fatal’: Many local dog owners hesitant about mandatory vaccine, study finds

Massachusetts law is clear dogs and cats must get a rabies vaccine.

Dr. Meera Gatlin, assistant teaching professor of public health at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, said “We have actually done a remarkable job in the 20th century of basically eradicating the dog as host for rabies affecting people.”

While 60,000 people a year die from rabies infections worldwide. The number in the United States is currently zero.

A growing number of dog owners, however, are expressing skepticism about inoculating their pets against this fatal disease.

This is referred to as “Canine Vaccine Hesitancy.”

A poll published in the journal “Vaccine” found that 53% of dog owners have some concern about the safety, efficacy, or necessity of rabies vaccines.

37% believe the shots can lead to cognitive issues like autism.

“We worry that the consequences of non-vaccination could impact both our four-legged friends as well as all of us,” said Matt Motta, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the Boston University School of Public Health.

He is one of the lead researchers on the study that commissioned the poll.

Motta says dog owners should be thinking about the increased likelihood of their pets coming in contact with wildlife.

Coyotes, for example, are commonly seen in more populated areas lately.

Last week, one was caught on video roaming the Boston 25 parking lot in Dedham.

In Brighton, two large coyotes were on a woman’s lawn when she returned home during the day.

Raccoons are another concern.

“That’s alarming to us,” said Motta. “They could potentially get our four-legged friends sick and that of course increases the risk of getting all of us sick if we come in contact with the unvaccinated animals.”

Dr. Gatlin added, “The major risk is a resurgence of diseases that we’ve done an effective job controlling . . . rabies is nearly fatal in both animals and in people.”

Some degree of vaccine hesitancy has been around for a while, but Gatlin says the backlash against the COVID vaccines “brought it to a head in many cases.”

She says the best approach is to ask a veterinarian questions if you have any concerns. “I really encourage these individuals to speak to people who really know the science behind it . . . I think a lot of misinformation is being spread around.”

State law requires every dog to get a license from their city or town.

Proof of a rabies vaccine is a requirement to get that license.

Boston 25 News checked around the area.

Boston and Worcester levy fines of $50 for an unlicensed dog.

Barnstable can go as high as $75.

Reading starts with a $10 fine and increases it by increments of $5.

Dr. Gatlin says there are often free or low-cost rabies clinics held in the spring.

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