A new study published in explores the phenomenon of vaccine hesitancy among dog owners in the United States. Vaccine hesitancy refers to the reluctance or refusal to have oneself or one’s dependents vaccinated.
While vaccine hesitancy has been extensively studied in the context of human medicine, there has been little research examining this trend among pet owners and its implications for veterinary health.
Utilizing survey data collected from a nationally representative sample of 2,200 adults, the researchers assessed attitudes toward routine canine vaccination.
They introduced and validated a novel measure, canine vaccine hesitancy (CVH), to quantify dog owner doubts about the safety, efficacy, or necessity of vaccines administered to their pets.
The analysis uncovered a high prevalence of CVH, with a majority of dog-owning respondents expressing some skepticism regarding veterinary-recommended vaccination protocols.
The authors also identified associations between CVH and belief in misinformation about human vaccines, suggesting a “spillover effect” of anti-vaccine views from the human domain.
Additionally, the study highlighted potential public health impacts of CVH, including increased opposition to rabies vaccination mandates and lower rabies immunization rates among dogs owned by vaccine-hesitant individuals.
These outcomes could increase risk of rabies transmission to humans given dogs’ role as the primary rabies vector globally.
By systematically documenting widespread CVH in American dog owners, this research highlights the need for communication efforts to reinforce confidence in the established benefits of timely canine vaccination.
It also emphasizes the value of ongoing surveillance of vaccine hesitancy across veterinary contexts.
The research was conducted by a team of health policy scholars led by Matt Motta, PhD, assistant professor at the Boston University School of Public Health.
They administered the survey online in partnership with the polling firm YouGov. The sample of 2,200 U.S. adults was selected to represent nationwide Census demographics.
Within this sample, 42% of respondents identified as current dog owners. This subpopulation of dog owners served as the primary focus for assessing canine vaccine attitudes.
The survey instrument introduced three novel questionnaire items to measure CVH. These items gauged dog owner doubts about canine vaccine safety, efficacy, and necessity.
Response patterns across these CVH measures allowed researchers to categorize respondents as vaccine hesitant or not. They also constructed an averaged index of CVH endorsement for statistical analysis.
In addition to the CVH indicators, the survey included questions about human vaccine attitudes, political affiliation, demographics, dog vaccination history, and support for canine vaccination policies.
The researchers first conducted descriptive analyses to quantify the prevalence of CVH among dog-owning respondents.
They then used multivariate regression modeling to elucidate factors associated with increased CVH, like endorsing myths about human vaccine risks.
Finally, to assess public health outcomes, the team employed regression techniques to examine relationships between CVH and rabies vaccine exemption support and dog rabies immunization status.
This combination of population-based sampling, tailored survey measures, and robust analytical methods enabled the researchers to generate novel insights into an understudied facet of vaccine hesitancy.
Analysis of the survey data revealed a high level of vaccine hesitancy among American dog owners.
Overall, 53% of dog-owning respondents expressed some skepticism about canine vaccine safety, effectiveness, or necessity.
Specifically, 37% believed that vaccines could cause cognitive issues in dogs, 30% doubted the medical necessity of most canine vaccines, and 22% felt the risks outweighed potential benefits.
These results document pervasive canine vaccine hesitancy, suggesting substantial uncertainty surrounding established veterinary vaccination protocols among the general dog-owning public.
The researchers also uncovered connections between poor attitudes about human vaccines and increased CVH. Dog owners endorsing anti-vaccine misinformation about human immunizations were significantly more prone to CVH.
This points to a potential “spillover effect” where anti-scientific views in one domain reinforce related misconceptions in another area.
Additionally, the analysis found evidence of political identity influencing CVH. Self-identified Democrats showed reduced vaccine hesitancy compared to Independents and Republicans. This partisan difference mirrors previous findings regarding human vaccine attitudes.
Critically, the study highlighted possible public health impacts of widespread CVH. Compared to non-hesitant dog owners, hesitant owners were 27 percentage points more likely to oppose mandatory rabies vaccination policies for pets. They were also 6 percentage points less likely to have immunized their own dogs against rabies.
Lower rabies immunization coverage due to CVH could increase transmission risk of this invariably fatal zoonotic infection. The researchers underscore the importance of monitoring and addressing CVH to sustain rabies prevention and control efforts.
Implications and Conclusions
This research makes several valuable contributions to the understudied topic of vaccine hesitancy among pet owners.
Most importantly, it provides the first systematic estimate of the prevalence of canine vaccine hesitancy in the United States. The finding that over half of dog owners harbor some doubts about veterinary-recommended vaccines is concerning and warrants further investigation into the drivers of this hesitancy.
In addition, the study’s novel survey-based measure of CVH offers a useful tool for tracking and analyzing vaccine attitudes in the canine health sphere. This measure can be replicated in future surveys to monitor trends over time.
The identification of links between CVH and human vaccine misinformation suggests that public messaging and education efforts may need to combat anti-vaccine narratives across both human and veterinary contexts. Positive attitudes in one domain may help reinforce confidence in the other.
Likewise, the politicization of CVH highlights the need for communication and outreach that avoids ideological biases and focuses on shared values like canine wellbeing. Bipartisan support remains essential for maintaining high vaccination rates that protect community health.
While additional research is still needed, this work provides solid initial evidence that CVH may undermine rabies prevention efforts if it continues unchecked. Maintaining awareness of CVH and developing strategies to address hesitant owners will be important for safeguarding canine and human health going forward.
In conclusion, by systematically documenting the prevalence, correlates, and potential impacts of CVH, this study significantly advances our understanding of an emerging veterinary and public health issue.
It paves the way for further research while highlighting the need for interventions that reinforce responsible pet vaccination practices.
Based on the concerning level of canine vaccine hesitancy documented by this research, several recommendations can be made:
- Veterinarians should initiate open, non-judgmental conversations with clients about any vaccine doubts they may have regarding their pets. They can provide accurate information and reassurance about safety and efficacy.
- Pet care companies and veterinary organizations should develop public education campaigns that promote the established benefits of timely canine vaccination, tailored for dog owners across demographics.
- Policymakers may need to strengthen canine vaccination laws in order to uphold adequate immunization coverage levels despite growing hesitancy. But communication should emphasize shared values rather than mandates alone.
- Veterinary curricula should encompass training for future veterinarians on effective practices for communicating with vaccine-hesitant clients, avoiding polarization, and maintaining health on both sides of the exam table.
- Researchers should continue investigating the nuances of CVH regionally, demographically, and globally to elucidate any geographic or cultural patterns that could inform public health strategies.
- Interventions will likely need to combat associated human vaccine misinformation and highlight the consensus on canine vaccines within the veterinary community.
- Coordinated efforts across veterinary, medical, and public health fields will be essential to sustain confidence in vital vaccination protocols that protect the health of pets, owners, and the public at large.
While not definitive, these recommendations provide potential starting points for addressing the pressing issue highlighted by this research – that canine vaccine hesitancy is prevalent and poses risks that warrant proactive mitigation measures. Ongoing vigilance and open communication will be key.
The Path Forward: Addressing Canine Vaccine Doubts
The recent study illuminating widespread canine vaccine hesitancy provides a vital wake-up call. With over half of American dog owners expressing doubts about established vaccination protocols, the animal health community must take notice.
While the motivations behind this hesitancy are complex, the stakes are clear. Lives depend on sustaining robust vaccination rates in our beloved pets. Rabies alone still claims 59,000 human lives globally each year, with dogs the leading vectors.
Rather than judging hesitant owners, veterinarians, companies, advocates and policymakers must collaborate to rebuild confidence through empathy, accurate information, and shared goals.
Continued research and vigilant monitoring of CVH will remain important. But the time is now to proactively communicate the proven benefits of timely canine vaccination – with care, nuance and understanding.