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Producers need to be the voice of reason for vaccines

Roy Lewis: Animal health products are not intended for humans

We all need to be the voice of reason and take the emotional arguments out of these discussions especially when it involves those who don’t know the vaccine science issues. – Roy Lewis.

In my view, cattle producers can be the voice of reason when it comes to helping the non-rural population understand the decisions about vaccine efficacy, safety, and adverse reactions the rare time it happens in their own cattle.

All the discussions and debate about COVID vaccinations revolve around a few questions — whether to vaccinate, the importance of reaching herd immunity, expiry dates, and the risk of variant viruses.

We all need to be the voice of reason and take the emotional arguments out of these discussions especially when it involves those who don’t know the vaccine science issues.

I am sure urban people are unaware of what diseases beef producers need to protect cattle against. Some vaccines are more critical than others and may vary depending on the class of cattle, geographic location and time of year.

Most urban people and pet owners are aware of the importance of taking preventative measures against diseases such as rabies or distemper/parvo that we often get for our dogs.

When I’m discussing the COVID vaccination topic with anyone, I use the analogy of vaccinating our farm animals and how safe and protective this can be. I also stress the safety of vaccinations on farm animals, noting that allergic reactions are few and far between. It is important to point out livestock producers need to pay for their cattle vaccines, whereas most human vaccines, at least in Alberta, are free through the health care system.

Just as most pet owners trust the advice we veterinarians give regarding pet health and care, it is important that the human population trusts and reaches out to their doctors and the medical community in general for any thoughts and questions they want answered.

Ivermectin isn’t for COVID

So with all that in mind, it is important to discuss recent warnings to at least a segment of the population trying to access ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19. There are certain products and medications that are used both for human medicine as well as veterinary medicine. There is actually a fair bit of crossover when it comes to things like painkillers, steroids, and even antibiotics. However, the very important difference is that different products are used with different strengths or formulations and even different methods of administration.

Ivermectin, commonly used in the treatment or control of parasites, does have approved use in people and animals, but it is not approved for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19.

We don’t ever want knowingly to let someone borrow or use something developed and intended for veterinary medicine, if we suspect they are going to use it on themselves or someone else. I am sure many laws are being broken in the process.

The real issue with ivermectin is because it is used extensively in all farm animal species, including horses, that many different formulations, strengths and methods of administration are available.

Dewormers used in veterinary medicine are not normally prescription products, which is why they are available at feed stores, such as co-ops and other farm supply centres, as well as from your local veterinarian.

In recent months these places have had to put these products behind the counter to prevent the public from potentially self-treating themselves with something they know nothing about. If livestock producers are approached by a neighbour, relative or other acquaintance asking about ivermectin, it needs to be made clear it is not legal for them to consume these products.

Pharmaceutical companies will investigate cases of unusual drug reaction as an “adverse event” when it involves animals, but there is no obligation to follow up if the product has been used on humans when it is clearly indicated for farm animals.

There isn’t such a thing as a safe dose of ivermectin for humans. To me the real solution is a no-brainer — follow the medical profession’s and all our governments’ advice and get vaccinated. The vaccines are proving totally safe, protective and the only thing we are waiting to know is the length of protection after the two shots.

This COVID/ivermectin issue opens up the dialogue on similar matters that have come up in recent years. This is why veterinary clinics today require a VCPR (Veterinarian-Client-Patient-Relationship). Over the years people (non-clients) have approached clinics for a varied array of products that weren’t to be used on humans in Canada or may have been licensed for use on humans in other countries.

In the old days, growth implants were stolen for their testosterone. And then there used to be a depo-testosterone often used to treat the lack of libido in bulls that people thought would be effective to correct a similar condition in humans.

That is partly why all these products are now available only under prescription and are behind the counter, and the veterinarian needs to have some degree of relationship with their clients before a prescription is written.

There have already been overdoses of ivermectin in humans. Serious reactions with ivermectin in people range from decreased blood pressure to allergic reactions, to even coma and death. The topical formulation of ivermectin used for treating parasites in cattle contains rubbing alcohol as a carrier, so is poisonous if taken orally. That is why I want everyone to be on the lookout for suspicious requests for any ivermectin products. Let’s not get taken advantage of or abused by the public, which can sometimes get some very unorthodox advice.

Try and heed the advice of your veterinarian for the health of your farm animal herd and from your family medical doctor for your own health needs, but don’t confuse the two.

The theme for the 2021 Animal Health Week in October is particularly appropriate this year — Animal Health + Human Health + Planet Health = One Health. We need to make sure people aren’t following misinformation and end up harming themselves.

About the author

Columnist

Roy Lewis is an Alberta-based veterinarian specializing in large-animal practice. He is also a part-time technical services vet for Merck Animal Health.

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