As we struggle to fathom how we ended up in the throes of the Covid-19 pandemic, we’re reminded of the importance of vaccinations to protect us from life-threatening diseases. The same applies to animals – to preserve their health and wellbeing as well as ours – due to the spread of disease between animals and humans.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 60 percent of infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic, meaning that they can pass from animals to people and vice versa. Three out of four zoonotic diseases originate in wildlife. As well as affecting human and animal health, animal diseases are detrimental to livestock, wildlife and agriculture. They also result in revenue and trade losses.
Up to 20 percent of livestock are lost to disease each year. Preventing animal disease through vaccination, nutrition, biosecurity, and good husbandry increases the availability of safe food by reducing losses and waste on the farm. Rapid diagnosis and treatment are essential because disease can’t always be avoided. For bacterial diseases, the only current solution is antibiotic treatment. The global animal health sector invests approximately $1.8-2.7 billion per year in new R&D for better prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
Vaccinating animals protects them from life-threatening diseases such as distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus and leptospirosis, which affect New Zealand animals.
Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease shared between rats, dogs, pigs, cattle and people. According to the Accident Compensation Corporation, New Zealand has one of the highest rates of leptospirosis in the world. It puts farmers, particularly dairy farmers, at risk as it can spread from infected urine in dairy sheds. It is also an occupational risk for meat workers, who can contract the disease in the same way. According to the New Zealand Veterinary Association, anyone in contact with cattle could be at risk.
Many killer diseases have been kept in check by responsible animal owners maintaining vaccination programmes. Rabies, for example, is a completely preventable virus that is fatal if left untreated. It kills more than 59,000 people each year, mostly children in Asia and Africa. If this isn’t tragic enough, the impact of the virus is estimated to cost in excess of US$6,000 million, according to the WHO.
Many animals die of rabies. Its transmission to livestock reduces food productivity. Bovine rabies causes one million cattle deaths in Central and South America every year.
Rabies is prevented by vaccinating dogs. Through research and pilot programmes, the World Society for the Protection of Animals found that vaccinating at least 70 percent of a community’s dogs creates ‘herd immunity'. This occurs when a significant proportion of the population (or herd) is immunised, providing a level of protection to unprotected individuals.
Vaccinating a large proportion of dogs in a community breaks the cycle of transmission between them. It also prevents the disease from spreading to people.
The World Health Organization, World Organisation for Animal Health, UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and the Global Alliance for Rabies Control have committed to ending dog-mediated rabies in people by 2030.
The spread of disease between humans and animals remains a constant threat. With a growing global population, the risk of zoonotic diseases spreading will only increase as humans and animals live in increasingly closer proximity. This coincides with an increasing demand for food when resources for agriculture are increasingly under pressure.
Continuous investment in breakthrough technologies and innovation is imperative to control diseases among animals as well as their spread to humans, as are appropriate government strategies for disease eradication. We must continue to use and develop life-saving vaccines to limit the spread of disease and ensure that people and animals remain healthy and productive.
Vaccination vastly improves the health of both people and animals and is vital for continuing to meet the health challenges of growing populations.