The following is a letter from the vice president of Fort Dodge Animal Health, the manufacturer of the USDA-approved West Nile vaccine that in recent weeks has been the subject of some controversy.
Over the course of the past few weeks, news articles and Internet rumors have surfaced regarding the West Nile-Innovator vaccine, the USDA-approved vaccine for protecting horses against West Nile virus. The rumors and misinformation pertain specifically to abortions and deformed foals following vaccination for West Nile virus.
An article published in the Denver Post
on May 30, 2003, has served to intensify the spread of inaccurate and misleading information on this critically important matter. As a result, Fort Dodge Animal Health, manufacturer of the West Nile-innovator vaccine, would like to set the record straight regarding the safety and efficacy of this vaccine.
- The USDA Center for Veterinary Biologics is not considering any market intervention against the West Nile-Innovator vaccine, contrary to the implication in the Denver Post article. Many comments by the USDA official in the article were taken out of context, and are inconsistent with the Department's official position on the vaccine.
- While the USDA is aware of a few reports of abortions following use of the vaccine in pregnant mares, the Department's official recommendation for prevention of West Nile virus still includes vaccination, as outlined on their website at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/oa/pubs/ada_ahwnv.html.
- Millions of doses of the vaccine have been used since it was approved in 2001. The vaccine is field tested and proven with an excellent safety profile.
- The Denver Post reported that during the safety trial for the vaccine "at least five mares lost pregnancies or had stillborn fetuses." This is untrue. One 22-year-old mare was diagnosed to be pregnant by an ultrasound examination and after two doses of the vaccine was found to be "open." The veterinarian in charge of the mare declared in his official report that this early embryonic death was "unrelated to the vaccination." There were no other problems with pregnant mares receiving the vaccine in the study.
- The Denver Post article lacks credible evidence to support its conclusion. The circumstances of the reported abortions are unclear and lack veterinary involvement and/or confirmation.
- More than 15,000 horses have contracted West Nile virus since it was first documented in this country. (Editor's note: In 2002 alone, according to USDA figures, 14,717 equine cases with illness were reported by state authorities. In 2001, there were 738 cases of clinical West Nile virus infection reported in horses from 130 counties in 20 states, according to USDA. In 2000, of the 60 ill horses reported, 37 survived and 23--or 38%--died or were euthanized.) In general, about one-third of infected animals die. The West Nile-Innovator vaccine is a safe and proven way to prevent this deadly disease.
Fort Dodge Animal Health knows you are aware that West Nile virus poses a major health threat to the horse population, and that maintaining a high level of protection has emerged as the top priority among equine practitioners.
Setphen A. Connell, DVM
Professional and Technical Services
Fort Dodge Animal Health