It is becoming clear that the key thing that people are hungry to know at the moment is where they can go to vaccinate their rabbits against RHD2. People are less interested in understanding the possible signs and symptoms, and more interested in knowing how they can prevent it from happening in the first place – which is perfectly understandable! Vaccines have been available against RHD2 on continental Europe for some time, but these have not been available in the UK until recently, and not everywhere is stocking it.
Thanks to all the hard work of the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund (RWAF) and in particular their veterinary advisor Dr Richard Saunders, we in the UK are now able to vaccinate our rabbits against this awful disease. From what I hear, they have spent quite literally months working on this – and probably thought their work was done back in January when supplies of a German RHD2 vaccine were first imported. Alas that supply ran dry fairly quickly, so it was back to the drawing board, and there are now a few different vaccines which the RWAF have been instrumental in getting approval for import and which are therefore available for rabbit owners to discuss with their vets. In each of these cases, there would have been a detailed period of data review and discussions around the effectiveness, safety and practical considerations (such as duration of immunity, side effects, adjuvant used etc) for each option, so we can be confident that each vaccine which now has an import licence is safe and effective for our pets. In particular, the RWAF have identified one suitable vaccine, Filavac, for which they have had follow on negotiations with the manufacturer and suppliers, resulting in the establishment of a centralised import and distribution mechanism, making it very easy for our vets to access this vaccine via their normal pharmaceutical suppliers.
There has been so much work going on behind the scenes to get us to this point and I can’t even begin to imagine how much time this has all taken. Initially this vaccine was only available in multi-dose vials, as it is primarily used within the farming sector rather than the domestic pet sector in France. The discussions have led to the manufacturers starting to produce the vaccine in smaller vials including single dose vials, which is much more conducive to the needs of the veterinary sector for domestic pets in the UK. Facilitating the wholesale import has also been critical in making it easy for all our vets to access the vaccine. There are of course also a small number of individual practices who have been pioneering in accessing the vaccines directly from the manufacturers, and this is amazing and shows great dedication to the animals under their veterinary care, but the reality is that for the mass use, a sustainable and simple import and distribution mechanism is necessary. Through the many months of hard work of Dr Saunders and the RWAF this has now been achieved.
The vaccine has only been in the uk for just over a couple of weeks now but already I am hearing so many reports of relieved owners with pets who are now protected. At a guess, thousands of our rabbits have already been protected, with many more who will shortly become so. I know there are still some ongoing supply issues, with today’s rumour being that all three of the current wholesalers are now out of stock, but (as long as it’s back in stock soon – which it sounds like it will be) this is a good thing – as it indicates that it is in high demand from veterinary practices and hence it is doing its job at protecting our pets. To this end, all the hard work of Dr Saunders and the RWAF has been a great success.
While there are clearly lots of vets who are stocking the vaccine, in spite of mail out to vets on the RWAF mailing lists, letters and articles in the veterinary press, and a lot of nagging owners, there still seems to be a disappointingly high number of vets who are not planning on stocking the new vaccine. Many of the current sources of information rely on people choosing to access them, so it can be somewhat preaching to the converted. People are telling me that many vets are still saying that they haven’t heard of it, that they don’t think it’s necessary (perpetuated sadly I think by a recent veterinary press article which I felt made it sound as if there were only a handful of cases and it really wasn’t a problem), that they don’t have enough demand, that they believe the current vaccine covers it, or that they don’t believe that the new vaccine is effective. Personally I don’t believe the latter point for a minute – pharmaceutical products have to go through really rigorous stages of testing and review (including both safety and effectiveness) before they are approved for use. It is frustrating, but I think it will take time for the message to get through and for awareness to increase. Veterinary care for rabbits is coming on in leaps and bounds (or perhaps in hops and binkies), but there is still a long way to go before rabbits are consistently viewed and treated as seriously or robustly as cats or dogs.
If you are reading this and you are an owner looking for the vaccine, I would recommend first of all discussing with your usual practice. It is always better for your rabbit’s care to be overseen in one place with full access to their clinical history. If you can’t talk directly with your vet, I would suggest that emailing (or messaging via social media) is probably a better option than ringing, as it allows you to include a link to the relevant RWAF information, which in turn allows the practice to investigate before getting back to you. Sometimes there may be investigations ongoing at the practice, but the staff answering the phone may not be aware of that at the time, so emailing in the first instance is more likely to get you a considered response. If your practice say they are not willing to investigate, for instance, for any of the reasons outlined above, then the RWAF hold a list of ‘rabbit friendly’ member practices and it is of course more likely that these practices are aware and taking steps to stock the vaccine. Third, our Facebook group ‘RHD2 UK rabbit welfare based information’ is starting to collate details of practices who are stocking the vaccine. None of these sources will be anything like a complete picture, but hopefully they will enable you to find somewhere that can help. Playing devil’s advocate, if your current practice will not consider stocking it, you may find that one of these practices is more rabbit savvy than your current one! I am hopeful that over time, awareness will increase across both owners and veterinary professionals.
Finally, I believe that the RWAF and Dr Saunders in particular have done sterling work getting us to the point where we now have a vaccine to protect against RHD2 readily available in the UK. I bet when they set out to do this, they had no clue how long, frustrating or complex it would prove to be. Because of all this hard work behind the scenes, it is as straightforward as it can possibly be for our vets to access this vaccine. Thousands of our rabbits are now, or shortly will be, protected as a result. And for that, I would like to end this blog, I hope on behalf of all of you, with a massive THANK YOU to the RWAF and Dr Saunders. Join the RWAF. Donate to the Rabbit Welfare Fund. That is what has made all this possible.