Hendra battle divides industry

OWNER DECISION: Queensland Thoroughbred Breeders Association president Basil Nolan says mandatory vaccination is overkill.
OWNER DECISION: Queensland Thoroughbred Breeders Association president Basil Nolan says mandatory vaccination is overkill.

A HEATED battle is being waged between the Australian Veterinary Association and the equine world as the controversy over hendra vaccinations continues.

Vets are calling for mandatory vaccinations for all horses competing at events, especially endurance and eventing.

Warwick Veterinary Clinic's Dr Chris Reardon said the issue came down to a safe working environment.

"When vets are working equestrian events, they have health and safety obligations to ensure they protect themselves and anyone else assisting or handling the horses," he said.

"They have a duty of care to provide appropriate measures to mitigate risk.

"The Queensland Government and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries have both said that vaccinating horses against the hendra virus is the most appropriate way to do this."

Chris Reardon of Warwick Vet Clinic is encouraging horse owners to vaccinate their horses from Hendra now, before show season. Photo Georja Ryan / Warwick Daily News
Chris Reardon of Warwick Vet Clinic is encouraging horse owners to vaccinate their horses from Hendra now, before show season. Photo Georja Ryan / Warwick Daily News Georja Ryan

Dr Reardon said horse events exposed a lot of people to a lot of different horses from different locations.

"Most events have a biosecurity plan, but that's only one measure," he said.

"Vaccination is the best way to stop exposure to the hendra virus, which has been responsible for human deaths and a significant number of horse deaths."

Dr Reardon said he hoped the culture was headed for change.

"I'd like to see everyone not only vaccinate and become more aware of biosecurity," he said.

"The bottom line is keeping workers and workplaces safe."

Queensland Thoroughbred Breeders Association president Basil Nolan said mandatory vaccination requirements were overkill.

"This is an ongoing problem," he said.

"Hendra vaccinations are very expensive and are needed twice yearly or yearly.

"We've learned a lot about hendra over the last 10 years and not everyone has an issue or is exposed to flying foxes, who carry the virus.

"There are many precautions horse owners can take."

Mr Nolan said the association was not telling people not to vaccinate their horses.

"This is a decision that should be made by the owner in consultation with their vet," he said.

"There have been no horse deaths from hendra since 2009, it's simply overkill and not necessary to insist on vaccination."

Warwick Horse Trials volunteer Cameron Osborne said it was a complex argument.

"The Queensland Government put together a committee to investigate this issue and didn't really come up with an answer," he said.

"They left it up to the clubs to make their own decisions.

"In our case, with events such as dressage, showjumping and cross country events, there's the belief there will be more injuries to the horses.

"So the vets say there'll be more trauma and more blood."

Mr Osborne said it was in the best interest of Warwick Horse Trials events to refuse non-vaccinated horses.

"If we didn't, we simply wouldn't be able to find a vet to work them," he said.

"As a result, our eventing numbers have dropped.

"Unfortunately, the vets are running the agenda at the moment and those

who choose not to vaccinate for various reasons, including side effects, are losing out."

The Australian Veterinary Association this week expressed its concern about the health and welfare of unvaccinated horses at equestrian events, including endurance riding.

However former president of Equestrian Queensland Peter Toft said the AVA's ongoing pressure on its members to boycott equestrian events where vaccination was not mandatory was counter-productive.

"The reality is that this is a new vaccine and its long-term impacts are largely unknown at present, so it's understandable that some horse owners - particularly those living in areas of the state that are free from bat colonies - are hesitant to vaccinate their animals," he said.

Topics:  hendra inquiry hendra vaccination hendra virus horse events warwick

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