A canine influenza virus vaccine has recently been released. Canine influenzais a virus that originated from a horse influenza strain and is now circulating in some dog populations. (To my knowledge, we have yet to find it in Ontario. We didn’t find any evidence of it in an earlier surveillance study). It typically causes mild disease, as with influenza in people, but can also cause serious (including fatal) infections. These cases are most common in densely-populated, stressful environments like shelters and racing greyhound facilities.
Like most vaccines, this canine influenza vaccine does not claim to provide 100% protection. Veterinary vaccines can get conditional licensing and be marketed with little evidence of effectiveness. The manufacturers have produced data "supporting product purity, product safety under normal conditions of use in field safety trials and demonstration that the product has a reasonable expectation of efficacy." That means they have shown the vaccine is produced with good practices, had no obvious adverse effects in a safety study, and there is a possibility that it could be effective (presumably from showing vaccinated dogs produce antibodies against canine influenza virus). During the conditional licensing period, the manufacturers "will continue to submit data obtained in support of the product’s performance, which will be evaluated by government regulators to determine whether a regular product license may be issued."
There’s a good likelihood the vaccine will be effective at reducing the incidence and severity of disease, as with influenza vaccines in other species. Basically, if a vaccinated dog gets exposed to the virus, it should be less likely to get sick, and if it gets sick, it should be less likely to have severe signs. Reducing the incidence and severity of influenza also has the benefit of reducing the chances of developing a secondary bacterial infection, which can cause very serious disease.
Deciding whether to vaccinate your dog largely comes down to the risk of exposure and the implications of your dog becoming ill. In an otherwise healthy dog that is not in a high risk environment (e.g. kennel, shelter, greyhound racetrack), it’s questionable whether vaccination is needed. If canine influenza virus is in the area, it’s something to consider, but the virus seems to be rare (or at least rarely identified) in pets in most regions. Discussing the risks and benefits with your veterinarian is the key.
Canine influenza is NOT considered a zoonotic disease. There is no evidence that it can infect humans. Therefore, there is no public health argument for vaccination.
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