In Canada, access to rabies vaccine for animals is restricted to veterinarians (i.e. only vets can buy the product itself and administer it to people’s animals). In general, this is an excellent approach because it ensures that the vaccine has been handled and stored appropriately, animals have been vaccinated properly and accurate vaccination records are kept. I certainly wouldn’t want rabies vaccine freely available, whereby anyone could buy vaccine, handle it poorly, vaccinate their animal improperly, and yet believe or claim to have a properly vaccinated pet.

The problem with this restriction is the fact that veterinary care is not always available. Specifically, I’m referring remote northern communities that do not have veterinary care on a regular or even a sporadic basis. I received an e-mail the other day from a medical professional in a fly-in First Nations community in Northern Ontario. They have not had a visit from a vet in a while, so the dogs there aren’t vaccinated. Unfortunately, a dog was attacked by a wolf recently so it must be considered possibly  exposed to rabies, resulting in euthanasia or long quarantine. The question was about what can be done in those communities to provide rabies vaccine for people’s animals. I didn’t know, so I inquired with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the federal agency in charge of all-things-rabies.

There are actually provisions in Canadian regulations for situations like this (a provision in the Health of Animals Regulations Section 132.4 (2), if you want to know specifically). This allows rabies vaccine to be sold in accordance with written permission granted by the Minister, in specific circumstances such as in a remote area where veterinary services are not readily available. The provincial veterinary association is typically contacted to determine whether or not there is a veterinarian who could arrange to do the vaccinations. If the provincial association agrees that there is no veterinary service available to the community, then permission can be granted to purchase vaccine. 

It’s quite a reasonable and logical approach that allows for access to rabies vaccine when needed, but has enough controls in place to ensure that this can’t lead to abuse of the exception. People in remote communities in Canada should be aware of this. Some communities get periodic visits from vets but there are many others such as the one in this case that don’t have any direct access to veterinary care, and this is a way of at least providing protection for people and pets against rabies.