Biosecurity officers test a horse for the Hendra virus.
Biosecurity officers test a horse for the Hendra virus.

Owner tells inquiry she felt forced into Hendra vaccine

A SOUTHERN Downs horse owner has told a Queensland parliamentary committee she has been "held over a barrel" by vets who refuse to treat horses unless they are vaccinated against Hendra.

But one Warwick vet has told the committee less than half a percent of the horses he has vaccinated have had any reaction.

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland has prosecuted three vets for treating unvaccinated horses - leading to some surgeries refusing to see an ill horse unless it is vaccinated against Hendra.

In a submission to the Queensland parliamentary inquiry into the Hendra vaccine, Pratten horse owner Marianne Irvine said she would not vaccinate her horses after hearing stories of reactions.

"I totally object to being forced to vaccinate horses who run the risk of a bad reaction when the virus itself appears to be hard to contract and short-lived at best, even if I was living near where risks were high," she said.

"I object to being held over a barrel by the veterinary profession."

But Warwick Vet Clinic vet Chris Reardon said only two of the horses he had vaccinated had had a reaction.

"Since its release, we have only used 650 doses. The adverse reaction rate has been low with only 2 horses, or 0.30%, requiring a revisit for a sore neck. These horses were given anti-inflammatories and made an uneventful recovery," he said.

Dr Reardon said he believed all horse owners should be encouraged to vaccinate their horses and vaccination should be mandatory for participation in major horse events.

"I have no faith in the biosecurity plans of event organisers as they only give a false sense of security to event organisers and offer no protection for the horse against the disease," he said.

Dr Reardon said a "cultural change in the horse industry" was needed to address poor biosecurity awareness among horse owners.

"More government resources are needed to educate the horse owning public about the risks of Hendra virus and methods to mitigate this risk," he said.

Inquiry chair, Gladstone MP Glenn Butcher, said a rift had opened up between some horse owners and vets.


Horse owner Ben Ryan and Pekarra Dazzling Deputy.Melissa Cruden Crazy Horse Designs
Horse owner Ben Ryan and Pekarra Dazzling Deputy. Photo: Melissa Cruden Crazy Horse Designs

Vaccine convert wins reining comps

BEN Ryan had heard horror claims about the Hendra vaccine - lame horses, a dodgy approvals process, vets not treating sick unvaccinated horses.

He didn't want to vaccinate his Pekarra Dazzling Deputy that he planned to enter in a number of prestige reining competitions.

But when a part-owner and a trusted vet insisted the vaccine was safe and necessary if he wanted to compete in certain horse competitions, Mr Ryan relented.

"Even though I took his word on it, I was still a little apprehensive about the vaccination and the idea of it possibly jeopardising a successful outcome at the reining show," he said.

Pekarra Dazzling Deputy went on to win two of Queensland's most prestigious reining competitions, the Pacific Coast Reining Futurity and the Queensland Open Reining Futurity.

But the success hasn't convinced Mr Ryan the vaccine should be mandatory.

"I don't think anyone should be forced to vaccinate their horses," he said.

"I think at the end of the day it should be up to the owner and what they feel comfortable with."  

How dangerous is Hendra?

SEVEN humans have caught Hendra virus, four have died.

The latest figures show there have been 41 outbreaks of Hendra virus in Queensland - all involving horses getting infected. As a result, 73 horses have died or been euthanised.

The Australian Veterinary Association says if a person catches Hendra, their chance of dying is 57%. If a horse catches it, its chance of dying is 79%.

So far, there is no evidence humans can catch Hendra direct from a bat. It appears humans can only get infected from a horse.

The Queensland parliamentary inquiry into the Hendra vaccine is examining reported side effects from the vaccine and vets refusing to treat horses that have not been vaccinated.

It came after complaints from horse owners that after the vaccine horses were showing symptoms ranging from swelling, stiff necks and lethargy through to inability to stand and even to death.

The inquiry is also looking at how vets are approaching treating unvaccinated horses after Workplace Health and Safety launched prosecutions against three vets for not taking reasonable care because they allegedly failed to wear protective equipment when examining unvaccinated horses.

The committee is due to deliver its report on October 22.