Exemptions for horses that suffer serious reactions to flu vaccinations *H&H Plus*

  • An exemption scheme for horses who suffer severe reactions to equine flu vaccinations has been launched – but owners have been reminded that six-monthly jabs are the “best defence” against the disease.

    British Dressage (BD), which introduced a six-monthly vaccine requirement from 1 December, has agreed members may apply for dispensation if their horses have experienced reactions such as laminitis or neurological issues.


    Owners must complete an application, signed by their vet, which will be assessed by an expert panel comprising British Equestrian Federation (BEF) director of equine sports science and medicine John McEwen, FEI veterinary committee chairman Jenny Hall, BEF director Jane Nixon MRCVS and European specialist in equine internal medicine Philip Ivens, of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

    The application costs £50 and if granted, lasts for 12 months.

    BD member experience manager Rachel Smith told H&H the process had been agreed in consultation with the panel and said each application will be examined thoroughly.

    “The six-month requirement was introduced with equine welfare at the forefront of the decision, but we know there are a small number of horses who do experience severe reactions,” she said.

    “With concerns around welfare, we consulted extensively to see if there was a way we could have an exemption process which wouldn’t impact or undermine the new rule.”

    Ms Smith said figures from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) indicate that for every 10,000 vaccines administered, around five horses have a severe reaction.

    “We’re expecting around a dozen horses will be exempt via the dispensation process. To date we’ve had one application,” she said.

    A spokesman for the British Horse Racing Authority (BHA), which requires eight-monthly vaccinations, told H&H the BHA has “committed” to a consultation on vaccination rules in 2020 – and is aware of recommendations by the European Horserace Scientific Liaison Committee to make six-monthly vaccinations for racehorses mandatory from 2021, but added that no dispensations will be offered for horses who suffer reactions.

    “Until this consultation is complete, the current vaccination requirements for all horses on racecourse property will remain in place,” he said.

    “For the welfare and benefit of the entire racing herd, all racehorses must be vaccinated. It is exceptionally rare for thoroughbreds to have a severe reaction, and for horses who are known to react, the issue can be managed with sensible veterinary advice.”

    A spokesman for British Riding Clubs (BRC), which introduced a six-month vaccine requirement for championships and qualifiers, told H&H there are no plans to introduce a dispensation, but said the matter will be discussed in detail at the BRC advisory committee meeting in the new year.

    Richard Newton, director of epidemiology and disease surveillance at the Animal Health Trust (AHT), told H&H the AHT supports any decision made in the “best interest” of equine welfare, but added owners are “strongly encouraged” to adhere to scientific and veterinary advice and vaccinate every six months.

    “Six-monthly vaccination remains the best defence against outbreaks of this highly infectious disease and is, we believe, a major factor in the number of flu outbreaks in the UK abating,” he said.

    “We would urge any owner of a horse who experiences an adverse event after vaccination to report this to the vaccine manufacturer. Adverse events should also be reported to the VMD.”

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