Mandatory equine herpes vaccinations for sport horses under consideration

  • MANDATORY vaccination against equine herpes virus (EHV) is being considered by the FEI – although this is no silver bullet, and the community must work together to minimise the chances of disease outbreaks.

    The second day of the 2022 FEI sports forum covered proposed amendments to the general and veterinary rules, as well as those for eventing, dressage and para dressage.

    Chair of the FEI veterinary committee Jenny Hall said the community well remembers the 2021 European EHV-1 outbreak, in which 18 horses died, and which caused a shutdown of competition.

    “We all remember how hard everyone worked together to overcome the outbreak,” she said. “Today is about how we move on.”

    Lutz Goehring, a professor of equine infectious diseases, explained that none of the current vaccinations against EHV claim to prevent the neurological form of the disease, referred to as EHM.

    “The vaccinations will help reduce EHM numbers in an outbreak but not abolish it, or prevent an outbreak completely,” he said. “This is a very difficult topic.”

    He added: “It takes a whole village; vaccination alone will not do the trick.”

    Prof Goehring explained that vaccination coverage of over 85% is needed, but also “concerted effort” from the whole community, as well as compliance with protective measures and “proactive thinking”. Best-practice biosecurity, considering distance and barriers between horses at events and the importance of removing a horse shedding the virus into isolation are key.

    FEI veterinary director Göran Åkerström put forward two proposals to be considered: for the FEI to seek further input and keep the situation under review, deferring a rule proposal on mandatory vaccination to the 2023 FEI general assembly at the earliest, or to implement mandatory vaccination from 2025, in countries with available licensed vaccines.

    A representative of the French federation pointed out that in terms of the sport’s social licence, an external observer could ask why, if a vaccination exists that could have prevented future horses’ deaths, it was not mandatory.

    One measure brought in to combat the spread of EHV was daily recording of horses’ temperature on the FEI HorseApp. But it was pointed out that a number of riders have been fined for not complying with this, because wi-fi at some events is not good enough for the app to function.

    Wi-fi was one of the top issues discussed in the general rules revision session; a survey was sent to stakeholders last year as part of an event standards project, to identify issues at competitions.

    Other subjects that came up were the need sometimes for better grooms’ facilities, and also stable security at shows. International Jumping Riders Club (IJRC) president Kevin Staut said that although security is tighter at higher-level events than one- and two-star shows, there will often be Saturday evenings when “many, many people come to the stables who have nothing to do there”.

    He added that he understands sponsors and connections want to see behind the scenes, and this access is important for organisers, but that he has seen children with sweets, for example, wanting to feed the horses. IJRC director Eleonora Ottaviani warned of contamination risks, also from, for example, visitors on medication that poor security can cause.

    Kevin said at some lower-level shows there are no gates to the stables. Swedish dressage rider Patrik Kittel agreed on security, adding that at his last eight shows, his accreditation was only checked at four of them.

    It was agreed that event facilities should be addressed through guidelines, sharing of best practice, education and communications, and that on stabling issues, “the way forward should consider an appropriate mix of more specific requirements, while recognising the need for flexibility depending on local factors”.

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