Practitioner input sought at vaccine workshop

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The AVMA Council on Biologic and Therapeutic Agents is hosting a workshop for practitioners during the Association's Annual Convention in which they will help shape the council's efforts to update guidelines concerning the vaccination of companion animals.

The workshop is the fourth of four expert panels providing the council with vaccine information, and will be held Tuesday, July 25 from 8 am to 11:45 am in Room 151G of the Salt Palace Convention Center. The sessions are "Vaccine use: what do we know, what do we not know?" followed by "Vaccine guidelines forum: your opportunity for input."

The sessions are structured to hear practitioner expertise as they respond to facts and opinions the council has accumulated from the previous panels, and complete the process of information gathering leading to the council's preparation of guidelines on dog and cat vaccines.

The council's endeavor was prompted by the profession's questions about vaccines and vaccine use. With the diagnosis of vaccine-associated feline sarcomas, the notion that vaccines are innocuous was shattered. Exacerbating the situation is the paucity of scientific data supporting existing vaccination guidelines, causing fear among some practitioners that they could unknowingly be harming their patients.

"There is a growing belief that vaccines are very potent drugs that have significant physiological impacts, requiring a balance between benefit and risk," said council chairman, Dr. Donald Klingborg.

To provide practitioners with direction in so ambiguous a field, the council in August 1999 began meeting with groups considered experts in the field of immunology. They heard from academicians, federal regulators, and officials in the animal vaccine industry, gleaning key facts and opinions from each.

The council has also been in contact with associations such as the American Association of Feline Practitioners.

The process has been admittedly slow, but despite this being a "huge task," the council has managed to remain on schedule, Dr. Klingborg said. He believes that veterinarians appreciate the council's careful methodology and resistance to making premature decisions, especially where animal health is affected.

Practitioners are the final group with whom the council must meet. "They're the ones who have [field] experience with these diseases," said Dr. Klingborg, who is assistant dean for public programs and director of veterinary medicine extension at the University of California-Davis.

The first part of the workshop will focus on what the council has learned so far. The remainder of the time will be devoted to hearing from practitioners. Dr. Klingborg hopes they will recount their experiences with vaccines, including such variables as the kinds of schedules they are using and the health of the animals they are vaccinating.

He noted that the workshop is intended to hear testimony rather than answer specific questions. Those comments will be added to the pool of information that will ultimately determine the vaccination guidelines for companion animals.

"We're trying to take all of the evidence and sort out what is fact from opinion, and then weigh it all in a way that we can come out with a guideline that promotes the best patient care, which is what the profession's all about," said Dr. Klingborg, adding that he has no idea what the finished product will look like.

A final draft of the guidelines is hoped to be completed when the council meets in October or during their subsequent meeting in February 2001. The AVMA Executive Board and House of Delegates must approve the guidelines before they become official policy.