Issues around the Hendra vaccine for horses will be the subject of a Queensland parliamentary committee inquiry.
Queensland’s Parliament has asked its Agriculture and Environment Committee to examine the EquiVacc vaccine, including claims by some owners of adverse reactions in horses after receiving it.
The committee will also examine the stance of some veterinarians in refusing to treat unvaccinated horses and what effects that has on horses, the industry and the economy. The committee will report back by August 22.
The availability of the vaccine for horses has been hailed as a major advance in the fight against the disease, but some horse owners are reluctant to use it.
Some vets are refusing to treat horses that have not been inoculated amid fears they will be prosecuted under health and safety laws if they treat an unvaccinated horse that later presents with Hendra infection.
The Queensland MP for Mirani, Jim Pearce, who has publicly criticised the no-treatment policy, said the “standoff” was getting out of hand and needed to be resolved sooner rather than later.
The bat-borne Hendra virus is capable of infecting horses. People who come into close contact with the bodily fluids of infected horses can catch the virus. Of the seven known Hendra cases in humans, four have proved fatal.
Pearce said he welcomed the parliamentary inquiry.
He said the policy adopted by veterinarians had meant individuals and families have had to watch much-loved horses suffer and die needlessly.
“Owners of stallions, performance horses and family pets – some valued up to $A50,000 or more – have been lost due to this unreasonable policy,” Pearce said.
“This is a huge animal welfare issue that needs to be recognised and addressed.
“The equine industry is an important source of income to both the government and the state’s economy. It is important to the lives and lifestyles of many Queenslanders, including residents of my electorate.”
Pearce praised Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Leanne Donaldson for her preparedness to listen to the concerns raised by horse owners and attendants.
“This inquiry will provide an opportunity for the equine industry in Queensland, vets, government agencies and vaccine suppliers to put their case,” Pearce said.
He noted that 77 horses had died of Hendra virus infection in Queensland and New South Wales between 1994 and 2015, but this equated to an average of three cases a year or less over the last 21 years.
There was only one case in Queensland in 2015.
“In the majority of these cases, horses were paddock-grazing under flowering trees where there was flying fox activities.
“On only two occasions – at Hendra and at Redlands – were there multiple horses involved. The reason for the multiple infection and fatality rates was attributed to human interaction and cross-infection through the lack of hygiene.
“While the likelihood of a horse being infected with the Hendra virus is less than 1%, I appreciate the concern of horse owners and human exposure.”
However, he continued: “There have been no human infections from the Hendra virus since 2009. I do acknowledge there were seven confirmed cases, and unfortunately four of these seven people died.
“No one wearing personal protective equipment has ever contracted Hendra virus.
“Indeed, a 2015 Department of Agriculture and Fisheries document states: ‘The matter of whether an owner chooses to vaccinate their horse for the Hendra virus is an issue for them to take into account when making decisions around the bio-security and health and safety considerations of animals, persons and property’.”