Class-action lawsuit against company that produces the Hendra horse vaccine

A coloured transmission electron micrograph of the Hendra, virus. Photo: The Electron Microscopy Unit of the Australian Animal Health Laboratory, part of the CSIRO science agency CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
A coloured transmission electron micrograph of the Hendra virus. Photo: The Electron Microscopy Unit of the Australian Animal Health Laboratory, part of the CSIRO science agency CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

A class-action lawsuit over the vaccine against the deadly Hendra virus in horses has been launched by an Australian law firm.

LHD Lawyers is taking the action on a “no win, no fee” basis and is inviting horse owners who believe their animals were adversely affected by the vaccine to register their interest.

The action in the Federal Court of Australia alleges that pharmaceutical company Zoetis Australia PTY Limited failed to properly trial and test its Equivac HeV vaccine before it was given to horses Australia-wide, beginning in 2012.

The law firm claims that owners were often pressured into vaccinating their animals because of restrictions related to competing or receiving treatment by vets.

Restrictions on unvaccinated horses and inoculations using the Equivac HeV vaccine are continuing throughout Australia, it noted.

The firm further alleges that Zoetis contravened regulations relating to the use of the Equivac HeV vaccine granted under a “minor use permit”, including alleged breaches of Australian consumer law and other legislation governing the sale of pharmaceuticals for use by veterinarians.

More than half a million horses have been vaccinated with Equivac HeV, ranging from racehorses to working horses and family ponies.

The company asserts that some horses have died or had to be euthanized after vets gave the vaccine, and many more developed severe side-effects that compromised their health and limited their ability to train, compete or exercise.

It says horse owners whose animal died or developed severe symptoms may be able to join the class action.

They will have to show that their horse was given the vaccine and developed severe side effects or died because its health was severely compromised at any time following the vaccination.

LHD says it will cover the legal costs of all those taking the class action without requiring that they pay legal costs unless they are successful in recovering compensation from Zoetis or any other party found responsible for damage caused by the vaccine.

Those interested in the action can telephone (02) 9264 6644 and leave their contact details and a brief description of how their horse/s were affected, or register online.

Hendra is a bat-borne virus which can be passed on to horses. In all, around 80 horses are known to have died from Hendra infection since the virus was first identified in 1994. Seven people are known to have contracted the disease following contact with infected bodily fluids from horses. Four of those cases proved fatal.

The vaccine was developed through a partnership between the CSIRO science agency’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory, Pfizer Health (now Zoetis), and international research partners in the United States.

The vaccine became available to veterinarians on November 1, 2012, under a minor use permit. The vaccine received full registration from the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) on August 4, 2015, having met the agency’s safety and efficacy requirements.

In 2016, Queensland Parliament’s Agriculture and Environment Committee conducted a months-long inquiry into the vaccine and found no untoward safety issues around its use.

The inquiry was sparked over concerns expressed by some horse owners of adverse reactions to the vaccine. The issue was further fueled by some veterinarians refusing to treat unvaccinated horses amid workplace health and safety concerns.

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