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County health board member extols virtues of vaccinations

| August 25, 2021 12:00 AM

Dear Editor,

I have been a resident of Sanders County and a veterinarian for over 45 years. In that time, I have never before written a letter to the editor.

I’m proud to have served as a member of the Sanders County Board of Health for more than a decade. COVID-19 has been by far the most significant health challenge we have had to deal with.

Most of the day-to-day work of the Board of Health is done by the County Sanitarian, the County Health Nurse, and other county employees. Particularly in these uniquely trying times, we are lucky to have dedicated workers in those roles.

I started this letter a few days after our July board of health meeting and am submitting it now in response to continuing concerns and questions by local citizens. Most of the questions raised at the meeting were either budgetary, political or procedural and are best dealt with by department heads.

The one critical question that was not specifically asked was “Why is the Board of Health pro vaccine?” Because that is a very valid question with important implications, I want to address that topic based on my lifetime of veterinary practice. I do not speak for the board as a whole nor for any of its other members.

In the early 1980s, parvo virus became a canine epidemic first in populated areas on the two coasts and eventually arriving in rural Sanders County. Parvo is a very contagious virus that is especially severe in puppies. It causes diarrhea and severe vomiting and, often times, ends in death even with aggressive veterinary care.

Treatment usually meant days of hospitalization and expense to the owner. Since it was a new disease, no vaccine was available. We did get better at treating it and most veterinarians across the country tried available vaccines on a test basis in an effort to slow the outbreak.

Most people knew someone who had lost one or more dogs to parvo and they wanted to avoid having it happen to them. Eventually, a good vaccine was produced and the widespread outbreak was stopped. Small localized outbreaks still occur in non-vaccinated animals.

While there are differences between Covid-19 and Parvo, for me there are also very real similarities.

Veterinarians deal with large and varied populations of animals (herds) often in confined areas. To see large numbers of animals die slow, miserable deaths is heartbreaking and it is even more so if you know the disease could have been prevented by vaccinating.

It must have been even more devastating for workers in human health care as they have struggled against diseases like polio, smallpox, measles and now Covid-19.

Healthy animals and healthy people have a better quality of life and are more productive – a win/win for everyone. In the 1980s when a Parvo vaccine became widely available, grateful people stood in line to get their dogs protected.

Like now, there was no long-term data, but dog owners were extremely relieved just to have some protection against a such devastating virus.

In closing, I would like to thank the concerned citizens for their courtesy at the Board of Health meeting.

I’ve tried here to explain my perspective as a veterinarian and why I think vaccine is a gift from God for both animals and humans. Vaccines do work and they improve life in all creatures.

In my experience, the risks of vaccinations in animals are minimal compared to the severity of the diseases they prevent. I believe that is equally true of the Covid-19 vaccine.

I truly believe we are all in this together as friends and neighbors and, when it is over, we should still be friends and neighbors.

Sincerely,

Bob Gregg, DVM

Plains, Montana