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More than half of US dog owners surveyed mistrust routine vaccines for their pets, according to a new study in Vaccine.

Researchers from Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Colorado conducted the survey of 2,200 US adults from March 30 to April 10, 2023, in partnership with sampling firm YouGov. They found that a large share of dog owners consider vaccines administered to dogs to be unsafe (37%), ineffective (22%), or unnecessary (30%). And, in total, 53% of dog owners endorse at least one of these three positions.

‘Spillover effect’ from COVID

The authors say the findings demonstrate a COVID-19 vaccine “spillover effect”—that Americans who hold negative attitudes toward human vaccines are more likely to hold similar views toward immunizing their pets.

“The vaccine spillover effects that we document in our research underscore the importance of restoring trust in human vaccine safety and efficacy,” says first author Matt Motta, PhD, an assistant professor of health law, policy, and management at Boston University (BU), in a BU School of Public Health news release.

“If non-vaccination were to become more common, our pets, vets, and even our friends and family risk coming into contact with vaccine-preventable diseases,” he added.

Our pets, vets, and even our friends and family risk coming into contact with vaccine-preventable diseases.

Study coauthor Gabriella Motta, VMD, a Pennsylvania veterinarian and Matt’s sister, says she encounters an unvaccinated animal or a vaccine-hesitant pet owner every day at her job.

“When a staff member is bitten by an animal, there is always concern for infection or trauma, but the seriousness of the situation escalates if the animal is unvaccinated or overdue for its rabies vaccine,” she says. “The risk with the rabies vaccine is quite low—especially when compared to the risk of rabies infection, which is almost 100-percent lethal.”

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