Further to our previously published guidance, we are now entering the second week of the initial three-week period of partial “lockdown” in the UK.
Our previously published guidance remains unchanged.
Our guidance is based on the UK government’s rules and advice, which is centred around the following:
Stay at home
- Only go outside for food, health reasons or work (but only if you cannot work from home)·
- If you go out, stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people at all times
- Wash your hands as soon as you get home
- Do not meet others, even friends or family
We are at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK, and seeing what has happened in other countries and seeing the pressure that our NHS is already under, we consider it to be vital to restrict our work to what is absolutely necessary for animal health and welfare for the next two weeks. If, as we all hope, the measures taken by the government and are effective at “flattening the curve” we will hopefully be able to relax some of these measures after that time.
Our guidance also mirrors guidance from RCVS and BVA. It is vital that we all work together and, wherever possible, follow these guidelines, not only to reduce the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but also to avoid confusion for the general public and bringing the profession into disrepute. Government guidance lacks clarity in certain areas, and this has resulted in some differences of opinion about certain types of equine veterinary work that can be continued. Different practices will be working under different circumstances and professional judgement is needed to determine each practice’s policy.
However, the overarching principles are that all travel / movement should only be undertaken if it is considered essential for animal health and welfare, and wherever feasible physical distancing of at least 2 metres must be maintained.
We appreciate that furloughing and self-isolation measures are causing significant difficulties to many equine veterinary practices. We urge neighbouring practices to support each other and the local community in whatever ways they can.
The two areas that have caused the greatest amount of confusion and controversy are routine influenza vaccinations and routine breeding work.
Routine Influenza Vaccinations
- The issues around influenza vaccinations are complicated by the certification requirements of various equestrian sports’ authorities.
- In the current “lockdown” period, with no competitions taking place, the risk of equine influenza epidemic is considered to be low. In addition, the heightened vaccination levels carried out in 2019 should have resulted in an elevation of the herd immunity. RCVS have advised that there should be a ‘real and imminent risk of disease’ for a vaccination to be warranted.
- We are currently in consultation with the various regulatory authorities to determine if some partial relaxation of the vaccination requirements for competition can be temporarily permitted during the period of lockdown.
- Therefore, for the next two weeks (to be reviewed at that time), we consider that routine influenza boosters are not urgent.
- However, if (and only if) a veterinary surgeon is required to attend a yard for an essential / emergency consultation, it could be possible to undertake routine vaccinations of other animals on the yard, provided that it does not involve interaction with anyone else and provided that physical distancing of at least 2 metres is maintained at all times. In practical terms, this means that a horse would need to be vaccinated without being held by anyone else, or if held it would need to be injected into the rump.
- If, whilst attending an urgent case on a yard, you are asked to vaccinate a horse that is normally under the care of a different practice, you should first consult with the other practice and establish if this is acceptable, and agree how the service should be charged.
- There may also be scenarios where, in your professional judgement, booster vaccines are urgent – e.g. to reduce a real and imminent risk of disease.
- Where part of a vaccine course has already been given and the animal may be exposed to the disease, veterinary judgement is paramount and the (health rather than economic) risk of leaving an incomplete course must be weighed against the ability to see the animal whilst maximising social distancing.
- We do not consider any other routine procedures (e.g. routine health checks or routine dentistry) to be appropriate to undertake whilst on a yard for an essential / emergency consultation.
- “Remote veterinary certification” – i.e. where an influenza vaccine is prescribed and dispensed to an owner / trainer for vaccination of their horses themselves, and the veterinary surgeon subsequently certifies this in the passport, is not currently possible. However, for horses not competing under any rules, after checks about appropriate handling of the vaccine, competency of performing the injection, and disposal of syringes and needles have been made, prescribing and dispensing a vaccine for the owner to administer could be considered; the owner should record the date administered and details of the vaccine in the passport, but this cannot be certified by the veterinary surgeon.
BHA's announcement (1 April2020) regarding the vaccination for equine influenza in British racehorses can be see here.
BEF's announcement (2 April 2020) regarding the vaccination for equine influenza in competition horses can be seen here.
Routine Reproductive/Stud Work
There is current confusion about whether routine pre-breeding stud / reproductive work, including artificial insemination, is considered to be essential work. We are seeking clarification from the government on whether Thoroughbred +/- other horse breeding activities should be considered essential.
For the next two weeks (to be reviewed at that time), unless we receive official government guidance on this issue, we recommend that routine pre-breeding stud work is not carried out (unless the veterinary surgeon is resident on the stud or attending the stud for other essential reasons). However, we understand the pressures that veterinary surgeons face in this area, and individual practices need to risk assess and make their own judgements on what they consider to be essential work. In all circumstances biosecurity measures must be in place at the premises/stud and 2m physical distancing maintained. Procedures and official guidelines should be reviewed regularly (or daily) should the individual premises/stud or national situation change.
Biosecurity advice for veterinary surgeons attending horses at owners premises
- Maintain physical / social distancing of at least 2 metres (the “average” horse length is 2.4 metres)
- Only have a client present if absolutely necessary (check that client has no symptoms of COVID 19 or is self-isolating before attending)
- If an owner / handler is necessary, ensure that he/she wears gloves
- Wear gloves yourself and change them regularly
- Avoid touching your face
- Before leaving the yard, disinfect any area that you may have touched or come into contact with and that could act as a fomite if you are infected with the COVID 19 virus but not yet displaying symptoms
- Wash your hands thoroughly
- Disinfect any equipment that you have used