Last year, Canadian officials responded to an epidemic of the highly contagious — and often fatal — canine distemper virus by launching a vaccination program to protect dogs and their owners.
But many dogs exposed to the virus during that emergency program — which doled out 21 million doses of the dog vaccine, also known as CVID-19 — have died.
What’s more, government sources have now said that at least one million doses of vaccine — one of the most important public health tools — have been lost.
Earlier this year, Ontario released an official report on the outbreak and says 1.3 million CVID-19 vaccines, produced by the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, were “lost or discarded” over the course of the outbreak.
The same question that dog owners have been asking since the outbreak, but that government sources never told anyone publicly before, is this: Why did these vaccines end up in dog food?
One possibility: Maybe these dog vaccines, which cost at least $2,200 per dose, had fallen into the hands of a greedy person or organization who intended to cheat.
But almost no traces of the thousands of dogs who were put at risk — or the millions of dollars in government funding — have been found on any lists. And CVID-19 vaccines aren’t the only animal vaccines lost in a recent rash of losses.
Which means, according to my conversations with experts in animal welfare and science, dogs are still at risk, and the government’s lax handling of pet vaccines could pose health risks for humans.
In the epicenter of the outbreak, the city of Waterloo, Ontario, deaths from canine distemper have been reported in local police department records and in social media posts. And in May, Reuters reported that scientists and doctors there are growing frustrated with how little has been disclosed about the canine flu outbreak, and their belief that more information about lost vaccines must be made public.
Canine distemper, in small doses, can be benign to the human immune system. In bigger doses, the virus can cause severe illness. It can also be deadly. Dogs infected with the virus can die as quickly as six hours, and as quickly as they live, usually in about 30 minutes.
At least 19 dogs in Canada died last year, and roughly 300 more have been infected. State health authorities in Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec are still investigating, but don’t know the total number of dogs affected. That data, in short, doesn’t exist.
“No one is the victim in this: There’s no one to report [the numbers],” said Peter Tighe, head of vaccines for Ontario’s ministry of health. “In theory, anybody who could benefit — including humans — they could take a test and they could be given a vaccine.”
But it can’t happen. The would-be thief or corrupt government agency would have to be the only person with dog’s-eye view of every dog housed in Ontario’s emergency shelter last year.
And that’s not going to happen. While officials still don’t know the exact numbers of dogs infected or the numbers of times CVID-19 has been administered, neither will the right answer to a question so desperately in need of one.
Maybe someone gave up on the prospect of tracing them all to answer the question, and will abandon dog breeding in the process. Or maybe more vaccine stock disappeared along with the funds that could have saved them.
If you have a lost vaccine, send your suggestions, along with any information you have about where it can be found, to [email protected]