Making Vaccines: Animals and vaccines

Animal vaccines have obvious benefits that include keeping our pets healthier and decreasing the costs of veterinary care, but animal vaccines help in other ways too.

Animal vaccines can prevent human disease

One of the best methods for controlling human rabies in the United States is by immunizing pets. In some other countries where dogs and cats are not routinely immunized against rabies, the animals are the major source of rabies cases in humans. However in the U.S., most exposures occur by inadvertent contact with wildlife.

The types of wildlife that account for most exposures in the U.S. vary, depending upon the geographic location. In the eastern part of the country, raccoons account for most human exposures and in the western and central parts of the U.S., skunks are the primary transmitters to humans. Foxes account for most human cases in the northeastern states that border Canada, and in Alaska.

Animal vaccines can help the grocery bill

During the 1928 presidential campaign, Republicans promised that a vote for Herbert Hoover would continue the prosperity started by Harding and Coolidge; — they promised the proverbial "chicken in every pot." But it wasn't a president who delivered on this promise, it was a scientist. Dr. Maurice Hilleman developed a vaccine that would ultimately decrease the cost of chicken from $2 to 40 cents and eggs from 50 cents to 5 cents per dozen.

The vaccine that Dr. Hilleman developed prevents a disease in chickens called Marek's disease, which causes leg paralysis and cancers of the skin, ovaries, liver, kidneys, heart and spleen of the animals. It is caused by a herpes virus that spreads easily throughout a flock as well as to neighboring flocks. Prior to the availability of the vaccine, Marek's disease claimed about 20 percent of the chicken population throughout the country.

Reviewed by Paul A. Offit, MD on November 21, 2014

Materials in this section are updated as new information and vaccines become available. The Vaccine Education Center staff regularly reviews materials for accuracy.

You should not consider the information in this site to be specific, professional medical advice for your personal health or for your family's personal health. You should not use it to replace any relationship with a physician or other qualified healthcare professional. For medical concerns, including decisions about vaccinations, medications and other treatments, you should always consult your physician or, in serious cases, seek immediate assistance from emergency personnel.