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Low cost vaccine “clinics” for pets rile the veterinary set

Posted Jul 31 2009 9:56am

Would you take your pet to one of those in-front-of-the-supermarket vaccine clinics charging less than your vet does for basic vaccines? You might not. You’re not likely to fall into the target market for these. Not if you’re taking the time to read through blog posts on the subject of veterinary care.

Nonetheless, you should know that plenty of people find these vaccine shops to be convenient, not-so-budget-busting alternatives to the kind of full-service vaccine care vets like me provide. But veterinarians aren’t as gratified to see fly-by-night vaccine outlets spreading like a bad case of fungal pododermatitis at the foot of this economy. 

Background: I subscribe to an email listserve for the FVMA (Florida Veterinary Medical Association). It’s function is to offer a forum for veterinarians in Florida to address political, legal, regulatory and ethical issues in a collegial context. Got a problem, a thought, an issue to raise? Just send out an email to your professional partners. We’ll listen.

I’ve raised the issue of Florida black bear cruelty, mandatory spay-neuters (how and why to oppose the legislation) and Cesar Millan endorsements for our products. This time, someone else picked up the ball and ran with the issues raised by these vaccine clinics. Here they are:

Vaccine clinics like these (locally, in front of Walgreens stores and Winn-Dixie supermarkets) are sidewalk “clinics” that offer vaccines and sometimes heartworm testing––just the bare bones. No physical exam, ledger records only and no other niceties. It’s a wham-bam-thank-you-maam operation. 

Physical exams are fundamental. Pets receiving vaccines should be healthy. These clinics often don’t discriminate. 

Ledger records and proof of vaccination on a postcard may be good enough for some of us, but they’re not good enough for me. Should you lose your proof, where can you turn? You’re not likely to find that outlet again to access your medical records. 

These clinics can be not-for-profit, low-cost alternatives that truly serve the poor (with proof of MedicAid status or by virtue of working at a homeless shelter as I do every couple of months) or they can be for-profit entities offering just 25% off the regular veterinary price. 

Consequently, the latter “clinics” are not offering you a bargain if they’re skipping the physical exam and diligent record-keeping. It’s a scam some veterinary detractors say. More so if they’re recommending you get your vaccines every year (as most do) instead of every three. in these cases, you’re doubtless paying more for the convenience a sidewalk affords. Nice, right?

And how are these vaccines stored, anyway? Some do it right (again, as we do when we travel to a homeless shelter on behalf of the SFVMA ), keeping a temp-regulated, thermostat-monitored cooler on hand. What’s the likelihood that every “clinic” does, given that the risk of inspection (which they ARE subject to) is so infinitesimally tiny? Your guess is as good as mine. 

Where do the vaccines come from? Who manufactured them? Are they in date? Are you getting proof of that on a sticker? Are they injecting pink-dyed water? How would you know? Sure, that’s a risk anywhere. Trust is everything. But when you subject yourself to the lowest-common denominator of vaccine care, your odds of being seriously ripped off rises. 

In light of these facts and possibilities, it makes sense that most veterinarians would balk at the prospect of a profession-cheapening supermarket-scavenging, bottom-feeding outlet. No vet wants them setting up shop in the next shopping center over, hawking vaccines without the benefit of exams and discussions and undoing all the hard work we’ve committed to in the form of education and explanations over the years. 

And no one wants their incomes undercut, either. Hence the understandable public skepticism engendered whenever veterinarians scream bloody murder at the mere sight of these setups. 

We deserve cheap vaccines, some citizens and politicians cry. We need to protect the animals of the poor and disenfranchised, not to mention the public health of all with respect to the risk of rabies. Veterinarians should accept that Walgreens administers flu vaccines and similar options must be made available for those who can’t afford full-service veterinary care in the absence of a lotto windfall from all those tickets they buy. 

With all due respect, however, Walgreens keeps your records, runs a tight ship and offers avenues for redress in the event of corporate liability. There's no comparison. 

Offering free or very low cost vaccines to the poor? It's a MUST. Betraying public trust by offering convenient, pseudo-low cost options? It's a recipe for a scam...and a betrayal of my profession as well.

Now you know where I stand. But where do YOU?

 

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