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Letter to the Editor: Horse flu vaccine information misleading

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Dr. D. Craig Barnett of Merck Animal Health contacted us about a May 1 article on equine influenza saying it needed a bit clarification. Here is his response.

I reviewed the article on equine influenza that was posted on Feedstuffs.com May 1, 2018, entitled “Improved horse flu vaccine possible.” The subject of equine influenza is one Merck Animal Health is passionate about, so it immediately caught my eye. In fact, this year we added a new equine influenza strain to our killed equine influenza virus vaccine line.

The strain – known as Florida ‘13 – was identified and isolated through the Merck Animal Health respiratory biosurveillance program, a 10-year ongoing study in partnership with the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Florida ‘13 represents a current, clinically significant strain of equine influenza that was responsible for a large influenza outbreak in well-vaccinated horses.

In addition, Flu Avert® I.N., a modified-live intranasal replicating equine influenza vaccine is a Merck Animal Health product. Flu Avert I.N. is administered at the site of infection and stimulates a broad response similar to natural infection. It requires just one dose and is considered safe and highly effective for use as indicated on the product label. The approval of this vaccine was supported by a robust body of data including safety and efficacy data being published in several peer-reviewed journals.

Flu Avert I.N. continues to provide very good protection from clinical disease in the field, even in the face of influenza outbreaks. Due to its rapid onset of immunity, intranasal route of administration, and very broad, effective immune response it has even been used in numerous outbreak situations to help control disease.

Considering the above, we were surprised by a couple of comments in the article that ran on May 1. The following passages were of concern: “Flu vaccines for horses haven’t been updated in more than 25 years,” and “…the new live-attenuated equine vaccine is designed to replicate and generate an immune response in the nose, where the flu virus first enters a horse's body … The goal is to stop the virus at the point of entry….” The former because – as previously stated – Merck Animal Health recently updated its killed equine influenza vaccine line with a new highly infectious and relevant strain from the 2013 Ocala influenza outbreak. The latter is concerning due to the insinuation that all the information presented on the new live-attenuated vaccine is novel.

My goal in reaching out to you is that you will support a fair and balanced assessment of the equine influenza vaccine market landscape for your readers by acknowledging 1) it is inaccurate to state that equine influenza vaccines have not been updated in 25 years, and 2) that a current vaccine does exist – Flu Avert I.N. – offering many of the same benefits and advantages as those noted for the vaccine discussed in this article.

We recognize the content was delivered to your publication via a news release or similar announcement from the group responsible for the study. We hope to have a collaborative discussion with that research team to better understand the study, as well as help correct any misstatements in further communications regarding the availability of updated influenza vaccines. Our goal – as an industry – is likely shared. Provide the very best in health care to the horse through continuous research and product development.

In the meantime, we would sincerely appreciate your help in providing a clarifying statement with regard to the article currently posted on Feedstuffs.com. It is misleading for your readers and does not reflect the research, development and existing product offerings of current equine vaccine manufacturers, including Merck Animal Health.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter. I would be happy to discuss further or answer any questions you may have.

Sincerely,
D. Craig Barnett, D.V.M.
Director, Equine Veterinary Professional Services
Merck Animal Health

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