AUGUSTA – A public hearing Monday on a proposal to mandate consumers be given information about the risks and benefits of vaccines turned into a face-off, with no agreement between veterinarians and pet owners.

Veterinarians staunchly opposed legislators forcing them to give pet owners information about vaccines. They’re already doing that, they said. And the science about adverse health risks from vaccines is “fluid,” making it impossible to give good information, veterinarians said.

Pet owners and dog breeders who jammed into the standing-room-only hearing were on the other side of L.D. 429. They questioned why veterinarians were so opposed to giving out information.

With her little dog, Minnie, in her arms, Laura Moon of Brunswick said she favors the bill. Everyone was there because they love animals, she said. “That’s why I think disclosure is so important. How as an owner, as a guardian, do you know if you don’t know?”

When any activity raises potential harm, precautionary measures are warranted, even if the cause and effect are not fully understood, Moon said. “How can we make an informed decision if we don’t have information?”

Joan Jordan, a dog breeder and dog obedience teacher from Woolwich, said she’s seen dogs “that have had a vaccine that had had lumps and died. Personally I had a dog a couple of years ago I lost.” Weeks after her dog had a vaccine, she underwent surgery and chemotherapy, she said, adding that 18 months later “Sarah” died.

When humans are prescribed medicine they’re given information about possible risks, Jordan said. “I see no reason why the veterinarians feel that that’s a threat to their services. … What’s the problem with us just knowing what the research is saying?”

Arnold Woolf of Lewiston, a breeder and dog judge, called the bill a “safeguard for dogs and cats.” Years ago he sold a Collie puppy to a couple who took that puppy to their veterinarian. That veterinarian “re-inoculated the animal,” giving shots the puppy already had. The dog died within 48 hours from a vaccine overdose, Woolf said. ” That’s what the autopsy showed.”

Veterinarians disagreed that the bill would do any good. They testified about how critical vaccines are to keeping dogs and cats disease free, how their profession is under attack with inaccurate information.

Dr. Bill Bryant of Winthrop, past president of the Maine Veterinary Medical Association, said veterinarians are strong proponents of education, but they’re against the bill. Vaccine protocols have changed and will continue to change, he said. Experts disagree on the science of health risks, he said. With that science “fluid,” Bryant asked who would write information in disclosures, and what set of research would be used?

Legislators should not mandate disclosure forms “for what is a rapidly evolving national veterinary issue that Maine veterinarians are actively addressing,” Bryant said.

Dr. Paul Wade of Manchester said polls show that veterinarians are among the most trusted professionals. Wade said he gives his clients numerous consent and information forms on many services, including vaccines, that show the benefits and side effects.

Most veterinarians are also doing that, he said. “There is no need for a state law to force us to do something we’re already doing voluntarily. The bill is not a legislative issue,” Wade said with a tone of annoyance. “The hidden agenda behind this bill is not for the protection of welfare for animals, but an attempt to further control an already ethical and trusted profession.”

The Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee will take up LD 429 in an unscheduled work session, possibly March 16, those attending the hearing were told.

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