AUGUSTA – A committee of legislators voted 11-1 Wednesday to reject a bill that would have mandated that veterinarians give consumers information about the pros and cons of pet vaccines.

But before the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry voted down the bill, legislators agreed to ask the Maine Veterinary Medical Association to report back before next January’s session begins. Legislators said they want to know whether veterinarians are voluntarily giving consumers information on vaccines. If that isn’t happening, several said the issue may be revisited.

For now, Wednesday’s strong committee vote likely means the bill is dead, since getting it passed on the House and Senate floors would be tough.

The bill stems from concerns about whether pets are being overvaccinated. L.D. 429 was staunchly opposed by the Maine Veterinary Medical Association. Veterinarians said they didn’t want to be required to give disclosure forms, and said they’re already giving consumers that information.

But pet owners who testified in February, led by Kris Christine of Wiscasset, said that wasn’t their experience. Their veterinarians routinely sent out cards saying their pets were due for shots, and administered vaccines without disclosing information. Citing research that ties too much vaccine to possible health risks, annual or semi-annual vaccines are too much, Christine said.

Both sides acknowledge a raging debate in the veterinary field about how often vaccines should be given. Even the top experts disagree. However, the American Animal Hospital Association is recommending that veterinarians urge pet owners bring in dogs and cats for annual physicals, and that less-frequent vaccines be administered.

Several legislators questioned Wednesday how vaccine disclosures could be given out to pet owners, since the experts don’t agree.

But Rep. Joanne Twomey, D-Biddeford, said they’re not deciding science, just disclosure.

As as a pet owner, Twomey said she wants to know about vaccine risks and advantages. “We can argue the science on both sides. The bottom line is, should the consumer have the information? I’ll always vote on the side of yes.”

The Maine Veterinary Medical Association told legislators that there is no scientific consensus on the frequency of vaccines. On April 30, Maine veterinarians will hear from two vaccine experts, Dr. John Ellis of Canada and Dr. Ronald Schultz of Wisconsin. Schultz insists dogs and cats are being overvaccinated, while Ellis says they are not.

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