WORCESTER, Mass. - A first-of-its-kind study from Boston University is shedding light on one of public health’s biggest challenges in the post-pandemic world through the eyes of man’s best friend. The study found those who hold negative views about human vaccines are also unlikely to get their dogs vaccinated.

What You Need To Know

  • A recent Boston University study found those who hold negative views on human vaccines are unlikely to get their dogs vaccinated

  • Researchers surveyed 2,200 dog owners for the study    

  • Nearly 40% of respondents felt canine vaccines are unsafe

  • Roughly 37% also believed canine vaccination could cause their dogs to develop autism

“For those of us who are pet owners, it comes in the form of going to clinics and seeing signs put on the wall saying, ‘By the way, it is a matter of state law to vaccinate your dog against rabies,” said Matt Motta, the study’s lead author. “So all of us were aware to some degree that that's some amount of canine vaccine hesitancy was going on, but we didn't know was just how prevalent it was.”

Motta, an assistant professor of health haw, policy and management at Boston University, worked with his team to survey more than 2,000 dog owners.

Nearly 40% of respondents believed canine vaccines are unsafe. In addition, more than 20% felt they’re ineffective, and 30% considered them medically unnecessary. Roughly 37% even worried vaccinations could give their dog autism, a belief the study points out holds no scientific merit.

For experts at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, those results were surprising.

“Vaccines are the cornerstone of public health,” said Dr. Meera Gatlin, an assistant professor of public health. “When you talk about reducing the burden of disease, or even eradicating the disease, when we're seeing this percentage of people hesitant to get their dogs vaccinated, we're concerned about, what those diseases could mean for public health.”

During the pandemic, you likely heard the term "vaccine hesitancy," or skepticism about the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine. Motta said there are many parallels to dog owners’ responses in the survey.

“This is something that has become quite commonplace in the post-pandemic era, that increasingly Americans are drawing fewer distinctions between their feelings with some forms of vaccination and the way they feel about all other forms of vaccination,” Motta said.

For Gatlin, the results underscored the importance of doctors and veterinarians taking time to have a conversation with their patients and pet owners about the importance of vaccinations.

“Understand what these vaccines are doing, the importance that they have in preventing disease, I think that would be my biggest recommendation to people," Gatlin said. "My message for veterinarians is to really, again, emphasize the importance of the vaccines. Talk to your clients. Communication is going to be so, so important, sharing correct information out there.”

Motta’s study has been gaining quite a bit of attention since its release, but he’s just hoping people take the time to consider its public health implications.

“If we’re able to increase confidence in the safety, efficacy and importance of vaccinations in general, that should in turn spill over to restore confidence in the safety, efficacy and importance of vaccinating our pets,” Motta said.

Motta completed the study with his sister Gabriella Motta, a veterinarian at Glenolden Veterinary Hospital in Pennsylvania. They were also assisted by Dominik Stecula, an assistant professor of political science at Colorado State University.