The vaccine against rabbit hemorrhagic disease is only manufactured in and shipped from France. (Pixabay)

The vaccine against rabbit hemorrhagic disease is only manufactured in and shipped from France. (Pixabay)

Kelowna bunny sanctuary unable to get vaccine for contagious virus due to COVID-19

The Responsible Animal Care Society said rabbits in its care have been in quarantine for a long while

As researchers work to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, the contagious respiratory virus is hindering a different kind of vaccine – this one for bunnies – from getting into the hands of at least one B.C. sanctuary, in Kelowna.

The Responsible Animal Care Society (TRACS) president Cyndy Mymka said one of the biggest issues they’re facing right now is the lack of a vaccine for the rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD).

RHD is a sudden and highly contagious disease that affects wild and domestic rabbits. Rabbits exposed to the disease fall ill within one to five days, with symptoms including fever, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, and bleeding from the nose. Once a rabbit contracts RHD, it often results in death.

Rabbits must be vaccinated yearly, with the only vaccine manufactured and shipped from France, according to Mymka.

READ MORE: Four rabbits dead as ‘extremely infectious’ virus returns to Vancouver Island

“And of course, that’s just not really happening right now. If we’re flying anything in and out, we really have to be careful,” she said.

“PPE for essential service workers take priority, and they should but because of all this, we haven’t been able to vaccinate the rabbits (in the sanctuary) this year.”

She said the vaccine is still being developed, but the hold up is with shipping it out. Typically, rabbit owners, shelters and sanctuaries, like TRACS, put a mass order for the vaccine through their veterinarian, who then forwards the order request to the province. The provincial government will then place the order with French manufacturers.

Mymka said they put in their order in early February but still haven’t received the vaccines.

“Now whether or not it has to do with COVID-19, we’re not sure. Regardless, the rabbits haven’t been vaccinated and so we’re just trying to keep them safe right now.”

Rose Valley Veterinary Clinic’s Dr. Moshe Oz said with all that’s happening, it’s not surprising that some things are put to the back burner, like rabbit vaccines.

“Unfortunately, everything is on hold and anything that has to do with pets is sometimes put in the back burner. They’re not the priority right now,” he said.

READ MORE: Rabbits at Lake Country bunny sanctuary get vaccinated

He said the best course of action is to practice good hygiene to help pet rabbits avoid developing RHD.

“The most important thing is to think of it a bit like the coronavirus and try not to spread it. Hygiene is the biggest priority, limiting visitors from house to house or shelters, and don’t take them outside,” he said.

“It’s the same hygiene rules too. Wash your hands frequently when dealing with (rabbits), use only a specific set of clothes and change right away, and disinfect the rabbit’s area regularly.”

Mymka said besides not receiving vaccines for the rabbits in their care, the sanctuary is also feeling the pandemic’s impact through their finances with several of their fundraising events being cancelled.

“Fundraising efforts have had to stop and unfortunately, that doesn’t help because we can’t tell the rabbits ‘sorry, we didn’t have our fundraising so we’ll have to skimp on some straw or hay’,” she said.

“We’re just trying to find other ways to get some funds to keep caring for the animals.”

If you would like to help TRACS care for the rabbits, as well as help other pet owners during this time, donate through their website.

READ: Light a candle for Gaige: Rutland residents to show support for family grieving death of young boy

READ: Kelowna RCMP investigating crash between road maintenance truck and sedan


Twila Amato
Video journalist, Black Press Okanagan
Email me at twila.amato@blackpress.ca
Follow me on Twitter

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