An extensive study has confirmed vaccination against the deadly Hendra virus does not affect the racing performance of horses.
Whether the vaccinations can diminish a horse’s ability on the racetrack has been a major discussion point in racing in recent years.
A vaccine has been available since 2012 but less than 25 per cent of the racehorse population has been inoculated.
The Hendra virus was first discovered in Brisbane in 1994 and since then more than 100 horses and four people have died as a result of it.
The Queensland Racing Integrity Commission funded the ground-breaking study by some of Australia’s most-renowned vets.
The results were released in Brisbane on Wednesday.
“It was designed so that industry regulators and participants can base their decisions on accurate information and science rather than rumour and speculation,” QRIC commissioner Ross Barnett said.
“The extensive study examined the Timeform rating of 1154 thoroughbreds over 12,066 race starts and assessed their performance one and three months before and after vaccination, with no difference in form detected.”
Timeform rating is an established measure of a horse’s performance in a race that takes into account how the race was run and where the horse finished.
QRIC’s chief vet Dr Martin Lenz said many factors could potentially affect the performance of racehorses, so it was important for the study to be large enough to distil any impact of vaccination.
“The large numbers of horses and race starts examined means we can be confident of the findings, which back up the instincts of many astute trainers who already vaccinate their horses,” Dr Lenz said.
Dr Kathrin Schemann was the study’s lead author and is a research fellow in veterinary biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of Sydney.
“Analysing the performance of each horse before and after vaccination over a short time period was the best way to assess the impact of vaccination as each horse acted as its own control,” Dr Schemann said.
“Thoroughbred racing participants can be confident of the results given the number of horses assessed.”
She said costs had been a factor in the low number of vaccinations but Hendra virus was deadly to both horses and people and the vaccine was an effective way to combat it.
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