The Federal Response to Coronavirus and Its Implications on Veterinary Medicine

Our second webinar featured a living legend in veterinary medicine Dr. Michael J Blackwell, DVM, MPH. Dr. Blackwell is a former USPHS Assistant Surgeon General, has served as the Dean of The University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, the Deputy Director of the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine, the Chief Veterinary Officer of the US Public Health Service, and the Chief Veterinary Officer of The Humane Society.  

In the second segment, Drs. Krystal Harris and Jen McDaniel, shared changes and challenges created by COVID-19 at their practices, in Texas and Connecticut respectively.

Michael J Blackwell, DVM, MPH  Assistant Surgeon General, USPHS (Ret.)

Question: Can you talk about your experience in the Surgeon General’s Office as it relates to zoonotic disease outbreaks, and specifically COVID-19?

  • The core mission of public health is prevention of diseases. The United States has a robust public health system, but it is underfunded, under-appreciated, and often politicized. COVID-19 is helping us to expose areas that need improvement.
  • Veterinary medicine is a critical component of the healthcare system. The CDC reports that six out of 10 known diseases in humans can be spread from animals. A “One Health” approach, which integrates human and animal health, is optimal.
    Question: What would you tell your staff if you were still the dean of a vet school? How would you balance the needs of pet parents with the needs of your staff?
  • National studies found that 88% of families consider their pets to be members of the family. The most important thing during this pandemic is protecting the family bond. Veterinary care is an essential service and must be available in these times, regardless of income issues. The stimulus from the government may not address the need.
  • To prevent the spread of COVID-19, Healthcare professionals need to reevaluate and adjust relevant policies and procedures (such as patient handling or client interfacing). We need to be mindful to prioritize the utilization of people and resources by focusing on critical care and refrain from regular elective appointments.
  • Veterinarians, as a trusted profession, are in a position to help inform the public and make sure they follow the advice of public health professionals.  
    Question: How can the veterinary community help nonprofits during this crisis?

  • Nonprofits are exceptionally useful, especially in low-income communities where people may not be able to afford veterinary care.
  • Nonprofit organizations see increased demand for their help as they are the first call of people in need.
  • It’s key to support/donate money or resources to nonprofits that provide sick/critical care (rather than preventative care). For example, Aligncare, a non-profit that helps low-income pet owners afford urgent veterinary care.
    Question: What do you know about the solicitation of licensed healthcare professionals by the state government currently?

  • In times where “surge capacity” is needed, the public healthcare system calls people out of retirement or other groups as required (including vets). Historically, the Good Samaritan laws have protected veterinarians in times when they provide care to humans. Veterinarians should make themselves available in this crisis with their knowledge, skills, and ability to help.
    Clinical Applications and Perspectives

    Dr. Krystal Harris DVM, MS, DACVIM (Oncology), Dr. Jennifer McDaniel DVM (practice limited to oncology), Dr. Gerry Post DVM, MEM, DACVIM (Oncology)
  • Increasing restrictions in clinic: No traveling between multiple clinics, creating shifts to minimize exposure of whole staff and avoid commingling. Don’t invite others (even professionals) into the hospital unless desperately necessary, because the health of the staff is paramount. Wherever appropriate, use oral medicine to limit the number of trips clients take to the hospital.
  • Social distancing is important, and telehealth can be a good substitute. Phone consultations and emails are options, even if you are not quarantined. Many clinics are using these options as much as possible, rather than in-person meetings. The first client meeting is really important, so video might be necessary as well. In light of the crisis, telehealth laws have been relaxed somewhat already, including laws about the prescribing of medication.
  • Increased demand and less time, especially for specialists. Some clients are delaying non-essential treatment out of their own volition, which helps.
  • Donating PPE to human hospitals. Limit use of PPE, even in oncology departments. Some hospitals are donating their PPE already, as well as ventilators. In the state of Oregon, all surplus PPE from vets is already being sent to human hospitals. It may be incumbent upon veterinary hospitals to make some tough but important decisions about donating supplies, as the frontline providers need the most help.
  • Assisting local shelters. The crisis has created a situation in which people in bad financial situations are giving up their animals. Anybody in a position to help should help - and state VMAs should get in touch with shelters to organize.

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