CANTON - Faced with over $300,000 in budget cuts, the St. Lawrence County Public Health Department is increasingly relying on municipalities to administer rabies vaccination clinics.
The county is having a lot of financial difficulties. We receive a certain amount of support from the state but we can still provide the vaccine for free, County Public Health Director Susan J. Hathaway.
This year, Public Health will hold three rabies clinics at the Human Services Center, 80 Route 310, on June 7, Sept. 13 and Oct. 11. The bulk of clinics for the rest of the year will be held by municipalities throughout the county. In early March, letters were sent to towns and villages asking them to participate in training seminars that would teach officials how to facilitate clinics. According to Ms. Hathaway, over 25 officials attended a training session on how to conduct rabies clinics, and 13 villages and townships have agreed to host clinics throughout the year.
While the cost of vaccinations is $2, its the costs from veterinarians, handlers and syringes that increase the cost of the clinics drastically for the county, said Ms. Hathaway.
Each clinic costs approximately $400 for each of 13 municipalities, but that does not include the cost of overtime pay for staff or transportation for evening clinics.
The main cost is paying a vet and handler fees, said Ms. Hathaway. However, if municipalities can get volunteers, then they may not have a lot of costs at all.
Public Health will provide vaccine free of charge to the municipalities. Ms. Hathaway said some of her staff and nurses have volunteered to help towns and villages handle the animals while the vaccinations are administered. However, some municipalities have worked around this by putting out a donation jar to offset the costs.
As we are giving the vaccinations for free, they cannot charge people for vaccinations, but they can ask for donations, Ms. Hathaway said.
Ms. Hathaway said towns are embracing the change with some villages and towns agreeing to open their clinics to residents from surrounding villages and towns or offering to take turns hosting clinics annually.
Our goal is to administer the vaccinations to as many pets possible. If animals are not immunized and it spreads to humans, the disease could be fatal if not treated immediately, Ms. Hathaway said.
Some villages and municipalities, such as Heuvelton, intend use the clinics an opportunity to license dogs.
All dogs are required to be licensed, and in order to be licensed, the owner must have proof of rabies vaccination, said Oswegatchie Town Clerk Janet M. Wheater. It is very convenient for some people.
According to the latest research provided by the state Department of Health Wadsworth Laboratory, in 2010 there were three detected cases of rabies in animals and 23 people required post-exposure treatment. While the cases of rabies may be rare, Ms. Hathaway says the risk of human exposure depends largely on the risks of immunization.
I think its a beneficial system all the way around, said Lisbon Town Clerk Donna McBath. The animals are getting vaccinated at a lesser price than they would at a veterinarian, and, with all the donations we received, we were able to pay for our veterinarian and handler at no cost to the town.
Clinics for the month of May include: May 1 at the Heuvelton Fire Hall from 6 to 8 p.m., May 3 at Hammond Town Barn from 5 to 7 p.m., May 10 at Star Lake Fire Hall from 6 to 8 p.m., May 15 at Massena Department of Public Works from 6 to 8 p.m. and Potsdam Town Barn from 6 to 8 p.m., May 16 at Russell Fire Hall from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., May 17 at Folwer Town Barn 6 to 8 p.m., and May 23 at Ogdensburg Fire Department 6 to 8 p.m.
For a complete list of clinics visit the Public Health website at www.co.st-lawrence.ny.us/Departments/PublicHealth/RabiesControl, call 386-2325 or call your local municipality to see if your pet is eligible to attend a clinic.