Janet Yamamoto and Niels Pedersen first isolated the FIV virus in cats in 1986 at UC Davis. Yamamoto started working on a vaccine for FIV at UC Davis, and later continued her work at the University of Florida, with researchers at Fort Dodge Animal Health. Pedersen, the director of the Center for Companion Animal Health and an expert in the field of retroviruses and immunologic disorders of small animals, has tributed the approval of the FIV vaccine to Dr. Yamamoto, for her decade-long devotion to the project.
When the new vaccine for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus was announced in March 2002, thousands felt hope, not only for its potential value to cats, but also as it was hoped to shed some light toward a vaccine against human AIDS.
The University of California and the University of Florida owned the patents for the FIV vaccine and are licensed to Fort Dodge Animal Health-a division of Wyeth, under the name "Fel-O-Vax FIV."
But, shortly after the announcement of FDA approval for the FIV vaccine, emails began circulating among cat rescue groups because of one fatal flaw - All current methods of testing for the FIV virus will show a "positive" for cats vaccinated with the FIV vaccine. This means if we vaccinate our cats against FIV and one of them is lost, or simply gets picked up by an animal control officer, it will likely be destroyed as an FIV-positive cat. There is simply no way of knowing which "positive" cat is truly infected and which cat has simply been vaccinated against FIV. The reception of this vaccine has been less than enthusiastic among the greater community of cat lovers, especially in the U.S. - where FIV strikes only 2% of the cats "at risk."
The AAFP has issued an FIV Vaccine Brief, but they seem non-commital about recommending it to veterinarians and rescue groups.
"If the client decides, under your counsel, that vaccination is something they want to do, I would certainly make sure to test that cat beforehand." quotes Dr. James Richards - director of the Cornell Feline Health Center and AAFP Board Member.
Below are other cons:
Does Not Provide Full Protection. Although there are five strains (called Clades) of FIV, the vaccine was developed by only using two strains. Clade B, which is common in the U.S., particularly in the east, was not one of those two, nor was the vaccine's efficacy tested against Clade B.
The Vaccine is Adjuvanted. Since Adjuvants are suspect in VAS (vaccine-associated sarcomas), yet another vaccine with an added adjuvant is unlikely to be met with much approval among feline practitioners.
FIV is a dreaded disease that's always ultimately fatal to cats that contract it, though generally, there's low incidence in the U.S. Hopefully, FIV testing will improve enough to eliminate that negative side effect in the future, and that a non-adjuvanted vaccine can be developed.