Pet Vaccination – How Much Is Too Much?

Back in 2003, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) revised vaccination guidelines, recommending veterinarians to vaccinate adult dogs every three years instead of annually and many veterinarians have changed their protocols in respect to the new guidelines. The change was implemented after experts agreed with the overwhelming evidence showing annual vaccinations for canine diseases were unnecessary and harmful. It behooves the pet owner to avoid veterinarian service providers who recommend, and even demand, annual vaccines. There are many veterinarians who choose to ignore the guidelines as they don’t want to lose the income these booster shots bring in every year. Another veterinarian service pet owners should avoid are those provided in a parking lot or pet supply store where you and your pet are without the benefit of a relationship with the veterinarian providing the inexpensive service. Your pet may pay the price of inappropriate or unnecessary veterinarian care. Vaccinations are a major stress to your pet’s immune system and can cause side effects and allergic reactions as well as long term chronic disease such as skin allergies, arthritis, leukemia, upper respiratory infections, irritable bowel syndrome, and neurological conditions as aggressive behavior, epilepsy, auto-immune disease and cancer. It is common today for veterinarians to see sicker dogs and cats at a much younger age. Pets as young as 5 years of age are diagnosed with cancer and auto-immune disease is also on the rise. Combine over-vaccination with poor nutrition, poor breeding practices and environmental stresses and your left with generations of pets who are susceptible to chronic disease and congenital disorders. Yearly veterinary checkups are imperative for your pet as this provides them with a strong health baseline, helps pet owners recognize subtle changes in their pets over time, as well as develops a relationship between your veterinarian, you and your pet.

It is best to prepare yourself for your dog’s annual veterinary visit. Be ready to discuss the best vaccine strategy for your pet by bringing veterinary records of your pet’s vaccine history with you. Don’t assume the clinic will have the most recent information on hand and this is more imperative if you’ve changed veterinary clinics. Include all test results such as heartworm, antibody titer, blood and/or urinalysis. Have a clear idea whether you want or need your pet to receive any vaccinations for which diseases and ask your veterinarian if any particular vaccines are necessary due to conditions in the area you live in. Consider the risk. If your pet is indoors only and is never exposed to unvaccinated animals, then the risk of infection is low. Educate yourself so that you can have an intelligent conversation with your veterinarian concerning the good and bad of vaccinating your pet. Know your pet’s health; whether he has health or behavioral issues that your veterinarian should be aware of and bring a list of any medications or supplements your pet is taking along with dosage, strength and frequency. The decision to vaccinate your pet or not is very individual and should be based on extensive research before you go to your veterinarian. If you are seeing a veterinarian for the first time, it is a good idea to make an appointment to see him without your pet to discuss his philosophy toward vaccinations and other tests such as the antibody titer test. A “titer” is a measurement of how much antibody a certain antigen is circulating in the blood at that moment. A dog displaying a positive antibody titer test result is considered protected from the disease for which the vaccine is intended and does not need vaccines at that time. Never vaccinate a pet whose immune system is compromised with an infection as the vaccine might distract the immune system from handling the infection and create the likelihood that the vaccine may not produce protective immunity.

Should you choose to vaccinate your pet, consider asking your veterinarian to perform a health exam and other tests first then wait for the results. If your pet is in good health, schedule a follow-up vaccine visit. Avoid multiple vaccines in one or combination vaccines; if this is the only option available, look elsewhere. Don’t vaccinate your pet more than every three years. Some vaccines such as Lepto, Bordetella, or Lyme do not last more than one year however consider whether these diseases are heightened in your area before vaccinating your pet. Schedule these vaccines separately from the rabies vaccine if your pet needs them and administer them in another part of the body. Vaccine programs must be designed to each animals specific needs, not the masses. You need to figure the dog’s age, environment, activities, lifestyle and previous adverse vaccine reactions, if any, in the equation. Do not vaccinate puppies and kittens who are younger than 12 weeks of age as their immune systems are very vulnerable to the stress of the vaccine. Keep puppies and kittens safe from exposure by avoiding pubic areas such as parks and pet stores. Vaccinate puppies between the age of 12-15 weeks for parvovirus and distemper and wait until after they are 6 months old before vaccinating for rabies. For kittens, one Panleukopenia combination (FRCP) and, if available, have the vaccine administered separately spaced three to four weeks apart. Consider the lifestyle and environment of your cat; if he goes outside and you have rabies in your area, vaccinate him at 6 months of age. Feline leukemia and FIP vaccines may not be necessary for your cat. Keep in mind that legal requirements vary from state to state. Studies show that a single vaccination for parvovirus, distemper and panleukopenia provide long-term protection and a simple blood test will revel if antibodies levels remain high enough to resist infection therefore a “booster” is not needed. Vaccines do not need “boosting”. Unless diseases are locally endemic or if a specific kennel has contracted Bordetella, corona virus, leptospirosis or Lyme, veterinarians do not recommend vaccinations. The leptospirosis vaccine is generally not useful because the currently licensed leptospira bacterins do not have the serovars which cause leptospirosis today. An alternative homeopathic method used by pet owners choosing not to vaccinate are Nosodes which can be used on animals younger than three months of age if the animal is at risk. These homeopathic medicines help protect pets against Parvovirus, Distemper, Kennel Cough, Panleukopenia and FIP. Though some nosodes work more effectively than others, they are not vaccines and do not produce titers against these diseases but seem to offer some protection in the severity of illness if the pet has been exposed even if they don’t prevent the disease.

When it comes to vaccinating your pet, educate yourself. You are your pet’s guardian and the decision is yours, not your veterinarians, nor should it be. You are responsible for the care of your companion; give them the best by researching and very carefully weighing decisions about their healthcare.

To Vaccinate Or Not to Vaccinate

Almost everyone agrees that vaccination has been one of the single most effective public health measures ever undertaken however it still remains one of the most controversial issues facing medicine today. We will take a look at these controversies, attempting to dispel truly fallacious information and focusing on real issues of concern to families.

Once the efficacy of vaccines became established, governments rushed to both make vaccines available to the populace and to make vaccination compulsory in many cases. In the twentieth century, as immunizations for childhood diseases were developed, including diphtheria, measles, mumps and rubella, vaccination became required for public school attendance.

In 1974, the WHO launched the Expanded Programme on Immunization. Through their efforts the last naturally occurring case of smallpox in the world occurred in Somalia in 1977.

Governmental entities strive to immunize as many people as possible in order to reach “herd immunity”. Herd immunity takes place when enough people are vaccinated to substantially lower the likelihood that a susceptible person will come into contact with an infected person.

Unfortunately, while the discovery of vaccines has probably been one of the single most important steps in eradicating disease (along with sanitation and antibiotics), there have been and continue to be safety issues associated with vaccine administration.

In 1955, two batches of polio vaccine contained live virus, which caused an outbreak of polio. In the 1970s a paper was published linking pertussis vaccination to permanent brain damage. The ensuing boycott of vaccinations and slate of lawsuits drove vaccine manufacturers out of the business, creating shortages and a rapid increase in disease incidence. The theory was later disproved but the controversy led to the development of the National Vaccine Information Office, the National Vaccine Injury Act, which provides some liability protection to manufacturers and the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Fund which provides monetary compensation when a vaccine is proven to have had a deleterious effect. In 1976, there was evidence that the swine flu outbreak could create an epidemic as bad as the flu epidemic of 1918, which killed 50,000,000 people worldwide. Swine flu vaccine was rushed to the public without adequate testing, resulting in about 500 cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome before the program was cancelled.

Vaccines, like any drug or foreign material that enters the body, can cause allergic reactions, often due to the adjuvant, i.e., materials that the vaccine uses as a vehicle for administration. Side effects such as localized swelling, fever, crying and more are often associated with injections.

Beyond the concern about specific vaccine problems as described earlier, there is a strong minority of people who believe that the increasing rates of autism and learning disabilities in the U.S. are related to its mandatory immunization program. A good deal of research has been cited on both sides of the issue and there’s no clear evidence to either support or completely deny these beliefs.

Autism is a developmental disorder characterized by impairment of social behaviors and interactions. These behaviors usually become observable at about eighteen months. Most vaccinations are given on a schedule that begins at age 2 months, creating a question about whether the immunizations cause the autism. Historical review shows that the incidence of autism did increase at about the time of the introduction of the MMR vaccine in the U.S. However, awareness of autism as a distinct disease increased at the same time. Autism in the UK did not increase after MMR was introduced there.

In the past, thimerosal, organic mercury, was used as a component of vaccines. Fears of a link between mercury and autism caused the Institute of Medicine to request removal of thimerosal from vaccines as a precautionary measure. This move, which was not based on scientific evidence, lent credibility to these fears. The current scientific consensus is that thimerosal causes or worsens autism; by 1999, this ingredient was removed from almost all vaccines.

Overall, vaccines have improved the lives of billions of people worldwide, eradicating many diseases or reducing them to small, manageable outbreaks.

Proponents in favor of TO VACCINATE cite the following arguments.

Getting vaccinated protects the individual and the community; it’s an obligation of living in a society to support the public good.

While most vaccination proponents recognize that there maybe individual situations where vaccination is not recommended, they point to the fact that if vaccinations weaken the immune system, there should be a higher rate of infections after immunization. A 2001 study of over 800,000 children in Denmark determined that there was no correlation.

It is not fair to subject vaccinated children, especially those who have been vaccinated because their medical conditions suggest that the disease would have serious negative effects, to the potential of getting the disease from those who have chosen not to be vaccinated (since vaccinations are not 100% effective in most cases.)

Manufacturers are constantly working to reduce chemical agents in vaccines such as thimerosal. Children who are not vaccinated with MMR (Mumps, Measles and Rubella) are 35 times more likely to get the diseases, which can be severe. Varicella (chicken pox) can lead to hospitalization and/or death. Polio vaccination is still important because polio is still present in developing countries. These diseases are rare because of the high degree of immunization. If people choose to stop vaccinating, the diseases will rebound as studies in other countries have shown.

There is still no credible evidence of a correlation between autism and vaccination. This position is supported by the World Health Organization, the CDC, The AMA and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

However, while vaccines are spectacularly successful in the macro sense, on a person by person, basis, vaccines can pose mild to severe risks for side effects and/or permanent and debilitating damage. There is a fundamental belief that the government should not be able to force people to submit to unwanted medical interventions.

As a result, some people, especially parents of vaccination-age children, are in favor of NOT TO VACCINATE and utilize the following arguments

The U.S. vaccination rate is already way above herd immunity thresholds.

Each person or family has the right to make their own free choice about invasive medical procedures. Recognizing the macro value of vaccination, each person or family need the liberty to evaluate their own situation, particularly with respect to vulnerabilities, and then choose the best course of action for the individual.

Vaccines are actively promoted due to the profit motive of manufacturers. When lawsuits related to immunizations go to trial, pharmaceutical manufacturers can supply “purchased” experts to plead their case.

The U.S. Vaccine Compensation Program has paid over 2000 awards (over $1.2 billion) for damages due to vaccines including a recent case where the court found that simultaneous immunizations caused autism symptoms. Children with auto immune diseases are at greater risk for serious side effects from vaccination and should be able to be exempted from participating.

The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), a government-run program that collects data on adverse events related to vaccines receives over 1,000 reports per month, estimated to be approximately 10% of actual events.

Hepatitis B immunization is not worthwhile – the disease does not even affect children (less than 1% of all reported victims are under the age of 15) yet it carries some risk of adverse effects up to and including death. For less dangerous diseases such as measles and chicken pox, natural immunity is preferable because it is 100% effective.

Vaccines contain known toxins and carcinogens such as aluminum and thimerosal.

Side effects of the MMR vaccination are similar to the disease and can be severe. Varicella side effects are similar to the disease; naturally acquired disease provides lifetime immunity, vaccination requires boosters. Polio vaccination is unnecessary because there hasn’t been a case of wild polio in the Untied States in 20 years. These diseases are so rare that it’s highly unlikely that anyone would contract them anymore.

While the correlation between the increase in autism and the increase in vaccinations may not be causal, it may yet be proved to be causal. Consequently, vaccinations should not be mandatory.

It’s not surprising that there are strong feelings on both sides of this issue, fueled by an enormous amount of misinformation on the Internet. In the meantime, is there middle ground or any solutions to this controversy?

The solution is more and better research on several fronts. People need answers to the question of autism and vaccines. Equally important is research on new and better ways to engineer vaccines so that they can be more targeted and less likely to create adverse events in specific individuals.

The middle ground is probably represented by the United States and Canada which enjoy an extremely high level of vaccination and low levels of preventable diseases but at the same time provides the opportunity for individuals in most cases to be exempted from the need for vaccination based on religious or medical grounds. This balance allows the majority of the population to be well protected while still giving individuals the right to exercise the freedom to choose.

Dog Vaccinations – Are We Over-Vaccinating Our Canine Companions?

My dog, Chase, is a “natural dog”. He’s on a raw diet. He takes herbs to boost his immunity. He has a traditional and a homeopathic veterinarian.

Recently, after he received his annual rabies booster, Chase contracted a urinary tract infection (UTI).

Off we went to the homeopathic veterinarian, who informed me that UTIs were common side effects of rabies vaccines. She also informed me that Chase only needed his rabies vaccine every three years, not every year, as my traditional vet had been doing. I was upset, wondering if Chase was being over-vaccinated.

I was not alone. Greater minds than mine have been studying the issue of dog vaccinations for decades.

Dr. Ronald Schultz is among the most noted. Schultz, chair of the Department of Pathobiological Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, has been studying dog vaccinations since the 1970s.

He says that back then they didn’t know much about immunology. Research was based on observation. “Whenever a dog recovered from certain diseases I experimentally induced, I could never re-infect that dog,” he says. “If natural infection causes lifelong immunity, I wondered why vaccines couldn’t do the same.”

Schultz discovered that some canine vaccines could provide lifelong immunity.

So, then, what’s up with those postcards that arrive from our vet each year, reminding us that Fido is due for his yearly boosters?

According to Jean Dodds, DVM, president of Hemopet, a private, non-profit animal blood bank, yearly vaccine reminders are often sent to get people into the veterinarian’s office for checkups.

“Some vaccines should not be given annually. Giving them too often does nothing but put pets at risk,” says Dodds.

Risks from Dog Vaccinations Include:

* Injection-site tumors (primarily cats)

* Fever, stiffness and sore joints

* Vomiting

* Susceptibility to infections

* Ear and skin conditions

* Allergic reactions

* Behavioral changes

* Anemia

* Arthritis

* Seizures and other neurological events

* Autoimmune diseases and

* Liver failure

Side effects from dog vaccinations can occur anywhere from instantly up to several weeks or months later. Vaccines can even cause susceptibility to chronic diseases later in a dog’s life.

One Pet-Parent’s Vaccination Story

Lisa LaVallee of Connecticut knows all too well the potential adverse side effects of dog vaccinations. Her nightmare began after her Standard Schnauzer, Jonas received his one-year boosters in October 2007.

Three weeks later, Jonas suffered a seizure. A few weeks after that, he had another seizure. It took the vet two days to control the seizures with large doses of Phenobarbital.

Continuing on the Phenobarbital, Jonas remained stable for several months. That changed when LaVallee brought him for additional vaccines in March 2008. Shortly afterwards, Jonas became listless and lethargic.

Jonas was diagnosed with Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA). Whereas a normal dog’s PCV count (which measures red blood cells) is 40 – 59 percent, Jonas’s was eight. He was so anemic he needed a blood transfusion.

The vet told LaVallee that, in his opinion, Jonas’s condition resulted from the vaccines. Jonas was put on a cocktail of powerful medications – which often made him sick – to raise his red blood cell count and control his seizures.

Fortunately, what happened to Jonas is rare, with a reported 30 adverse events per 10,000 dogs vaccinated. And, although we can’t completely eliminate our dogs’ risks of vaccine-related side effects, we can take precautions:

Don’t begin puppy vaccinations before eight – 10 weeks.

Until a puppy is 14 – 16 weeks old, he carries antibodies passed to him through his mother’s milk. This natural immunity interferes with any vaccines given.

For this reason, Schultz advises beginning vaccination when puppies are between eight-to-10 weeks old, and waiting three weeks between rounds, “so that the puppy receives his last series of shots between 14 and 16 weeks.” Shots should be given at 8, 11 and 14 weeks; 9, 12 and 15 weeks; or 10, 13 and 16 weeks.

Every puppy, Schultz stresses, must be vaccinated with the core vaccines: canine distemper, canine parvovirus, canine adenovirus type 2 and also with a rabies vaccine given as recommended by your state or province.

Perform titer tests.

A titer test is a simple blood test to check the strength of a dog’s immune defenses to a disease. “Except where vaccination is required by law,” says Dodds, “all animals can have serum antibody titers measured annually instead of boosters. By titering, we can avoid over-vaccination in dogs with adequate immunity.”

Vaccinate no more than every three years.

Schultz recommends that once a dog receives his puppy series and one-year booster, he should not be vaccinated more often than every three years. “If an owner decides that they don’t want to vaccinate ever again, that’s okay,” he says. “But do not vaccinate more often than every three years.” The exception to this is the rabies vaccine, which is given as required by law.

Avoid vaccine “cocktails”.

According to a 2005 study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Association, giving multiple vaccines per visit increases the risk of adverse side effects.

Use caution when vaccinating sick or aging pets.

Vaccines may overwhelm the immune system of a sick or older dog, becoming the final insult that triggers a negative reaction. Dodds notes that vaccines are likely to be unnecessary in aging pets, and could prove harmful for those with age-related disorders.

Check your breed.

Certain breeds, such as Great Danes, Akitas, Weimaraners, white Standard Poodles and most white-coated small breeds are more vulnerable to adverse effects from dog vaccinations. If your dog falls into this high-risk category, discuss options with your veterinarian.

According to Dr. Charles Loops, a homeopathic veterinarian located in Pittsboro, North Carolina, in the past few years, veterinary schools have recommended backing off on yearly boosters. “Schools and professional associations have a more progressive and realistic view than most practitioners,” he says.

“There’s no question about the importance of vaccines,” says Schultz. “But we adopted the attitude that even if the vaccines don’t help, they’re not hurting. Over time we discovered that they can hurt.”

“It’s an educational problem,” adds Dodds. “The public must ask the right questions. No longer should vaccines be considered a ‘one-size-fits-all’ program.”

Lisa LaVallee knows this all too well. Thankfully, with a combination of traditional and homeopathic remedies, Jonas is in remission from the IMHA, and his seizures are under control. However, he can never again be immunized. Says LaVallee, “I will be sure to ask plenty of questions about dog vaccinations before revaccinating any of my dogs again.”