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Vaccinations...Too Many, Too Often?

As time goes on, new recommendations will be made by the veterinary profession.  
Be sure to consult with your own veterinarian regarding this issue of vaccinations for dogs and cats
because suggested protocols can change as newer knowledge is gained.

Dog and cat owners have been told by veterinarians and pet health care providers for years that annual vaccinations for Rabies, Distemper, Parvovirus, Feline Leukemia and on and on...are required yearly.  Annual Vaccines for animals have been in use for decades. vaccinations, also called annual boosters, have certainly played a major role in disease prevention in dogs and cats.  Nevertheless, the question recently on the minds of dog and cat owners has been... Do these vaccines have to be given every year?  Are we vaccinating dogs and cats too much?  Are we actually causing harm by over-vaccinating? 

UPDATE: In the February, 2003 issue of DVMNewsMagazine  an article appeared summarizing recent preliminary suggestions made by the AAHA.  AAHA is the American Animal Hospital Association. 

Dr. Richard Ford of the study taskforce evaluating the "state of affairs" of vaccine recommendations  indicated that the guidelines for PUPPIES remains the same and that vaccine manufacturer's suggested vaccine intervals should still be followed for puppy immunization.  For ADULT dogs, two groups of vaccines can be considered...


CORE VACCINES include Rabies, distemper, Parvovirus and Adenovirus-2

NONCORE VACCINES  Bordetella (Kennel Cough), Parainfluenza, Lyme disease, Distemper-Measles (combined) and Leptospirosis (all 4 types)

enovirus-1, Coronavirus and Giardia

Many veterinarians believe that the Lyme Vaccine has prevented thousands of cases of Lyme Disease and has been a very effective and beneficial product.  In certain geographical areas, Lyme Disease is very seldom seen... so possibly for dogs in that area, Lyme vaccination might not be critical

There are two major questions
1.) Are multiple agent (multivalent ) vaccines "overloading" the pets immune system?
2.) Are "annual vaccinations" really necessary annually?

 Discussing the first question of multivalent vaccines and whether or not they are "stressing The Immune System we need to know a little about how an individual (human, dog, cat, mouse) responds to a pathogen. A pathogen is any agent such as a virus or bacteria or poison that harms the individual. Every minute of every day all individuals are being silently attacked by pathogens from the air, food, water, and contents of our own intestinal tracts. The true miracle is that any of us survive at all!

Through eons of evolutionary trial and error, those species who best defended against pathogens were able to produce similar offspring who were also immune competent, that is, able to fend off those harmful invaders. So we can safely state that, in general, those individuals alive today have healthy Immune Systems,but some experts believe the overall state of health is declining, and that vaccinations are contributing to the demise of our immune systems.

The Immune System is really a general term for all of the body's pathogen defense mechanisms. The Immune System is not a single, discrete system, after all. There are a multitude of biochemical and anatomical factors that make up The Immune System Vaccinations for dogs and cats have prevented uncountable incidences of disease.

Are multiple agent vaccines overloading The Immune System?"  With your knowledge that every individual is continuously being challenged by invaders, it seems unlikely that "ganging up" on The Immune System is even possible. There is overwhelming scientific evidence that a healthy body can respond with immune defenses to multiple challenges and can make protective levels of antibodies to a number of pathogens at the same time!

With twenty-seven years of experience in  immunology, Robert Snyder, a Public Health Advisor at the Centers For Disease Control, has stated that there is "evidence that the more you stimulate The Immune System the better it works." This statement may very well be true, unless there is an overwhelming number and virulence of pathogens.

On the other hand there are knowledgeable individuals who would strongly disagree. Veterinarian Christina Chambreau, an holistic practitioner from Sparks, Maryland states that there are "all kinds of problems with vaccinations and they are probably the worst thing that we do for our animals".  Her belief is that by injecting vaccine into an animal we are effectively by-passing the body's normal lines of defenses and presenting to the animal foreign material in an unnatural manner. Repetitive vaccinations, she contends, rather than providing extra assurance that an animal will mount high levels of antibodies, actually has an adverse effect on the animal's overall ability to achieve a healthy balance within its disease fighting talents.

If a small animal practitioner with twenty-eight years of experience, has a hard time reconciling these widely different viewpoints, how is the pet owner to make sense of the present state of affairs? And just to underscore the lack of uniformity of opinion regarding multivalent vaccines, A survey of  over twenty veterinarians including Dr. Carvel Tiekert, Executive Director of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, seeking evidence that "too many" vaccines were causing harm to our pets. Not a single person queried would offer any irrefutable evidence that the multivalent vaccines actually harmed pets. There are stories, there are opinions, there are theories, there is conjecture ... even suggestions that veterinarians are knowingly using all those vaccines to further their financial gains!

Multivalent vaccines are those that have more than one antigen
 combined into one injectible unit.

A typical multivalent vaccine is the DHLPPCv  vaccine for dogs.  Instead of giving six different injections, all these "vaccines" or antigens can be given in a single small volume injection.  Certainly this is easier on the dog than getting six separate injections.

DHLPPCv stands for:

D... Canine Distemper Virus...a dangerous viral infection.   "Distemper" is an odd name for a viral infection and this disease has no relationship to nor connection with a dog's temperament.

H... Hepatitis...a viral infection caused by two related viruses that mainly affects the liver.

L... Leptospirosis...a bacterial infection affecting the kidneys.  This class of bacteria can infect humans, cows, dogs, pigs and other mammals.

P... Parainfluenza...a virus that along with the Hepatitis virus can cause upper respiratory infections.

P... Parvovirus...a severe and often fatal virus affecting the lining of the intestinal tract.

Cv... very similar to the Parvovirus, can be very severe, but has a somewhat different effect on the intestinal tract and generally is not fatal.

If you choose to believe that multivalent vaccines (such as the DHLPPCv so commonly used in dogs) are harmful to your pet and that only a single antigen (vaccine) should be given at a time, you may encounter difficulty since some vaccines are not available individually.  Keep in mind, though, that there are decades of evidence gathered from millions that multivalent vaccines are an effective and economical method of protecting from disease.

The belief of some holistic practitioners that harmful effects of vaccinating may not be recognizable for several generations and that an individual may not show any signs of vaccine derived diseases in its lifetime. But future generationsVeterinarians handle all vaccines with care. (offspring of the vaccinated animal) would not have optimum immune fitness because of the previously given vaccines.

Now we have to factor into the vaccination equation whether the pet is spayed/neutered or will be bred in order to make a proper ethical evaluation as to current vaccination requests! The choice is yours because there will always be health care providers who disagree.

The question of whether or not "annual vaccinations" really should be given yearly is a good one. How often is Too Often? The only way we would know if an individual should be vaccinated right now would be to know that the individual is at high risk of getting the disease. In other words, if there was a nice test that would say "Yes, vaccinate immediately! This blood sample indicates that the immune system's needs reeducating!," then the choice to vaccinate would be simpler. Some types of in-office blood tests are available at this time. A complicating factor in duration of immunity after a vaccine is given is the unique character of each individual's Immune System.

What manufacturers and distributors are saying:

Pet owners should keep in mind that when a laboratory conducts duration of immunity studies the dogs and cats are healthy and kept in clean, parasite free surroundings and are very well provided for. This is done not only for humane reasons but also to be able to evaluate the effectiveness of a vaccination over a period of time without all the other common variables the average dog might face. In reality it happens that dogs are vaccinated who have just been released from weeks of confinement in a kennel or shelter, or are parasitized, poorly fed or otherwise stressed. Will a vaccine given to a stressed animal be as effective over a long period of time as the same vaccine given to a normal, healthy dog? The correct answer is: Maybe and maybe not. Each individual is so unique that no prediction can ever hope to be 100 percent accurate for any dog, cat or human when we are talking about what a vaccine will do. And that's a fact that everyone agrees upon!

Dr. Michael LaRosh at Fort Dodge Laboratories (one of the worlds largest manufacturer's of animal vaccines) has stated that he hopes someday there will be a practical and inexpensive way to measure the overall immune competence of the individual.  "If, for example, a five year study indicates that one year after receiving a vaccine, 90% of dogs are still protected against the specific disease vaccinated for, and at three years 70% are still protected and at five years 50% are still protected ... what level of risk of disease will the pet owner be willing to live with? Every dog owner will have a different comfort zone and some owners may very well choose to vaccinate yearly, not knowing if their dog is in that group of 10% of vaccinates who don't hold an adequate level of  immunity after one year. Some pet owners may have a comfort zone at the three year-70% protection probability level and some will vaccinate every five years.

Dr. Race Foster of Drs. Foster and Smith, Inc., asks the question "If vaccines really do cause subsequent autoimmune reactions, why arenít animals coming down with autoimmune diseases after natural exposures to the disease? Some dogs and cats may Prevention is the key word when thinking of vaccine benefits. develop immune disorders subsequent to being vaccinated but it is very hard to prove if the vaccine actually triggered the problem."

And as far as making a standard recommendation for vaccinations, he believes that there are so many variables in each individual dog and cat that a number of considerations should be explored regarding how many vaccines are administered and how often.

 Dr. Foster goes on to ask  "Is a vaccine failure really a fault of the vaccine, or a failure of the individual to make protective immunity to the vaccine? If a dog develops an autoimmune disease subsequent to a vaccination why donít all dogs develop problems from that product? If a veterinarian had ten dogs in front of him to vaccinate, there would be ten different immune systems that would accept the vaccine each in a unique way. Pet owners should keep in mind that no vaccine for humans or pets is 100% protective, 100% safe, in 100% of the recipients of the vaccine."

Dr. Foster's remarks bring up another current hot topic ... do vaccines promote autoimmune diseases?  Briefly, an autoimmune disease refers to a broad range of ill effects brought on by an abnormal response that The Immune System makes to things it wouldn't ordinarily respond to.

Something triggers or stimulates the body to react to its own tissues, to look at its own tissues as if they were invaders!  A goodTreatment for diseases such as Parvovirus can be very expensive... and not always successful. example is autoimmune hemolytic anemia where the body's own red blood cells are destroyed by The Immune System because something told The Immune System that the red blood cells are pathogens, invaders, foreign tissue ... so a battle rages within and can ultimately cause the individual's death!

Infectious disease agents occasionally trigger immune mediated diseases.  Are vaccines also a culprit in stimulating adverse immune mediated problems? We must resist the temptation to condemn all vaccines because of occasional failures or complications. There are people who will tell you that no vaccine is safe or effective and that they actually cause more diseases than they prevent. Conversely, a very strong case could be made that vaccinations have prevented far more death and disease than any perceived harm they may have done.

It is suggested that you do some searching on your own through recent dog and cat magazines, the library, your veterinarians borrowed text books (Please bring 'em back!), or the Internet. After a few hours of research you will most certainly gain an insight into the pros and cons of vaccinating; you will begin to approach a personal vaccine comfort zone. But I'll bet you still won't have a firm conviction as to what exactly constitutes too many or too often!  Here's an important word of caution about using the Internet:  You cannot believe everything you read on the internet .  Nuff said.

There are claims that dogs and cats are the innocent victims of over-vaccination. It is said that too many vaccines, given too often, results in autoimmune diseases, arthritis, cancer, behavioral problems and so on. We have to be careful when we blame one specific practice (vaccinations) for causing such universal harm!

Some veterinary associations unofficial recommendations:

Vaccinate puppies and kittens against the clinically important infectious agents such as distemper virus, parvovirus, panleukopenia and rabies.

Avoid vaccinations before 6 weeks of age. Give 2 to 4 doses of vaccine spaced 2 to 4 weeks apart.

Give annual booster vaccine at 1 year and give boosters every 3 years, unless otherwise required by law.

Monitor serum antibody levels annually between boosters. (This means that your dog or cat should have a blood test done to measure the level of "immune memory" to a disease.)

*Geriatric animals generally do not need booster vaccinations. Monitor serum antibody titers instead.

Dr. W. Jean Dodds, a noted researcher and immunologist in Santa Monica, CA suggests that when giving a Rabies vaccine... not to administer it at the same time as other vaccines. Three to four weeks later, other vaccines can be given but Dr. Dodds believes that after ten years of age booster vaccines are generally not needed and may even be unwise. "For animals previously experiencing adverse vaccine reactions or breeds at higher risk for such reactions (e.g. Weimaraners, Akitas, Harlequin Great Danes), alternatives to booster vaccinations should be considered. These include avoiding boosters except those required by law such as Rabies; measuring serum titers annually for specific diseases; and considering homeopathic alternatives to vaccinating.  You may contact the following for other recommendations

The American Veterinary Medical Association 1-847-925-8070
The American Animal Hospital Association 1-800-252-2242
The American Holistic Veterinary Association 1-410-569-0795

What should a pet owner to do?
Pre-exposure prevention is always preferred to treatment after a disease strikes.Realize that pet health care providers who truly have your pet's best interest at heart, do not all agree on what is the ideal vaccination protocol to follow. Accept the fact that some pet health care providers truly believe that across the broad spectrum of optimum health, vaccinations throw the animal's vital energies out of balance. The truth is that vaccines have undoubtedly prevented countless millions of disease related deaths.

An educated and informed judgment that needs to be made when considering the risks versus the benefits of vaccinating the pets in our care. Keep an open mind and a sensitive heart to this issue of vaccinations. If you do have concerns that need addressing, tell your veterinarian that you would like to consider all the options prior to vaccinating your special pet.

Someday, hopefully soon, when we discuss vaccinating our pets, no one will have to ask if we are giving Too Many, Too Often.


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