Are you over-vaccinating?

in Pets by

By Tracie Korol

Vaccines are miraculous life-saving agents, in most cases. The diseases they prevent in our dogs range from always fatal (rabies) to serious and sometimes fatal (distemper, parvovirus, leptospirosis) to rarely fatal (bordetella and coronovirus).  Dog lovers of the world are grateful for the gift of modern vaccines.
However, as with most medical breakthroughs, a long period of refinement and tweaking usually follows.  The first X-rays, at the turn of the last century, were hundreds of times more powerful than was ever needed and birth control pills now contain far lower levels of hormones than they did when they first appeared on the market.  Due to growing concerns about antibiotic-resistant microbes, doctors no longer prescribe antibiotics for every scratch and sniffle. (Or at least I hope they don’t.)  There are parallels in the veterinary world:  the organophosphorus and carbamate insecticides used for parasite control were fairly toxic to every living thing and vets today prescribe lower doses of corticosteroids than they once did. (Or at least I hope they do.)
Veterinary vaccines have been around long enough that their use is absolutely routine and expected. It could be acceptance of this “standard” protocol that is causing a growing number of veterinarians worldwide to speak out about the increasing frequency of vaccine-associated diseases.
Before house pets became big business, a dog owner would visit the vet with pup in hand, for the distemper and the rabies vaccination. And that was it for the life of the dog. Things have changed. Most dog owners are unaware that the practice of annual administration of most vaccines is based on the manufacturers’ recommendations As a former marketeer, I know that a company that makes money selling vaccines is not going to sponsor a clinical study to determine how many years a dog owner can safely NOT vaccinate his dog. They recommend you do it every year.
Veterinarians, who supposedly have our dog’s best interest at heart, also have to make a living. Selling vaccination services traditionally represents a healthy share of a vet’s income. To be fair, the annual “booster” visit can be a valuable tool; it’s the best way to get a dog in front of a vet to ensure prompt diagnosis and treatment of disease before it gets out of hand. I highly recommend a yearly visit to the vet for that reason only.
But as vaccine use has become more prevalent, so have vaccine-related problems, both acute and chronic. It was the “holistic” or “alternative” vets that first sounded the alarm implicating vaccinations as a basis for disease. My mentor, Marty Goldstein, DVM, and author of “The Nature of Animal Healing” was branded decades ago for tagging vaccines as causation for many animal ailments. Today he operates the premier integrative veterinary medicine clinic in the country and is Martha’s vet, for what it’s worth. He’s an awfully nice guy, too. The veterinary establishment paid little attention to claims of “vaccinosis” until respected researchers began to confirm some of those suspicions.
W. Jean Dodds, DVM, with a referral practice in hematology and immunology in California, was the first brave vet, in 1983, to suggest autoimmune disease was the result of over-vaccination. She also found that certain families of dogs were at greater risk to adverse reaction — Weims, Akitas, double-dilute Shelties, harlequin Danes and albino dogs, in particular.  Dr. Dodd, still in practice, is currently gathering funds to support a seven-year rabies vaccine challenge study in the U.S.
But what is over-vaccination? Certainly, the benefits of vaccinations clearly outweigh the dangers. But the goal is a healthy middle ground — enough to confer adequate protection but not so much as to mangle the immune system.  For an example of reasonable moderation, 12 years ago the Colorado State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital (and a few other institutions) knocked back their vaccination protocols to include the standard puppy package, rabies at 16 weeks, boosters a year later and, if the titers suggested lower levels of immunity, a re-booster for the specific disease only.
Next time: Titers? What’s that?
Many thanks to the devoted reader and good pet steward who suggested this topic.