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Vaccination Controvercy

By Christie Keith

This article is meant to inform you and your veterinarian of research results which might be useful in determining a vaccination program for your pet. It is educational in nature, and is not intended as veterinary advice. The author and publisher cannot be held responsible for any unfavorable results from the use of this information. Readers should seek professional veterinary advice for any health decisions involving their pets.

Annual shots: veterinarians insist on them, boarding kennels and groomers require them, and keeping "current" on vaccinations has become one of the hallmarks of responsible pet ownership. But are they really necessary? And are they safe?

You may not be aware of it, but controversy over these questions is growing among breeders, veterinarians, and researchers. Some have attributed every ill of the canine and feline pet populations, from allergies to arthritis to severe immune system breakdowns, to excessive use of vaccines. Others, most notably vaccine manufacturers, insist the vaccines are harmless and that the benefits outweigh the risks.

According to researcher Dr. Ronald Schultz, chairman of the Pathobiology Department at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, "It is becoming increasingly more evident that it is no longer true to say, `Well, even if the vaccine doesn't help, it won't hurt.' There are some canine vaccination programs that have no scientific justification that may have the potential of causing harm."

Schultz recommends a moderate approach to vaccination for dogs, eliminating some of the commonly given shots and reducing the frequency of the rest. He suggests evaluating the risk and benefit of vaccines on an individualized basis.

Current Veterinary Therapy XI states, "A practice that was started many years ago and that lacks scientific validity or verification is annual revaccinations. Almost without exception there is no immunologic requirement for annual revaccination. Immunity to viruses persists for years or for the life of the animal." ("Canine and Feline Vaccines"; Philips, et al; 1994.)

How is the average pet owner to know what shots to give, and when? Most veterinarians, breeders, and animal shelter operators know only what the vaccine manufacturers tell them, and have an almost unquestioning belief that vaccines are lifesaving at best and at worst, benign. But pet owners can investigate canine and feline diseases and immunizations themselves, and with their veterinarians design a vaccination program specifically for the needs of their pets.

Dog Vaccines
The two most serious viral diseases to which dogs are susceptible are distemper and parvovirus. Distemper is an old, endemic canine disease, and in puppies often causes death. Parvovirus is an intestinal infection which first appeared in 1978, which also frequently causes death in puppies. Other diseases commonly included in dog vaccines are hepatitis, parainfluenza, corona, and leptospirosis. The vaccine for these diseases is called "DHLPP", or DHLPP-C when the coronavirus vaccine is included.

Distemper, parvovirus, and hepatitis vaccinations are extraordinarily effective, and according to Schultz, a single immunizing dose (which is not, he warns, the same thing as a single shot) should provide lifelong immunity. While Schultz says those who wish to take a more moderate approach can re-vaccinate adult dogs for these diseases every two or three years, he immunizes dogs with modified live virus vaccines for distemper, hepatitis, and parvovirus at six to eight weeks of age, and again at 14 to 16 weeks, with a last parvo vaccine at 22 weeks of age, and does not give any further vaccines. (Note: California law requires that rabies vaccines be administered to dogs and cats by a licensed veterinarian every three years.)

Be sure, Schultz warns, that the vaccine used is an effective one; his study found brand differences in vaccine effectiveness as great as 100 percent. In other words, some vaccines are 100 percent effective at certain ages while at that same age others have no effect at all. According to his research, the most effective brands are Proguard and Duramune; the least effective brands are Galaxy, Adenomune, and RM.

Another vaccine which is becoming widely used is that for borreliosis, or Lyme disease. Lyme disease is a tick-born bacterial disease which in dogs causes a form of arthritis. Or at least, it may. Some researchers call canine Lyme disease "a vaccine in search of a disease", since it is actually unknown whether dogs even get Lyme disease. Dr. Christine Wilford, who is the veterinary columnist for the AKC Gazette, recently wrote, "In general, the efficacy of Lyme vaccination and the true incidence of the disease itself are still being debated by many specialists... (many of whom) still advise against using the vaccine, citing the absence of documentation of need and efficacy." Neither Wilford nor Schultz recommend this vaccine.

Corona is a mild intestinal virus which usually causes no noticeable symptoms unless another intestinal infection is present as well. It can often be cultured out of the stool of healthy dogs. Schultz did extensive studies on coronaviruses, the results of which were just released this month. In his studies he has concluded that corona is not a serious illness and that the vaccine is ineffective. (Schultz, "Emerging Issues: Vaccination Strategies for Canine Viral Enteritis": 1995.) He recommends against this vaccine, as does Wilford.

Parainfluenza is, by itself, a mild respiratory illness similar to a cold, but when complicated by bacterial infections can lead to pneumonia. The most common bacterial infections are those caused by bordetella, often erroneously called "kennel cough". Schultz recommends that while an injection is frequently used to vaccinate for these diseases, a nasally-administered combination of parainfluenza and bordetella should instead be given at six to eight weeks and again at 14 to 16 weeks, with annual nasal boosters of the bordetella alone for dogs at high risk of contracting the disease (show dogs, dogs in boarding kennels, etc.) The parainfluenza vaccine, like those for parvo, distemper, and hepatitis, should provide longer term immunity, probably lifelong. Bordetella, like all bacterial vaccines, requires more frequent administration.

What You Can Do
The average pet owner can become a smart consumer. Don't just blindly buy whatever vaccines the clinic or veterinarian is selling. Ask how severe and how prevalent in your area are the diseases for which vaccinations are being suggested. What about the effectiveness of the vaccine, and its side effects? If a disease is both not serious and not prevalent, it may be better not to vaccinate against it, particularly if the vaccine is either ineffective or dangerous, or both. Ask your veterinarian to customize your pets' immunizations in light of new information on safety and efficacy, and to update the immunization program as new research is done. Remember: when it comes to health care decisions, one size really never fits all.

Copyright 1998 by Christie Keith. Used with permission. All rights reserved.


What is a Vaccine Titer?

The term titer refers to the strength or concentration of a substance in a solution. A titer is a blood test that can identify the presence of antibodies induced by vaccinations. This test will determine if a pet really needs a vaccine prior to it actually getting one.

Why do a titer test?
Recent findings have shown that we might be over vaccinating our pets. Studies have shown some harmful side effects of over vaccinating, including minor allergic reactions such as facial swelling, itching, cancerous tumors in cat, autoimmune diseases in dogs such as anemia, platelet problems and joint disease has been linked as well.

Annual vaccinations have saved millions of dogs and cats lives. Prior to the days of effective vaccines, dogs frequently died from distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parvovirus and complications of upper respiratory infections. However, many states now take note that annual vaccinations are not always in the best interest of the pet. Some states have changed annual rabies vaccines to once every three years.

The actual number of dogs negatively impacted by over vaccinations is not known. There is no longer a national database in the United States that allows veterinarians to report adverse vaccine reactions. The U.S. Pharmacopeia's Veterinary Practitioners' Reporting Program lost funding in April of 2003. The website reports that adverse vaccine reactions may be as frequent as one in every thousand dogs.

The debate over vaccines and titers is ongoing. Enlightened pet owners are consulting with their veterinarians to decide on the best way to vaccinate their pet, based on factors such as their pet's age, health status, environment and potential exposure to infectious diseases. Veterinarians are leaning toward vaccination protocols that are tailored to each pet's individual needs and risk of exposure.

Veterinarians may recommend a titer test rather than booster vaccinations for some pets. Ask your veterinarian for details to determine the best alternative for your pet. Whatever choice is made, the AKC Pet Healthcare Plan has you covered with our Wellness Plus Plan or Wellness Plan. If you already have a dog or cat insured under the AKC Pet Healthcare Plan and were not aware of the titer coverage in the Wellness Plus Plan, call our Customer Service Team today toll free at 1-866-725-2747 for details.


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