Vaccination - For Better or Worse
By Linda Aronson, DVM, Bearded Collie Club Of America Health Committee
When the first vaccines were being developed they were a minor miracle. Diseases
which had killed or maimed large portions of both human and animal populations
were finally brought under control.
For the most part those days are thankfully
behind us. For those diseases for which we have specific, effective vaccines,
the diseases themselves have become an oddity, so rare that they are seldom
seen. In this environment, we have become aware of the down-side vaccination can
have for some of us and our animals.
A person or animal becoming ill and even dying as the
result of vaccination - are a concern because the diseases themselves are no
longer the problem they once were. While mild reactions might seem acceptable,
they may herald more serious complications after subsequent vaccinations.
Increasingly, evidence is accumulating implicating vaccination as a trigger for
autoimmune as well as other chronic diseases. While in some cases this may be
the result of vaccine contamination, or the reversion of poorly attenuated
batches of vaccine to the virulent form, in many cases the vaccination reaction
is a result of the individual's genetic predisposition.
As we know, the
incidence of autoimmune disease is higher in Beardies than in the general dog
population. We are fortunate however, that at present, most Beardies can
tolerate prudent application of "puppy shots". Other breeds, or lines within
other breeds, are not as lucky. Incidence of severe vaccination reaction is so
high in these cohorts, that owners and breeders have stopped vaccinating
altogether. Unfortunately, if this situation spreads, we may find the diseases
return, and we will be powerless to combat them once again.
The veterinary community is definitely concerned about the occurrence of vaccination
reactions. New guidelines and protocol have been suggested, reducing the frequency of
revaccination, and emphasizing well animal visits without the annual booster
shots. In fact, there has been little research to determine how long most of the
vaccines we give our pets are effective at preventing disease. Vaccines were
introduced as providing protection against x disease for a minimum of (usually)
twelve months. Apart from the three year rabies vaccine, that was where most of
them stayed. One large study showed that distemper vaccines were effective for
at least 4 years in 83% of dogs. After reviewing the literature, the following
protocol was recommended to members of the American Veterinary Medical
Association in a 1995 paper.
Recommended Vaccination Protocol
Puppy (or kitten)
vaccination series, followed by a booster at one year of
Boosters every three years
until the animal is geriatric, at which point aging and
immunological factors may make further vaccination
As an alternative to
repeated boosters during the adult years, monitoring serum
antibody titers may be performed as an indication of the
presence of "adequate immune memory". If the titers are
adequate, vaccination is not necessary. If the dog is
exposed to the disease it will be able to mount a rapid anamnestic
One should obey one's state
law where it dictates vaccination requirements - most states
mandate triannual rabies vaccination, after the first two vaccines given
between 9 and 12 months apart, although some may still require annual rabies
vaccination. At some point I suspect these laws will be challenged by owners of
animals which have had serious reactions to rabies vaccine, and do not wish to
revaccinate. Rabies titers are available.
Any animal which has
experienced an adverse reaction to vaccination, or is at
genetic or physiological risk for such a reaction should be titered rather than
vaccinated. Given the incidence of autoimmune disease it might be appropriate to
consider all Beardies at risk. In the past, owners were discouraged from having
titers done by the perceived high cost. Antech Diagnostics will now titer for
canine parvo and distemper for $21. Not much more than the cost of vaccinating,
and a lot better for peace of mind
Other measures we can take in ensuring safe vaccination
Never vaccinate a sick animal. Delaying vaccinating puppies with diarrhea
for a few days won't hurt them, vaccinating them might make them very sick,
or even kill them.
aware that modified live vaccines will be shed in the dog's stool for
several days. Keep susceptible individuals- the immune compromised; young,
unvaccinated puppies; pregnant and lactating bitches - well away from the
vaccinated dog. Be selective in the vaccines you give.
Give vaccines three weeks apart.
Avoid the multivalent vaccines and vaccinate for one or at most two diseases
at a time.
Only vaccinate against those diseases for which your dog is at risk. For the
most part, this means rabies, parvo and distemper. Giving unnecessary agents
may increase the risk of negative reaction. The current leptospirosis
vaccines for example do not contain the serovars (varieties) of lepto which
dogs are clinically experiencing, and they only produce antibodies for a few
months. Leptospira bacterins are among those most frequently implicated in
vaccinosis reaction. There are new vaccines being tested against the
clinically important serovars of the disease, but it is unclear whether they
will prove to have a longer protective potential than current vaccines. The
necessity for, and efficacy of other vaccines is also debatable. Certainly,
it is not recommended to vaccinate (or prophylactically medicate) against
diseases to which your dog is not going to be exposed.
not worm or otherwise medicate your dog at the same time as you vaccinate.
not dip, spray or otherwise treat your dog or home for fleas or ticks.
possible, do not vaccinate during periods in which environmental allergens
are high. The more stress we apply to a dog's immune system, the more likely
it is to react negatively.
Genetic susceptibility also clearly is a factor in some, if not all, vaccination
reactions. We are lucky to
live at a time when vaccination has greatly decreased the risk of our dogs
succumbing to the diseases which killed so many prematurely when I was a child.
Vaccination reaction is not really a case of the cure being worse than the
disease, but it is essential that we consider what we are doing before we take
an action which has the potential to negatively affect our dogs' health.
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