The dangers of over-vaccination

For years, the veterinary field has been aware of vaccine reactions. In fact, I remember the first time I was told about vaccine reactions. It was fifteen years ago while working as a veterinary technician at the Fort Knox Veterinary Treatment Facility.

Prior to being stationed at Fort Knox, I spent a whole year in Osan Korea. We routinely vaccinated privately owned animals (POAs) of active military service members. Not once, during my time in Korea, had anyone told me to warn pet owners about vaccine reactions.

When I arrived at Fort Knox, this is where I was trained to inform pet owners to wait patiently in the waiting area after receiving a rabies vaccine, to make sure there wasn’t a vaccine reaction.

Pet guardians would ask what to expect if a reaction occurred, and we put them at ease telling them that it might be a mild allergic reaction. We never talked about anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction, which could be potentially lethal.

As I think back to that time, I have to wonder why we minimized the effects of a vaccine reaction. Is it because we simply didn’t know enough about what could happen? Or was it because we were trained to follow orders and we just modeled what our leaders said? Or, was it really an attempt to cover up the truth?

I want to believe the best. No one goes into veterinary medicine because they want to intentionally harm animals. They go into veterinary medicine because the genuinely want to help animals live the best life possible.

The idea of over-vaccination has been in the spotlight for what I estimate is the last decade. But what is over-vaccination?

I asked veterinarian Dr. John Robb this very question and he told me that vaccines are designed to create an immune response in the animal’s immune system. When this happens, the animal’s immune system responds by creating antibodies that provide immunity against the disease or virus in question. Once immunity is established, giving additional vaccines is the very definition of over-vaccination.

Dr. Robb also said that administering large doses to small animals is also over-vaccination. When you think about it rationally, why would you give a four-pound dog the same amount of vaccine as a one hundred eighty-pound dog? Medicines are generally based on the weight of the animal, so it is obvious that a small dog should get a smaller dose of vaccine when compared to a large dog who should get a larger dose.

The literature shows that the term “booster shot” is a misnomer. “Booster shots” do not increase immunity. Therefore, continuing to administer shots year over year or every three years is pointless. Like Dr. Robb said, as soon as a baseline immunity is established, there is essentially no reason to further vaccinate a pet. Doing so actually taxes the animal’s immune system and can cause problems.

Despite knowing the dangers of administering vaccines annually, vets continue to comply with antiquated laws that require vaccination of animals that are already immune to diseases. Instead of re-vaccinating animals with sufficient antibody levels, simple blood tests called titers can determine whether an animal is immune to a particular virus. Unfortunately, most vets do not offer this service. Those who do may charge from $200 to $300 for these simple tests.

A requirement of becoming a veterinary technician in the Army was getting vaccinated for rabies. I received a series of three shots back in the first quarter of 2003. Later that year, after I had been bitten by a feral cat at Osan Air Base, the Osan Emergency Room decided to follow post-exposure protocols and vaccinate me again. A few years ago, I asked my general practitioner to check my titer level. Guess what? After all of these years, I was still immune to rabies. What does this mean?

It means that the rabies vaccine is effective at producing immunity that can last for years. It’s been fifteen years since I worked as a veterinary technician. I am still immune to rabies. Most of our companion animals could receive one rabies vaccine in their entire lifetime. But the law requires proof of immunity every three years.

What’s left for pet owners to do? Do we continue to vaccinate our pets while putting them at risk of a vaccine reaction that could possibly lead to their untimely death? Is the medicine that is designed to protect them actually more harmful than good?

Dr. Robb is providing a service to pet owners who understand the risks of over-vaccination.

If your veterinarian does not provide a titer, you can request one from protectthepets.com.

All you have to do is request a serum sample from your veterinarian, fill out the form on protectthepets.com, get a shipping label, and send the sample in a padded envelope to the lab in Kansas City. Within 2-3 weeks, you’ll receive the results of your titer. If the immune level is good, you’ll get a rabies certificate good for three years. After the first three years, Dr. Robb recommends getting a new titer annually after that.

Dr. Robb is only charging $50 for this service.

In closing, I want to emphasize that Dr. Robb is not an advocate for the anti-vaccination movement. Anti-vaccination is where people are against any and all vaccinations. Period. Dr. Robb supports vaccination, as do I. Vaccines save lives. They protect our pets from deadly diseases and they protect us from transmission of zoonotic disease.

Vaccines are necessary. Over-vaccination is not.

Watch the video of my discussion with Dr. Robb above or if you don’t have time to watch online, subscribe to The PetCorps Professional Pet Care Pawdcast on iTunes, Google Play, or Stitcher. New episodes drop every other Wednesday so you can listen on the go.

If you have any ideas for a future show, email me at pawdcast@petcorps.net.

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