Vaccination - For Better or Worse
By Linda Aronson, DVM
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.
Vaccination reactions - 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 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 Protocol (see above ref.)
There are other measures we can take in ensuring safe vaccination for our Beardies.
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.
A grateful thank you to Linda Aronson, DVM for the use of this article.