Vaccinations have become a controversial topic these days. New information about the risks and reactions have made headlines, and more and more vets are abandoning the formerly accepted annual recommendation and adopting the more accepted every 3-5 year protocol. All pet owners should educate themselves first and then make up their own decision. The information printed here is based on personal accounts, knowledge gained through research, and in some cases opinion.
Adverse Vaccine Reactions
W. Jean Dodds, DVM
Hemopet / Hemolife 938 Stanford Street Santa Monica, CA 90403
310-828-4804; Fax 310-828-8251
Viral disease and recent vaccination with single or combination modified live-virus (MLV) vaccines, especially those containing distemper virus, adenovirus 1 or 2, and parvovirus are increasingly recognized contributors to immune-mediated blood disease, bone marrow failure, and organ dysfunction. Potent adjuvanted killed vaccines like those for rabies virus also can trigger immediate and delayed (vaccinosis) adverse vaccine reactions. Genetic predisposition to these disorders in humans has been linked to the leucocyte antigen D-related gene locus of the major histocompatibility complex, and is likely to have parallel associations in domestic animals. Beyond immediate hypersensitivity reactions, other acute events tend to occur 24-72 hours afterwards, or 7-45 days later in a delayed type immunological response. Even more delayed adverse effects include mortality from high-titered measles vaccine in infants, canine distemper antibodies in joint diseases of dogs, and feline injection-site fibrosarcomas. The increasing antigenic load presented to the host individual by modified-live virus (MLV) vaccines during the period of viremia is presumed to be responsible for the immunological challenge that can result in a delayed hypersensitivity reaction. The clinical signs associated with vaccine reactions typically include fever, stiffness, sore joints and abdominal tenderness, susceptibility to infections, neurological disorders and encephalitis, collapse with autoagglutinated red blood cells and icterus (autoimmune hemolytic anemia) (AIHA), or generalized petechiae and ecchymotic hemorrhages (immune-mediated thrombocytopenia)(ITP). Hepatic enzymes may be markedly elevated, and liver or kidney failure may occur by itself or accompany bone marrow suppression. Furthermore, MLV vaccination has been associated with the development of transient seizures in puppies and adult dogs of breeds or crossbreeds susceptible to immune-mediated diseases especially those involving hematologic or endocrine tissues (e.g. AIHA, ITP, autoimmune thyroiditis).
Post-vaccinal polyneuropathy is a recognized entity associated occasionally with the use of distemper, parvovirus, rabies and presumably other vaccines. This can result in various clinical signs including muscular atrophy, inhibition or interruption of neuronal control of tissue and organ function, muscular excitation, incoordination and weakness, as well as seizures.
Certain breeds or families of dogs appear to be more susceptible to adverse vaccine reactions, particularly post-vaccinal seizures, high fevers, and painful episodes of hypertrophic osteodystrophy (HOD). Therefore, we have the responsibility to advise companion animal breeders and caregivers of the potential for genetically susceptible littermates and relatives to be at increased risk for similar adverse vaccine reactions. In popular (or rare) inbred and linebred animals, the breed in general can be at increased risk as illustrated in the examples below.
Commercial vaccines can on rare occasion be contaminated with other adventitious viral agents, which can produce significant untoward effects such as occurred when a commercial canine parvovirus vaccine was contaminated by blue tongue virus.
It produced abortion and death when given to pregnant dogs, and was linked causally to the ill-advised but all too common practice of vaccinating pregnant animals. The potential for side-effects such as promotion of chronic disease states in male and non-pregnant female dogs receiving this lot of vaccine remains in question, although there have been anecdotal reports of reduced stamina and renal dysfunction in performance sled dogs. Recently, a vaccine manufacturer had to recall all biologic products containing a distemper component, because they were associated with a higher than expected rate of central nervous system postvaccinal reactions 1-2 weeks following administration. Vaccination of pet and research dogs with polyvalent vaccines containing rabies virus or rabies vaccine alone was recently shown to induce production of antithyroglobulin autoantibodies, a provocative and important finding with implications for the subsequent development of hypothyroidism. Furthermore, injection site fibrosarcomas have recently been documented in dogs as well as cats. Other issues arise from overvaccination, as the increased cost in time and dollars spent needs to be considered, despite the well-intentioned solicitation of clients to encourage annual booster vaccinations so that pets also can receive a wellness examination. Giving annual boosters when they are not necessary has the client paying for a service which is likely to be of little benefit to the pet’s existing level of protection against these infectious diseases. It also increases the risk of adverse reactions from the repeated exposure to foreign substances. Polyvalent MLV vaccines, which multiply in the host, elicit a stronger antigenic challenge to the animal and should mount a more effective and sustained immune response.
However, this can overwhelm the immunocompromised or even a healthy host that has ongoing exposure to other environmental stimuli as well as a genetic predisposition that promotes adverse response to viral challenge. The recently weaned young puppy or kitten being placed in a new environment may be at particular risk. Furthermore, while the frequency of vaccinations is usually spaced 2-3 weeks apart, some veterinarians have advocated vaccination once a week in stressful situations, a practice makes little sense scientifically or medically. An augmented immune response to vaccination is seen in dogs with pre-existing inhalant allergies (atopy) to pollens. Furthermore, the increasing current problems with allergic and immunological diseases has been linked to the introduction of MLV vaccines more than 20 years ago.
While other environmental factors no doubt have a contributing role, the introduction of these vaccine antigens and their environmental shedding may provide the final insult that exceeds the immunological tolerance threshold of some individuals in the pet population. The accumulated evidence indicates that vaccination protocols should no longer be considered as a “one size fits all” program.
For these special cases, appropriate alternatives to current vaccine practices include: measuring serum antibody titers; avoidance of unnecessary vaccines or overvaccinating; caution in vaccinating sick or febrile individuals; and tailoring a specific minimal vaccination protocol for dogs of breeds or families known to be at increased risk for adverse reactions.
Considerations include starting the vaccination series later, such as at nine or ten weeks of age when the immune system is more able to handle antigenic challenge; alerting the caregiver to pay particular attention to the puppy’s behavior and overall health after the second or subsequent boosters; and avoiding revaccination of individuals already experiencing a significant adverse event. Littermates of affected puppies should be closely monitored after receiving additional vaccines in a puppy series, as they too are at higher risk.
"Annual vaccinations, a practice started many years ago, lack scientific validity or verification," says veterinarian R. Schultz, PhD, a professor at the Veterinary College at the University of Wisconsin.
"It's been estimated that veterinarians charge $36 million a year for vaccinations that aren't necessary," says Spring, Texas-based veterinarian Bob Rogers
Vaccines are designed to stimulate the immune system, but they do so in a very unnatural way that can overwhelm the body's natural defenses. Donna Starita Mehan, DVM, a holistic veterinarian in Boring, Oregon, explains that because of over-vaccination, the body may overreact to normally harmless substances such as common viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites. This can result in allergies, skin problems and bladder or ear infections--or, in extreme cases, autoimmune diseases or cancer.
Another problem with traditional pet vaccines is the dosage. Veterinarian Jean Dodd, DVM, of Santa Monica, California, notes that to ensure efficacy, manufacturers for years have made vaccine doses 10 times more potent than what is necessary to challenge the immune system.
Before you take your pet to the veterinarian for any vaccine, here are some things you should do:
Always inquire if your veterinarian follows the protocol of vaccinating every three years.
Never vaccinate a puppy or kitten less than eight weeks of age. Vaccinations are more stressful on underdeveloped immune systems.
Always ask your veterinarian if he or she uses killed virus vaccines or modified live virus (MLV) vaccines. Martin Goldstein, DVM, advises that because killed vaccines are less virulent, "manufacturers boost them with powerful additives to provoke a more sustained immune response." His preference? No vaccines.
Never vaccinate a pet that is ill, taking medication or malnourished. Also, do not allow your pets to be vaccinated if they are at the vet's office for any type of surgery.
Avoid combination vaccines. Given one at a time, spaced over six to eight weeks, vaccinations are less likely to cause side effects.
Questions to Ask Your Vet
By Jim Schwartz, Founder of Next-To-Kin, man of dog
1. Why are you suggesting annual rabies vaccinations?
2. What scientific evidence supports annual rabies vaccinations?
3. Does a Yorkshire Terrier get the same shot-the same dosage-as a Great Dane? Does one size fit all?
4. Is it true there is a three-year vaccination option?
5. If the 3-year option was available prior to vaccinating my companion animal and you did not inform me of this, how come?
6. Were you aware of the American Veterinary Medical Association's position that the companion- animal owner should be given the opportunity for informed consent relative to vaccination options (rabies, etc.)?
7. Is it true that the efficacy (life) of the rabies vaccination is 5-7 years?
8. What is the adverse-reaction impact of the rabies vaccination per 1,000 cats or dogs? Is it not true that adverse reactions are self- reported by the veterinarians? Might vets be economically disadvantaged by self-reporting actual numbers of adverse reactions to vaccinations, as such statistics might show unnecessary risks of annual vaccination shots?
9. Is it true that the vaccine manufacturers recommend that the vaccination should be given only to healthy animals?
10. Is it true that the cost of the rabies vaccine is 50 to 75 cents, at most, and that the cost to the companion- animal guardian for the shot is $15-$38, plus an additional $30-$35 for the office visit?
11. With just losing annual rabies vaccination of dogs and cats (not including distemper and parvo) and the accompanying shot-related office visits would your practice be profitable in the non-vaccination years?
At vaccination time an Informed Consent Notification form would verify that the vet has discussed the issues of vaccination with the client-guardian. The Informed Consent form would be signed by the vet and include the guardian's initials, affirming that he or she has been informed of the following by the vet:
The potential side effects and adverse reactions of the vaccine relative to the benefits.
What are the vaccination options (three-year versus one-year) and the pros and cons of each.
Which vaccines are medically necessary for the pet's health and which are not necessary based on the latest research.
The original copy of the Informed Consent Notification form would be kept by the owner/guardian and a copy would be kept by the veterinarian.
What possible risks are associated with vaccination?
Vaccine reactions, of all types, are infrequent. In general, most vaccine reactions and side effects (such as local pain and swelling) are self-limiting. Allergic reactions are less common, but if untreated can be fatal. These can occur soon after vaccination. If you see such a reaction, please contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. In a small number of patients, vaccines can stimulate the patient's immune system against his or her own tissues, resulting in diseases that affect the blood, skin, joints or nervous system.
Again, such reactions are infrequent but can be life threatening. There is a possible complication of a tumor developing at the vaccination site in a small number of pets, most frequently cats. Please contact your veterinarian for more information.
There are two general groups of vaccines to consider core and noncore vaccines. Core vaccines are generally recommended for all dogs and protect against diseases that are more serious or potentially fatal. These diseases are found in all areas of North America and are more easily transmitted than noncore diseases. The AAHA guidelines define the following as core vaccines: distemper, adenovirus, parvovirus and rabies. Noncore vaccines are those reserved for patients at specific risk for infection due to exposure or lifestyle. The AAHA guidelines classify kennel cough, Lyme disease and leptospirosis vaccines within the noncore group.
I will insure that my dogs get their vaccination in their back leg, never in their back between their shoulder blades. I will also make certain that the area is massaged before and after the shot. If the shots are given in the shoulder blade, the vaccine stays in one place too long causing the body's defenses to come to that spot and potentially attack healthy cells causing a tumor. In the back leg it is more quickly distributed throughout the body. And I will watch my dogs closely for 24 hours after a vaccination. When my Dachshund, Zola, had an anaphylactic reaction to a distemper/parvo shot, I got her back to the vet immediately. If I had not seen what happened to her and gotten her treatment, she would have died. Since Zola had such a serious reaction instead of getting her vaccinated I had a titer done on her blood. The vet drew her blood and sent it to a clinic for an analysis of the immunity levels in her blood. Although Zola had not been vaccinated for three years, she still had a large amount of immunity in her blood and did not need vaccination. The titer was somewhat expensive (60 dollars) but a vaccination may have caused her death. I was always very careful about getting my dogs vaccinated whenever they were due. It thought that it showed that I loved them. Now I know that the best way to love them is to gather as much information as I can and make an informed decision about their health. Please talk to your vet about vaccines. Your dog's life may depend on your taking a proactive stand to protect him.
Dr Jean Dodd’s: "Many veterinarians trace the present problems with allergic and immunologic diseases to the introduction of MLV vaccines..."
Christina Chambreau, DVM: "Routine vaccinations are probably the worst thing that we do for our animals. They cause all types of illnesses, but not directly to where we would relate them definitely to be caused by the vaccine."
Martin Goldstein, DVM: "I think that vaccines...are leading killers of dogs and cats in America today."
Dr Charles E. Loops, DVM: "Homoeopathic veterinarians and other holistic practitioners have maintained for some time that vaccinations do more harm than they provide benefits."
Mike Kohn, DVM: "In response to this [vaccine] violation, there have been increased autoimmune diseases (allergies being one component), epilepsy, neoplasia [tumors], as well as behavioral problems in small animals."
Vaccine a biologic agent containing antigens, live organisms, or killed organisms, or DNA, which will stimulate the immune system of the patient to produce antibodies, and possibly cellular immunity, as well as program memory cells to provide protection against disease. A vaccine does not provide immunity; it merely stimulates the body to produce immunity. A vaccine depends on the body’s response to provide protection.
Types of vaccines:
Killed vaccines – (Inactivated) for safety, to prevent reversion to virulence, the organism is killed. Adjuvants are generally required to stimulate a sufficient immune response. Depending on the antigen and adjuvant, they may or may not produce cellular immunity. Duration of immunity is generally not as long as with modified live vaccines. Examples: Rabies, Leptospirosis, and Bordetella.
Modified live virus vaccines – (Attenuated) the virus has been weakened or attenuated so that it should not produce the disease. MLV vaccines produce strong stimulation of the immune system because they reproduce or replicate within the host cells, providing for even more antigen. Adjuvant is generally not needed. Because the vaccine virus reproduces within the host cells, MLV vaccines produce cellular immunity. This immunity is directed toward future cells that become infected with the virus. This is good because it prevents any invading virus from replicating. Duration of immunity is generally longer for MLV vaccines.
Although any vaccine can cause a fibrosarcoma, because MLV vaccines do not have adjuvant they are less likely to cause a fibrosarcoma.
Subunit vaccine – a piece of DNA has been removed form the virus so it is not a whole virus vaccine. This DNA will still stimulate the immune system to provide immunity against that virus
Ex: Feline leukemia vaccine – the part of the virus that suppresses the immune system has been removed. Most FeLV vaccines are adjuvanted. Two manufacturers, Meriel- Leukat, and Intervet Protex FeLV vaccines are non –adjuvanted.
Subunit vectored vaccines – Purevac Rabies Vaccine, Muriel - a piece of rabies DNA is spliced onto a canary poxvirus. The canary poxvirus does not cause disease in the cat. The canary poxvirus will enable the antigen to be presented to the immune system in such a way that good cellular immunity is produced without the need for an adjuvant.
This non-adjuvanted vaccine was developed because adjuvanted rabies vaccines are more likely to cause fibrosarcomas. MLV rabies vaccines were removed from the market because if administered to a FeLV infected cat they could revert to virulence and cause rabies. This vaccine cannot revert to virulence, it cannot possibly cause rabies.
Adjuvanted rabies vaccines have been incriminated in causin thousands of fibrosarcomas over the last 10 years. Only two fibrosarcomas are thought to have been caused by this new subunit vectored vaccine.