Wednesday, November 30, 2011

In The Latest "Ask The Vet" Column, Dr. Cliff Discusses Vaccines

Vaccines are a controversial topic in both the pet and human medical profession. Are they safe? Which vaccines should I allow the veterinarian to give my pet? How often?

These are all good questions and certainly ones you should ask your veterinarian. Most vets, including myself, appreciate an owner who is involved in their pet’s healthcare enough to want to be well informed. Together a decision can be made that is right for everyone.

Here is my opinion, most of it is based upon seven years of higher education and the theories and research that was taught to me, the rest is simply an educated theory of mine. As always, speak with your veterinarian about their thoughts and work together in creating a vaccination protocol. Just so a lawyer does not come after me...this is just my opinion so speak with your vet :)

Are vaccines safe? In a nutshell, yes. But they are not 100% benign. No medication or drug is completely without risk. Animals can have mild allergic reactions several weeks after the vaccines or very rarely they can have acute anaphylaxis reactions and need emergency medical intervention. The numbers keep changing but currently experts feel that 1 in every 100,000 cats can develop a fibrosarcoma tumor at the site of vaccinations. Research has been unable to prove that it is the vaccine itself as similar tumors have been seen when cats have received antibiotic injections or even sterile subcutaneous saline fluid treatment.

We are seeing more diagnosed cases of environmental allergies, food allergies, and autoimmune disorders however experts have not been able to directly link them to vaccines. Perhaps the immune stimulatory effects of the vaccines when given to thousands of pets over a long period have also “primed” the immune system to over-react to other originally inert allergens (pollen, chicken, dust, their own cellular makeup!). Unfortunately we do not know.

As a parent of 2 kids with severe peanut allergies I often wonder (and ask the immunologist) why the peanut has become the scariest substance known to man? Perhaps vaccines in people are also increasing allergic disorders.

My opinion, based only on the general understanding of the immune system, is that yes vaccines do over time and when used in a large enough population increase the risk of these disorders...or perhaps animals are living many years longer now and that we have much better tools available for detecting these unusual disorders that we are simply diagnosing them more efficiently?

And that is where my final comment becomes important. Animals (and people) are living longer and I honestly feel immunization has played an enormous role in our success on that front.

So are vaccines 100% safe? Of course not, and I ask that you challenge any veterinarian who says so. But I also know that without the rabies vaccine, the Stephen King novel “Cujo” would be a reference book and not a fictional horror story (did you know that rabies is diagnosed in bats almost every year in York Region?). Speak with any veterinarian working in the industry in the 80s and they will tell you of the dozens of puppies dying from parvoviral enteritis at their hospital prior to the creation of the vaccine. How many cats have to die from untreatable feline leukemia because they have not received their immunization against it? (and ideally, keep your cat inside, they will live many years more and can still be kept fit and happy). And I continue to diagnose and unfortunately lose some of my patients to leptospirosis infections. This disease is a zoonotic risk and can be avoided by getting your dog vaccinated against it.

So it comes done to a benefit to risk ratio and the odds are stacked extremely high in the favour of pets who receive regularly scheduled vaccines.

Stay tuned, next week’s article we will discuss the many choices of vaccines out there and more importantly the truth behind annual vaccines versus the “recent” AAHA 3 year vaccination recommendations.