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Article on Vaccinating Written by a Vet

Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association October 2000; 217(7):1021-4

You've undoubtedly seen them in your mailbox. Cute little reminder cards from your vet that it's time for Beauregard's annual vaccinations. But after looking a bit closer at the risks and benefits of these vaccines, you might want to paws before making that appointment.

Could these vaccines not only be unnecessary, but actually harmful to your pet's health?


We overvaccinate our children -- but at least we eventually stop after puberty. But with our pets, we continue vaccine boosters until they are well into their senior years.

As adults, we don't assault ourselves with annual boosters, and we certainly wouldn't do this to our elderly family members. So why do we inflict this upon our pets, regardless of their immune status or age, when common sense would tell us those vaccines should last longer than a year?

Additionally, there are no adjustments in dose for size or age of your animal. Your five-pound Miniature Pinscher receives the same size vaccine as your 150-pound Rottweiler. Your 10-pound housecat gets the same amount as a 400-pound lion.

All of these vaccines are overwhelming your pet's immune system. Vaccine reactions are at an all-time high.

A study of more than 2,000 cats and dogs in the United Kingdom by Canine Health Concern showed a 1 in 10 risk of adverse reactions from vaccines. This contradicts what the vaccine manufacturers report for rates of adverse reactions, which is "less than 15 adverse reactions in 100,000 animals vaccinated" (0.015 percent).

Additionally, adverse reactions of small breeds are 10 times higher than large breeds, suggesting standard vaccine doses are too high for smaller animals. A few bold veterinarians have paved the way for ending overvaccination, but the research is sparse and the opposition is great, just as with the human vaccine industry -- and for similar reasons.

In this article I will be addressing three main points:

  1. There is no scientific evidence that annual vaccines are necessary, and in fact once animals achieve immunity from their initial vaccines, they appear to have immunity that lasts for many years, and often for life, without boosters.
  2. There is growing alarm that overvaccination appears to be causing a multitude of serious medical problems, particularly with the immune system, including allergies, seizures, anemia and cancer.
  3. Vaccines are a very profitable part of veterinary care -- in fact, some vet practices are built around them. Long-term studies of animal immunity would require a substantial outlay of money -- the kind of money that only the drug companies have, and Big Pharma is much more interested in selling more vaccines than challenging the need for them.

How Current Vaccine Schedules Were Determined

The current recommendation from many veterinarians is for dogs is to receive rabies, parvovirus, distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza, leptospirosis, coronavirus, hepatitis, lyme (borelia), and annually, bortadella (kennel cough) sometimes being recommended every 6 months.

Cats are advised to have rabies, feline leukemia (FeLV), distemper (panluekopenia), rhinotracheitis, and calcivirus annually--and depending on risk, chlamydia, feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), and ringworm can be added. Many vets advise both puppies and kittens get their "core vaccines" at ages 6 weeks, 8 weeks, 10 weeks, 12 weeks, 14 weeks, and 16 weeks. Then, they get boosters at one year, and annually thereafter.

All of these shots add up to a tremendous vaccine load over your pet's lifetime!

How did these recommendations for annual vaccines come about?

One of the veterinary pioneers, Dr. W. Jean Dodds, president of the nonprofit animal version of the Red Cross called Hemopet, reported that the recommendations for annual vaccines were just that -- recommendations. They were not based on any scientific evidence.

The recommendations for annual vaccination were put forth jointly by the United States Department of Agriculture and the drug companies, more than twenty years ago. And veterinary medicine has continued to do it that way because, well, that's the way it's always been done.

And it's a good deal for them financially. So far, protests to annual vaccines have been mild.

Now the USDA puts the annual vaccination recommendation right on the product label.

Veterinary Vaccines are Big Money for Many Vets -- and Even Bigger Money for Big Pharmacies

Without some driving force for change, there is no motivation for the industry to change the most lucrative part of its practice.

Many vets cling to annual vaccine schedules because of economic dependence more than maintaining a "cautious" standard of care. This is particularly true for the typical small vet practices (1-3 people, non-specialty, non-emergency practices).

Consider this...

One dose of rabies vaccine costs the vet about 61 cents. The client is typically charged between $15 and $38, plus a $35 office visit. The markup on the vaccine alone is 2,400 percent to 6,200 percent -- a markup equivalent to charging $217 for a loaf of bread.

According to one estimate, removing the one-year rabies vaccination and consequential office visit for dogs alone would decrease the average small vet's income from $87,000 to $25,000 -- and this doesn't include cats or other vaccinations.

According to James Schwartz, author of Trust Me, I'm Not a Veterinarian, 63 percent of canine and 70 percent of feline vet office visits are for vaccinations. Clearly, radically changing the vaccine schedule for dogs and cats would result in a huge economic loss for any veterinary practice that is built around shots. And chances are the vaccines you are paying so much for are creating even more income for vets, because the adverse reactions and other medical issues caused by the vaccines keep Fluffy coming back often!

The profits for vets pale in comparison to the profits being enjoyed by vaccine manufacturers. Veterinary vaccine sales amounted to more than $3.2 million in 2004 and have risen 7 percent per year since 2000. This figure is projected to exceed $4 billion in 2009.

Six companies account for more than 70 percent of world veterinary vaccine sales. The market leader is Intervet, with sales of almost $600 million in 2004. That's a whole lot of 61-cent vaccines.

The United States has by far the largest share of the national market with revenues of $935 million, and Japan comes in second with $236 million.

Medical Risks Outweigh Benefits

In 1991, an unfortunate observation led many vets to begin rethinking the vaccine protocol.

A lab at the University of Pennsylvania noted a connection between a troubling increase in sarcomas (a type of cancerous tumor) and vaccinations in cats. Mandatory annual rabies vaccinations were leading to an inflammatory reaction under the skin, which later turned malignant.

At about the same time, researchers at University of California at Davis confirmed that feline leukemia vaccines were also leading to sarcomas, even more than the rabies vaccine.

Further investigations led to alarming statistics: vaccine-induced sarcomas were estimated to be one cat in 1,000, or up to 22,000 new cases of sarcoma per year.

It wasn't long before veterinary professionals began to suspect vaccination as a risk factor in other serious autoimmune diseases. Vaccines were causing the animals' immune system to turn against their own tissues, resulting in potentially fatal diseases such as autoimmune hemolytic anemia in dogs (AIHA). Delayed vaccine reactions were also the cause of thyroid disease, allergies, arthritis, tumors and seizures in both cats and dogs.

These findings led to a 1995 article in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association that concluded:
"There is little scientific documentation that backs up label claims for annual administration of most vaccines."

And then there's the issue of adjuvants.

Thimerosal, mercury, and aluminum-based adjuvants are still being allowed in veterinary vaccines. So, your pet is being exposed to potential antigens that could abnormally stimulate his immune system, but last a lifetime and cause chronic disease. The less of this, the better.

For more on thimerosal, mercury, and aluminum, please visit Dr. Mercola's site.

Is Non-Vaccination a Greater Danger?

Giving your dog or cat a vaccine when it is already immune does not give any additional immunity, and it creates an unnecessary risk to your animal.

Evidence suggests that, like humans, dogs and cats could be vaccinated with certain vaccines early in life and be protected for a lifetime. With the exception of rabies, the core vaccines probably last at least seven years and should not be given more often than every three years.

In one study, the antibody levels of more than 1,400 healthy dogs of all ages were measured for parvo and distemper. Nearly all the dogs were immune (95-98 percent), suggesting that annual revaccination may not be necessary.

Many of the non-core vaccines are bactrins, vaccines created to treat non-viral infections (Lyme disease and Chlamydia, for example) and may have a shorter duration; about one year. But not all animals are at risk of exposure, and the vaccines have proven to be significantly more reactive to the immune system, so assessing risk versus benefit is very important before considering these very reactive vaccines.

Researchers say there has been no increase in disease rates among dogs who have gone to vaccines every three years. And there is ample evidence that the dangers of repeated vaccinations are real.

A study published by Purdue in 2005 found correlations between vaccine reactions in dogs and variables such as age, size, and number of vaccines given. The study found:

  • Smaller dogs are more prone to vaccine reactions than larger dogs
  • Risk of reactions increased by 27 percent for each additional vaccine given per office visit in dogs under 22 pounds, and by 12 percent in dogs over 22 pounds
  • Risk increased for dogs up to 2 years old, then declined with age
  • Risk increased for pregnant dogs and dogs in heat
  • More reactions were found in small dogs given Leptospirosis vaccine

As in humans, one of the reasons why dogs and cats need vaccine protection at all is that they aren't eating an ideal diet. The better your pet's nutrition is, the healthier his immune system will be, and better able to fend off pathogens.

My Vaccine Recommendations

  • Wellness visits are important for other reasons than vaccines, such as checking for heartworm and tumors and assessing general health status. I do recommend continuing these checkups every six months, although I do not recommend annual vaccines.
  • Rabies vaccines are required by law. There are approved 1-year and 3-year rabies vaccines. They are the same product. Please ask for the 3-year vaccine, if you opt to vaccinate your pet against rabies. I also recommend you consider finding a holistic vet that will provide you with the homeopathic rabies vaccine detox, called Lyssin.
  • Ask for a Vaccine Titer Test: this is a how you can determine if your pet has adequate immunological protection from previously administered vaccines (puppy or kitten shots). Antibody levels can be measured from a blood draw, in place of revaccination. The type of titer that best assesses immune system's response to vaccines is called IFA, or indirect immunofluorescent antibody.
  • Please discuss with your vet the risks versus benefits of the diseases you are considering vaccinating for, before you automatically assume additional vaccines are necessary.
  • Indoor housecats should not be vaccinated annually, especially if they never go outside or have access to other cats (potentially exposing them to infectious disease). I believe overvaccination is one of the main reasons the general health of our feline patients is deteriorating.
  • Do not vaccinate your dog or cat if it has had a serious life-threatening vaccine reaction.
  • Do not patronize any boarding facility, groomer, training facility or veterinarian that requires you to vaccinate your pet more than necessary.

The decision by some vets to come forward with the truth about pet vaccines is a positive step toward changing our animal health care system. Veterinary vaccines are one more unfortunate example of the corporate greed that permeates the pharmaceutical industry.

Written by Dr. Karen Becker

Posted On Aug 13, 2009
Great article - thank you for this. One person asked why this information isn't in the news. Having worked to alert pet owners to the dangers of over vaccines for the past 15 years, and having a public relations background (which means I am trained to get stories in the news), I have concluded that the media is controlled by powerful interests. Last month we sent a letter to the British press, signed by 33 vets from around the world, calling for an end to over-vaccination, quoting the research, and NO-ONE published it.

Worse, our governments put pharmaceutical companies ahead of the lives of animals and humans. Years of lobbying the government to get one-year vaccines withdrawn have met with avoidance and intransigence. The licensing body in the UK - the Veterinary Medicines Directorate - is in the pockets of the pharmaceutical industry.

Meanwhile, our animals die and have serious adverse vaccine reactions every day. It is a scandal, and heartbreaking to the pet owners who put their trust in a profession that cannot be trusted.

Catherine O'Driscoll, Canine Health Concern.