(This particular story happens over, and over, and over again in my practice… Please share if it resonates with you.)
“Hello – I was wondering if you could come and give my dogs their yearly vaccination boosters?” the new client, and elegant sounding lady, asked me over the phone.
“I’d be happy to come and help you out with your dogs,” I replied, and then went on to find out where she lived, and to work out a suitable time to drop in.
A couple of days later, I pulled up in her driveway. The garden was a riot of colourful flowers, and immaculately tidy. I collected my bags, and and knocked on the door. An older lady, with a face that was wreathed in the gentle wrinkles of a lifetime of smiling opened the door.
“Come in dear, come in,” the said, as two fluffy little dogs yapped at me from a safe distance, before carefully sniffing my shoes.
I was shown through to the kitchen, and sat down.
“I’m really a bit worried about their vaccinations,” she said. “They should have been in last week, but I find it a bit hard to get them in and out of the car, these days. I have such terrible arthritis in my hands…”
“How old are they?” I asked.
“They are both from the same litter, and they are 12 years old in a month or so.”
“And how often have they been vaccinated,” I asked, though I knew what she would say.
“Oh – every year, of course,” she assured me, earnestly, “As soon as the vet sends me a reminder, I take them straight in, because I’d hate for them to get Parvo.”
“Could I have a look at their vaccination certificates, please?” I enquired.
She handed them over to me, and I had a look at them. Sure enough, they had had a C5 vaccine every year of their life. C3 (Distemper, Parvovirus, and Canine Hepatitis) plus Kennel Cough. I took a deep breath, and launched into an explanation that I was heartily sick of having to repeat, over and again.
“Firstly, do you ever need to put your dogs into kennels?” I asked.
“No, dear, I don’t. But why?”
“Well, for a start, the C3 part of the vaccine – which is the one for Distemper, Canine Hepatitis and Parvovirus, has a long duration of immunity. The research that I have seen, by Dr Ronald Schultz, the leading independent researcher of small animal vaccination, shows that these vaccines give protection for at least 5 -7 years, and potentially for the whole life of the animal.”
“Really?” she asked, sitting forward in her chair, a shocked look on her face. “Then why on earth have my vets always told me that my pets need to have a vaccination every year?”
“That’s a very good question, and not the easiest one to answer,” I replied. “For one, many vets have been taught that vaccines are very safe. Certainly I didn’t know any of this when I graduated. I think the main thing, however, is that vaccination is a large part of the income for veterinary hospitals. And that’s not bringing the huge companies that make the vaccines into the picture. They have no financial incentive to test the vaccines out to 5-7 years. There have been three yearly vaccines come onto the market in the last 5-10 years, but the only real difference between them and the yearly ones is that they have researched and tested their efficacy out to three years. I’d be very surprised if these vaccines couldn’t be registered for a five yearly, or even longer interval, if the companies did the research to test them. I’m ashamed to have to say that I feel my profession has badly let down pet owners on this issue.”
“Well, I’ll be,” she exclaimed. “Does that mean my little dogs will be safe without a vaccination?”
“If they’ve been vaccinated every year for the past 11 years, I have no doubt that there is absolutely no medical justification for re-vaccinating your little friends,” I told her. “It may even be harmful. There are well documented risks associated with vaccination. I also believe that many of the chronic autoimmune diseases we see in our pets these days are from over vaccination.”
“And what about Kennel cough then?” she asked.
“Well, I don’t recommend that unless you need to go to kennels, and then only because kennels won’t accept dogs without a kennel cough vaccination. It’s usually a mild, self limiting disease, and certainly not life threatening.”
“But how can I be sure they will be ok,” she asked, obviously torn, and still a bit fearful about her dogs’ well being.
“I can do a little blood test, to measure the levels of antibodies in their blood. I don’t think it’s necessary, but if you would like to do that now and then every three years for your peace of mind, you can.”
“Well, thankyou for explaining all of that for me,” she smiled. “I think I won’t worry about doing the blood test, but please do give them both a thorough check up for me.”
And I did – I took them in turn and looked in their mouths, nice clean teeth, lovely pink healthy gums, heart and lungs sounding strong and clear, on fact, the only thing was a few little old dog warts, and they were both a bit overweight. I put them on a diet without much hope of it being adhered to, and then she assured me she would get me back every year to make sure they were going along ok.
I drove off simmering with a deep frustration that my profession, which sets such great store by practicing evidence based medicine, continues to ignore the fact that these so called yearly vaccines last for so much longer, and that every unnecessary “booster” exposes peoples well loved animal companions to the risk of acute and chronic ill effects. I have had to treat many pets who have been injured by vaccines.