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Clearing Up the Confusion About Vaccines

Before I discuss my vaccine protocols, I want everyone to understand that the most important thing you can do for your pet and the most important reason for visiting a vet is for your pet’s YEARLY physical exam. It is not just for “Shots”. Some hospitals and clinics emphasize only the “Shots” and minimize the importance of the physical exam and educating clients. Each year I give your pet a thorough physical exam and discuss with you new developments and ideas I learned that year, that help keeps your pets healthy . If I happen to find a problem during the physical exam, I discuss the best way to handle it for my patient and client. In medicine, new developments are always around the corner. I keep in touch so I can keep my clients in touch. Those are the MAIN reasons for your pet’s visit. That is how I practice veterinary medicine.
Now a little background on how vaccines work. People think that it is the vaccine that protects their pets from diseases. That is only part of the story. Vaccines stimulate the body’s immune system to produce antibodies which fight off the virus, bacteria or what ever you are vaccinating against. This requires your pet having a normal immune system. When I was in vet school at Cornell, a company was testing a new Rabies vaccine on vet students. After a series of 3 “shots” all of the students had blood drawn for titers to see how effective the vaccines were. Two students in my class developed NO titer to the vaccines. In other words, there was No response to 3 vaccines in those two students. I remember clearly because I was one of the students and my brother, who was in my class, was the other student. There was something about our immune systems that prevented us from developing protection from that Rabies vaccine. This is why I am very careful when I am placed in a situation where there is a potential for a Rabies exposure. This is also the reason when animals are given the same vaccine against a particular disease, some will be better protected than others. Sick animals, different genetics, immune compromised animals, Felv and FIV positive cats, and those with autoimmune diseases will not react the same way to vaccines as normal animals do. They may not get a good response and may still be susceptible to diseases. If a vaccinated animal gets sick from one of the diseases it was vaccinated against, it is probably the individual’s immune system that failed, not the vaccine. Do vaccines on occasion cause problems? Absolutely. There have been some individuals who have had allergic reactions to vaccines. When treatment was administered immediately, the patients did fine and arrangements were made so future reactions were minimized. If the benefits of getting the vaccine out weight the risks then it is in the patient’s best interest to receive the vaccines. Some parents refuse to have their children or pets vaccinated for personal reasons and from confusing information that has circulated through the internet. I will address some of these issues to try to clear things up. About 15 years ago, many states and cities, including NYC started requiring Rabies vaccines for all pets including cats.  A few years later it was discovered that a small percentage of cats developed a malignant tumor at an injection site. The number of cats developing this problem was roughly 1 cat in 10,000.  It wasn’t clear at that time or even now, exactly which injection was responsible for causing the tumor. It was postulated that the new requirement for the Rabies vaccine was “a” culprit but not necessarily the only one. Now, years later research is still going on for an exact cause. The vaccine “adjuvant” which is the part of the vaccine that keeps the vaccine working for a long time was specifically targeted.  Aluminum particles in the adjuvant were found in some of these tumors. That was the “smoking gun”. In response to this information the veterinary community in my opinion, overreacted.  Questions arose about “over” vaccinating pets. Taking blood tests to check for vaccine titers became the rage.  Instead of giving vaccines every year, the experts recommended taking expensive blood samples to see how high the vaccine titers are for each component of the vaccine. It was assumed that the pet is protected if it has a high titer. Well those results were not so black and white. Neither the labs who did the titers, nor the virologists who recommended taking them could give me a guarantee when a pet is or is no longer protected. I called a virologist at Cornell years ago to ask his opinion on titers and protection.  I explained that my patients in the Bronx have a far greater exposure to diseases walking in dog runs , crowded streets, group play dates and city parks than dogs in Ithaca.  His response was, “do what you think is necessary for your community.”  A very vague answer but it allowed me to do what I feel is best for my patients in my neighborhood. I posted two blogs on my website, one for my cat and one for my dog vaccine protocols. I encourage all my patients to read them and feel free to speak to me about them at phone times.