petvaccination

By: Lynn Stratton

Vets and Vaccines: The Untold Story

In a previous column on childhood vaccinations, I referred to the increase in the number of vaccines required for children over the past few decades. It should not surprise you that there has been a similar increase in the number of vaccinations required for our dogs and cats, especially those vaccinations referred to as annual booster shots.

And no wonder: Pet vaccines are a huge business, and most of them are developed and produced by the same pharmaceutical powerhouses that manufacture human vaccines, such as Merck, Pfizer, and Lilly.

The obvious question, of course, is this: If vaccines are as effective as we’re told they are, why do our pets (and our humans) need annual boosters? If a dog, for instance, is vaccinated for parvovirus, does the immunity conferred upon the animal by that vaccine suddenly and mysteriously disappear at the end of twelve months? If so, the vaccine wouldn’t appear to be all that effective after all, would it?. And if at the end of a year the animal’s immunity is still firmly in place, why re-vaccinate?

Several years ago, Fort Dodge, a major manufacturer of pet vaccines, completed a long-term vaccination challenge study to determine whether three vaccines they produce, for distemper, adenovirus, and parvovirus, actually protected for three years, instead of just one, and they found that they did indeed protect for the longer time. However, even now, the instructions on their vaccine vials recommend yearly re-vaccination.

Yet as more and more studies are done, some of the players in the field of companion pet health are finally paying attention. Most notably, in recent years, the majority of American schools of veterinary medicine and even the American Veterinary Medical Association, the pet equivalent of the American Medical Association, have changed their recommendations about re-vaccinating pets, based on numerous studies of not only the length of vaccine-induced immunity but also of vaccine-induced “adverse events” ranging from pain and swelling at the injection site to death from anaphylactic shock. The AVMA statement of Vaccination Principles (http://www.avma.org/issues/vaccination/vaccination.asp) contains the following language: “Vaccination is a potent medical procedure associated with both benefits and risks for the patient. Adverse events, including some that are potentially severe, can be unintended consequences of vaccination.”

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), has on its Web site (www.aahanet.org) its own position statements, one of which addresses the question of vaccines. Here’s what the group says, in part: “No single achievement has had greater impact on the lives and well-being of our patients, our clients, and our ability to prevent infectious diseases than the development and ongoing improvements in companion animal vaccines. However, there is growing professional and public awareness that vaccine products are not as benign as first believed . . .”

The organization has available for download on its Web site their 2006 Canine Vaccine Guidelines, and they’ve divided the vaccines into three categories: core, noncore (or optional), and not recommended. It’s worth reading, especially to see the quite lengthy list of dog vaccines that note that revaccination is recommended annuallyby the manufacturer.

As for the growing professional awareness cited by that organization, indeed, any animal health professional with access to the numerous organizations, journals, and other publications available to veterinarians is probably aware of the problems caused by routine vaccinations. But public awareness? No, not when the professionals deliberately keep the public in the dark.

Just how often do “adverse events” occur? Unfortunately, there’s no way to know for sure. The U. S. Department of Agriculture, the agency that oversees animal vaccinations, says this in their list of common questions about pet vaccines: “Good estimates of the rates of various types of adverse events after the use of veterinary immunobiologics are not readily available.”

Let’s see, could that be because, also according to the USDA, veterinarians are encouraged to report these “adverse events” directly to the manufacturer, the company that produced the vaccine that caused the “event”? (And, as it happens, if an event is reported to the USDA, that agency simply passes it on to the manufacturer.) As you can imagine, vaccine manufacturers are not likely to go out of their way to pass on such information to us. And even worse, there is no national database of adverse vaccine reactions available to the veterinarians themselves. 

So vet schools and animal health organizations admit there’s a problem, so much so that they’ve rethought their positions on vaccinations, but how many pet owners (I use the term “owner” reluctantly, but for the sake of brevity I’ll use it here) are ever told about the controversy by their veterinarians? Well, as with everything else, you need to follow the money. Take a look at the Web site for the American Association of Feline Practitioners, which touts itself as “veterinary professionals passionate about the care of cats.” They helpfully have posted a list of industry “partners” on their Web site. First name, as a “platinum” member? Fort Dodge Animal Health, the vaccine people.

And when we look at the AAHA sponsors list, we find these: Pfizer Animal Health (vaccines), Merial (vaccines), Fort Dodge (vaccines), Novartis, Lilly, Schering-Plough, all the pet vaccine producers.

So our pets are being vaccinated according to guidelines drawn up not by independent evaluation of the efficacy and safety of pet vaccines but by those who “partner” with the producers of the vaccinations themselves. Vaccine manufacturers are the ones deciding how often your pets should be vaccinated; is it any surprise that you’re called into your vet’s office for yearly boosters?

And it’s not just the frequency of the booster shots that can cause problems for your pet. Some vaccines, including Fort Dodge’s Duramune Max 5, which is meant for canine distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza, and parvovirus, contains a very potent antibiotic, gentamicin, as a preservative. The problem with gentamicin is it’s also extremely toxic, causing deafness and vision problems, so much so that there have been lawsuits filed on behalf of patients sickened by it. Yet that same “preservative” is in many of the vaccines that your puppy or kitten may receive as often as every two weeks, if it’s being vaccinated according to manufacturers’ guidelines.

Another ingredient in many vaccines, both human and animal, is Thimerosal, which is essentially mercury. All the news stories you read about childhood vaccines and autism, as well as a host of other physical and mental disabilities, also apply to your pets’ vaccines because they contain the same Thimerosal that has been at the heart of many studies. In fact, the MSDS, or material safety data sheet, on Merial’s canine parvovirus vaccine specifically recommends that disposal of the empty vials be done in a facility approved by the Environmental Protection Agency for the incineration of mercury.

So your pets can face everything from swelling and pain to sudden death after a routine vaccination. What about cancer? As it happens, one “event” that has been occurring with some regularity over the years is sarcomas, or malignant tumors, related to pet vaccines, most often in cats, and often fatal. In fact, the problem has become so prevalent in vaccinated cats that the AVMA has its own Vaccine-Associated Feline Sarcoma Task Force (http://www.avma.org/vafstf/default.asp), which it says “was formed in November 1996 in response to the increased incidence of soft tissue sarcomas occurring at vaccination sites.” So the veterinary journals have been carrying studies for years showing the harm done by yearly booster shots, and the AVMA has formed a task force to study malignant tumors in cats, and still, not many veterinarians have had the courage to speak out, or to change their own practices. One who has spoken out wrote an article that was posted on the University of Wisconsin Web site. Dr. Ronald Schultz, a professor and chair of pathobiological sciences at UW’s School of Veterinary Medicine, made it known that most annual vaccines are unnecessary; you can read it here at http://www.news.wisc.edu/8413. Dr. Schultz says that when we take our dogs to the vet every year, they may be getting as many as 16 different vaccines, many of them combined into a single shot. Schultz adds, “These adverse reactions have caused many veterinarians to rethink the issue of vaccination.” Rethink, maybe, but not reverse their policies.

And, speaking of rethinking the issue, this is from the AVMA itself: “While there is evidence that some vaccines provide immunity beyond one year, revaccination of patients with sufficient immunity does not necessarily add to their disease protection and may increase the potential risk of post-vaccination adverse events.”

So why hasn’t your family’s vet passed this message on to you? Reminding you of your pet’s yearly vaccination “requirements” brings you into the office at least once a year. And your vet has the chance not only to inject your pet with potentially harmful substances, he or she can also use the opportunity to “upsell,” or convince you to purchase additional products and services.

In fact, if you look at the pet medicine sector of Lilly (www.lillypet.com), you’ll find in the section for veterinarians that the company’s products “enhance clinic profitability.” And that, in a nutshell, is why your vet calls you in for annual booster shots; they’re your vet’s bread and butter.

Unfortunately, for your pet, that bread and butter may turn out to be poison.

For those interested in further reading, I recommend the following. Dr. Jean Dodds, a veterinarian and animal research scientist who is very vocal about the harm caused by pet vaccines, has posted a letter specifically addressing the usual duration of immunity for some of them at http://www.dogsadversereactions.com/vDrDodds.html. For more on injection-site sarcomas, also written by a veterinarian, go to http://www.petplace.com/cats/injection-site-sarcoma/page1.aspx. Also worth a read is this account of the recall by Fort Dodge of one of its rabies vaccines after a vaccinated pet actually contracted rabies from the vaccine: http://www.thedogplace.org/Articles/DogCare/Vaccines/Rabies.Vaccine.Recall.0606.htm. In fact, looking online, although it will certainly turn up some unauthoritative material, will also find more than enough to convince you, if not your veterinarian, to rethink your own policies on annual booster shots for your beloved pets.

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Lynn Stratton

Lynn Stratton

Lynn Stratton worked for the St. Petersburg Times as a news archivist, copy editor and staff writer until recently, when she started her own writing and editing business. Before that, she taught at USF for 15 years. Originally from NYC, she spends her spare time walking her standard poodle, Harry, and working in her butterfly garden, where she's had 6 species of caterpillars so far this year.
Lynn Stratton