Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Billion Dollar Vaccine Scam


Line for rabies shot, Chicago

Nothing has done more for dogs than the rise of vaccination.

It's hard for folks today to understand how devastating distemper was just 60 years ago when going to a dog show was often the precursor to losing entire kennels, with one sick animal serving as a disease vector to hundreds of other fine animals.

Thanks to Britain's fox hunters the world now has a decent distemper vaccine, and other vaccines have continued apace -- parvo, adenovirus, and parainfluenze to name the four most important.

I have written in the past about how to give a vaccine and how to obtain vaccines for less. Now, let me turn to another topic: the continuing scam -- and medical danger -- of over-vaccinating dogs.

Most people have the attention span of a sand flea, so let me cut to the chase and tell you what Ronald D. Schultz, chairman of the University of Wisconsin's Department of Pathobiological Sciences does with his own dogs.

This man is one of the world's foremost expert on dog and cat vaccines and, as he wrote in the March 1998 issue of Veterinary Medicine:

"My own pets are vaccinated once or twice as pups and kittens, then never again except for rabies."


What? Never again, except for rabies?

Is this man crazy?

No, he's educated, and he knows a simple truth: After a booster shot at the age of one year, dogs and cats have lifetime immunity from parvo and distemper.

As for other vaccines -- Corona, Lepto, Lyme, Bordatella -- those vaccines should generally not be given at all due to their lack of efficacy, relative danger, or the rarity of the disease and the ease of post-infection treatment.

Only in the case of rabies -- because it is a legal requirement -- is a booster shot needed, and in that case it is only needed once every three years after the first year.

But, what about all those booster shots? "My vet has been sending me reminders every year, and I have been paying a small fortune..."

Right.

And you have been ripped off.

The information I am giving you here is NOT NEW; it is old.

Let me quote directly from Kirk's Current Veterinary Therapy XI (Small Animal Practice), page 205, which was published in 1992 -- more than 16 years ago:

Annual vaccination is a practice that was started many years ago and that lacks scientific validity or verification. Almost without exception there is no immunologic requirement for annual revaccination. Immunity to viruses persists for years or for the life of the animal. Successful vaccination to most bacterial pathogens produces an immunologic memory that remains for years, allowing an animal to develop a protective anamnestic (secondary) response when exposed to virulent organisms. Only the immune response to toxins requires boosters (eg: tetanus in humans), and no toxin vaccines are currently used for dogs or cats. Furthermore, revaccination with most viral vaccines fails to stimulate an anamnestic (secondary) response as a result of interferance by existing antibody (similar to maternal antibody interferance).


What's that all mean?

Let's start with the first line: "Annual vaccination is a practice that was started many years ago and that lacks scientific validity or verification."

What that means is that dog and cat re-vaccination is an old scam.

From the beginning, vets have known it was bunk.

Think about it. Vets love their children, but they have not been vaccinating their kids for measles, mumps, rubella, smallpox and polio every year, or every three years, their entire lives, have they? No. By the time a kid is an adult, he is also through with vaccines.



Line for polio shot, Chicago


That's the way it should be for dogs too, but there's no money in that.

And absent regulation, veterinary care is all about money.

Besides, over-vaccination does not appear to be obviously bad medicine to pet owners, while it appears to be obviously good business for both vaccine makers and veterinarians.

How good a business? Well, let's do the math.

A "booster" shot requires an office visit, for which you will typically be charged $75.

In addition, there will be a $15 charge for a distemper and parvovirus combination shot.

Doing only 2,000 of these a year will generate $180,000, for which the vet will pay about $3,000 for the vaccine, and about the same for the postcard reminders.

A nice business!

And, for the record, I am being very conservative here. The "nonsense billing"at this veterinary practice (see link) will set you back $165, as they are bundling their vaccine protocol with a worthless stool sample (you can worm your dog yourself for $2) and a worthless Snap test which will, no doubt, be used to drum up more testing of a perfectly health and asymptomatic dog.



Of course, the vet is not the only entity in business here. So too are the vaccine makers.

A key part of the vaccine scam is that vaccine makers have taken a page from the playbook of antibiotics salesmen, and "short-listed" their vaccines in order to generate more business.

Shortlisting an antibiotic is done by putting a short expiration date on the bottle -- typically one year after manufacture.

But, as I have noted in the past, research by the U.S. military shows that all non-liquid antibiotics are effective for many years past their printed expiration dates. By shortlisting the expiration date, however, antibiotic manufacturers are able to get scores of millions of people to throw billions of dollars of good antibiotics down the drain every year. The result, of course, is an artificial boost in sales, and never mind the public health and environmental consequences.

Vaccine makers do essentially the same thing, shortlisting the length of immunity provide by their vaccine. By saying a dog vaccine is good for only one year or three years, vaccine makes increase product sales anywhere from 4-fold to 10-fold.

How pervasive is this scam?

Consider this: even when the law requires a booster shot, as it does for rabies, the drug companies are still cheating you. Pfizer, for example, sells an identical rabies vaccine formula under two different labels - Defensor 1 and Defensor 3 - depending on a state's vaccination requirements.

If you happen to live in Alabama -- an annual rabies vaccination state due to the easy larceny within that state's legislature -- your dog will be jabbed every year with a three-year vaccine labeled as a one year vaccine, and never mind that it will provide your dog with no more protection than that given to dogs just one state over, where the three-year vaccine protocol is in effect.

Perhaps now is a good time to stop and explain how vaccines work -- and why modified live virus vaccines generally work for life.

The short story is that humans, cats and dogs inoculated with modified live virus vaccines, end up creating "memory T-cells." Memory T-cells are cells that contain the recipe or code that the body first used to fight off the attenuated (weakened) infection when it was introduced to the boyd body in the form of a live virus vaccine.

If a body is challenged by the same infection later on, Memory T-cells swing into action and, using the old code, generate a vast reservoir of new antibodies to fight the infection.

This is how ALL vaccines work, and how they have worked since cowpox was first used to fight off smallpox back in 1796.

Not only are "booster" shots never needed except for rabies, but over-vaccination is actually dangerous, which is why it is considered very bad medicine to revaccinate your children again and again outside of a clear immunization protocol.

Not only is infection a possibility, but so too is a the possibility of over-stimulating the immune system, which can trigger rather serious autoimmune disorders. In addition, jabbing any area with needles increases (however slightly) the chance of a cancer occurring at that spot.

While the science of vaccines has been known for a long time, it was not until the advent of the Internet that consumers began to understand the degree to which their pets were being over-vaccinated -- and the health and financial ramifications of this practice.

Thanks to the information and work of folks like veterinarian Jean Dodds, folks began asking questions, and as a consequence a lot of vets "punted" from an annual vaccination schedule to a once-every-three-years vaccine schedule.

But three year vaccines are a ruse too. This protocol has not been embraced because of any proven efficacy, but because it is a transitive business model for veterinarians once dependent on annual vaccination income.

The American Veterinary Medical Association, for example, will not come right out and say your dog or cat should be vaccinated at all after the age of one. Instead, they have issued a "guideline" suggesting every three years might be a good idea, but they note that vets are free to "develop individualized vaccine recommendations with the input of their clients for every patient."

What's that mean?

It means every vet is supposed to size you up as a possible mark, and then play you as they see fit. AVMA offers no real treatment protocol after the first year, because they know it's all bunk. If a veterinarian wants to rip off his or her customers every year, they can. And if they want to rip them off every three years, then they can do that too. And if the customer is really smart and knowledgable .... well find something else to bill for!

The AVMA knows the truth: That after age one, distemper and parvo protection is for life, and that aside from a rabies shot every three years, no other shot is ever going to be necessary.

But, of course, they want to keep this information secret from the customer base.

But secrets have a way of leaking out.

In 2003, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) published their Canine Vaccine Guidelines, Recommendations, and Supporting Literature. This report was only made available to veterinarians, but copies have gotten out, and right there on page 18 it tells the truth:

"We now know that booster injections are of no value in dogs already immune, and immunity from distemper and vaccinations last for a minimum of 7 years based on challenge studies, and up to 15 years (a lifetime) based on antibody titer.”


Lifetime immunization. There it is, in black and white.

As the truth about the billion dollar vaccine scam has leaked out, needless routine dog vaccination has plummeted, and a tightening of purse strings has occurred in many veterinary offices.

What to do?

The answer, of course, is to invent more junk billing.

And so, just about the time that vaccine revenue began to fall off, vets suddenly began encouraging annual teeth cleaning, with expensive lab work attached. Veterinary trade journals shameless suggested that veterinarians should bill-pad more by offering to "check on thyroid levels" and by pushingn regular "deworming." Titer levels could be checked on old vaccines (and never mind that low titers are not an indication of lack of immunity). And, of course, keep those three-year vaccines going. In fact, you might want to spread those vaccines out a bit - give the rabies vaccine one year, and the parvo the next, and the distemper in year three. That way a dog or cat will have to come in every year just as before. Brilliant!

Across the board, the advice of the veterinary trade associations has been simple and direct: It's time to rip-off the rubes and find a new scam to replace the old one (annual vaccines).

How do you, the customer, fight back?

Simple: Get informed and don't be afraid to say NO.

Ask questions, "use the Google," and draw a line through unnecessary charges that are put on your "prospective bill."

Finally, let me close by saying this: If you want to vaccinate your dog and cat every year, or every three years, or every two weeks, then go right ahead. It's bad medicine, but it's still a free country, and you are free to waste your money and increase the chance of serious negative health consequences to your pet for no health benefit whatsoever. As I have noted in the past, more pets are killed every year with a can opener than any other tool.

By the same token, you are also free to give your animal the whole panoply of worthless and/or dangerous vaccines a vet might try to push your way: Leptospirosis (the least effective and most dangerous vaccine), Lyme, Giardia, Bordatella, and Corona. Probably nothing bad will happen to your dog, and all you will lose out of the deal is money.

Vets, of course, will continue to push worthless vaccines. It's a proven fact that it's easy to scare patients into additional unnecessary veterinary charges, and it's a proven fact that a lot of people think that the more they spend on their dog or cat -- and the more jabs it has gotten -- the healthier and safer their animal will be.

But just remember this: No doctor in the world would vaccinate their child the way they want to vaccinate your dog.

Yes, it's a good business practice for the vet to over-vaccinate your dog, but is it a good health care practice?

No.

And on that point, there is no longer serious debate.



Related Posts
** Veterinary Trades Say It's Time to Rip-off the Rubes
** Vaccines for Less
** A Quick Guide to Common Canine Diseases

** The Billion Dollar Heartworm Scam
** The Billion Dollar Lyme Disease Scam
** Rimadyl: Relief From a Swollen Wallet
** SuperGlue to Close Wounds
** Antibiotics for Less Without a Prescription
** Saving Big Money With a Ball Point Pen
** Bitter Pills and Veterinary Care
** Health Care Basics for Working Terriers and Other Dogs
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15 comments:

Jennifer said...

How can I deworm my dog myself for $2?

I read your posts on ways to get inexpensive antibiotics, and now have a wonderful cabinet full of Fishflex. Got a whole box full of puppy shots and needles for less than a single vet visit and donated the rest (enough to triple dose 5 more puppies) to a no-kill shelter down the street.

But the worming stuff in the stores is an arm and a leg and IMO needlessly specific to only one type of worm.

One of the pack got some "rare" worm and the whole pack went on Panacur for 3 days in a row, once a month, for 3 months... times ALL MY DOGS. Arm-and-a-leg.

What's the secret?

PBurns said...

No secret, other than to order from catalogs. I get a bunch of them, but since Revival (http://www.revivalanimal.com) came yesterday, and has not yet been tossed, here's the quick and obvious purchase from there: "D-Worm Tasty Paste" will treat ascarids (roundworms) and is $4 for enough to treat a 90 pound dog. Since I have 15-pound terriers, that means I can treat 6 dogs for $4 or or one dog for 67 cents a unit. Your dogs are unlikely to have anything but roundworms and routine dosing for hook and whip is bad medicine.

Evict DS (a Lambert Kay product) will treat roundworm and hook worms and is $7 for two oz. I can dose four dogs out of that, I think (too busy to do that math right now). For even cheaper roundworm dosage for a really large kennel of dogs, you can dilute farm Ivermec (do NOT do this unless you know weights and measures REALLY WELL). However, I should note that you may ALREADY be worming your dog monthly if, like so many, your dog is on Heartguard Plus. If your vet has your dog on Heargard Plus AND wants to test your dog for worms, run from that vet, clutching your leash in one hand and your wallet in the other :)

By the way, you do NOT need to be worming your dogs every month. My dogs hunt wild game and are in and out of dens, and I am NOT worming them very often because they do NOT need it. Yours probably don't need it very often either.

Patrick

Jennifer said...

I live west of the Montana-Wyoming-Colorado-New Mexico line. It snows here. Do I really need Heartworm meds? The map of HW has only a few dots in any state around me.

And I think the dogs got the hook or whip worms from eating some small vermin. The vet explained that it's not native to dogs and they need to eat a recently living host to get them. They also had squirrel fleas once so it's either the squirrels, the rabbits, or the Voles.

I don't see any reason to carpet bomb the dogs with drugs. From what I can tell worms aren't that serious and I'd rather not blow my dogs' livers to prevent a case of the runs once a year.

I've had dogs get the runs from the HeartGuard, so it's not like I'm saving them any discomfort.

Sarah B. said...

If you need Panacur (and you might occasionally despite Heartgard use), get fenbendazole for goats. The trade name is Safe-Guard. You can get a 125 mL bottle of liquid suspension for around $17. You'll need to syringe it orally, but it's fairly palatable.

Heather Houlahan said...

I am getting goat fenbendazole to shotgun worm all my dogs -- and I think they need it, based on stools and what I *know* they have been ingesting around the farm, much less what I suspect. It is $17 for 125 grams (ml). The canine dose is 50 mg/kg, and the concentration is 10% in the goat wormer (100 mg/g). So they get a half-gram of wormer per kilogram of body weight, three days in a row.

Using panacur powder labeled for dogs, my smallest dog would cost $12 to worm (cheapest online discount price, not including shipping) and my largest $24; total would be about $72 to worm everyone once, and that's if I fudge and shift powder between different dogs' doses.

Or I can use goat wormer and a gram scale or syringe, and have plenty left over to worm again later. Total cost for all the dogs about $8.

It's even more exorbitant if you have many *small* dogs to worm and pay for pre-measured panacur doses for each.

AND you are getting less precise dosing with the "specially packaged for dogs" stuff.

FYI, the paste for horses is not a great cost savings over the powdered dog panacur, at least if you have big dogs. I'd use the horse paste on a horse, as it is that much easier to administer.

I also do the unthinkable and use cattle ivomec for heartworm control. Since I know my dogs are MDR1 normal/normal, I don't worry about an overdose, so I don't go through the trouble of diluting in glycerol. One drop of ivomec is an overdose, but not so much as I worry. If I didn't know my dogs' MDR1 status, I'd follow the correct dilution. (Must be glycerol, ivomec is not soluble in water or alcohol.)

This is so much cheaper than Heartguard it doesn't even calculate.

Finally, I'm a Frontline scofflaw -- calculate the exact dose for each dog, buy the largest size vials from the cheapest reputable source, and split the doses using a syringe to draw from the vials. My flea/tick control costs are a quarter of what they'd be if I bought individual vials of Frontline for each dog from the vet. The differential would even greater for someone with many small dogs.

Anonymous said...

Ditto for the "Safeguard" fenbendazole for tapeworms(I get the big cattle or horse tubes--I have 12 dogs!)hookworms and whip worms, and Ivermectin for everything else--I also have been using the cattle/swine Ivermectin for years with no problems--it is very hard to dangerously overdose with either Ivermectin or fenbendazole. A vet breakdown of the cattle Ivermectin was 1/10th of a CC per 40 lbs. for heartworm preventative--double that for other worms--this was one of those rare vets who didn't mind helping their customers save a few bucks! Although by LAW you have to get your dogs regular rabies shots, the effects last a long time, too. I know that personally, because as a Zookeeper, I had to get a rabies shot! We get tested every year to see if our rabies titres are still good, rather than just get another shot. My titres are still good after 6 years!....L.B.

Heather Houlahan said...

Anonymous, your vet's dosage on the ivermectin is an overdose. It is more the dosage used for other kinds of worming. Vets who do sign off on ivomec this way seem to consistently recommend overdoses like this for some reason. Problem with math skills?

If the dog is MDR1 normal/normal, it will likely do no harm. If mutant/mutant or mutant/normal, could be be a big problem.

I will have to look up the dosage and will post the math over on my blog.

Pai said...

I just read this interesting paper today. The author, Ronald Schultz, is a respected veterinary pathobiology expert.

Apparently, back in 1978 vets were already figuring out that annual vaccines were bunk!

If your vet has no clue about any of it, either they are embarassingly ignorant (and who wants a doctor who is clueless about modern scientific knowledge?) or else they are lying to you if they tell you otherwise.

PBurns said...

Thanks for the paper link Pai! I quote Ronald D. Schultz right at the top, but nice to know this has been out there for 30 years. We have been lied to for a GENERATION.

P

harmonious1 said...

I have felt this was true about vaccines for years, and did my best to avoid re-vaccination. But then you can't leave them in a kennel or go to agility or anything much.
So if I want to give my own shots, what kind of proof do I offer when challenged? I still live in the city-limits.
BTW, I feed raw meat with bones, and never had much in the way of health problems, until old age struck. No fleas, ticks, scratching, stinking, etc etc. They have whiter teeth too.
I have just found your very informative blog, so this has, I am sure been discussed before, I just haven't found it yet.

Pai said...

Leerburg.com has the AAHA Canine Vaccine Guidelines, Recommendations, and Supporting Literature report posted in full on their website, if anyone wants to read the entire thing.

Elizabeth said...

Great article – an excellent summary of the veterinary ‘profession’s’ exploitative practices…

My interest in this topic was sparked after my own dog became very ill after her last unnecessary vaccination in September 2008, and was subsequently put down. I’ve been shocked by what I have found out about the veterinary ‘profession’ since that time.

Since my dog’s death, I've been lobbying on this issue in Australia. For information, here's a link to a recent article I've written summarising the topic titled "Too many needles ! Unnecessary vaccination exposed": http://users.on.net/~peter.hart/Too_many_needles.pdf

For those who are interested in more references to the scientific literature, particularly on duration of immunity and adverse reactions, feel free to check out some of my fully-referenced papers on this topic, e.g.:

- My submission on the (Australian) National Scheme for Assessment, Registration and Control of Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Discussion paper. I made a submission titled “Unnecessary and possibly harmful, use of companion animal vaccines”. (February 2010). My submission has been published on the Australian Government’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry website: http://www.daff.gov.au/agriculture-food/food/regulation-safety/ag-vet-chemicals/domestic-policy/psic/responses-to-discussion-paper/hart,_elizabeth

- "Is over-vaccination harming our pets? Are vets making our pets sick?" (13 April 2009). (This fully-referenced report was tabled at a special meeting of senior scientific staff convened by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (i.e. the government regulator) on 15 April 2009. The meeting was convened in response to my concerns about the problem of unnecessary vaccination of pets.)
http://users.on.net/~peter.hart/Is_%20over-vaccination_harming_our_pets.pdf

- "Over-vaccination of pets – an unethical practice" (16 June 2009): This fully-referenced paper is a summary of my previous report with additional information:
http://users.on.net/~peter.hart/Over-vaccination_of_pets_-_an_unethical_practice.pdf

Pet owners have been ripped off for years. More importantly, animals have been needlessly put at risk of adverse reactions and other longer term health problems due to unnecessary vaccination.

It’s time the veterinary profession was brought to account for withholding critical information from pet owners.

Elizabeth Hart
Australia

Jay said...

I know this is a rather old post, but what about canine influenza? I live in Houston, and take my dog to the dog park almost every day. I've been poking around your site and I'm now a little upset that I spent $230 dollars this morning at the vet.. for the "best care" package. Annual vaccines, stool test, blood test, urinalysis, heartworm antigen. I pride myself on being an informed consumer in most situations, but like you've talked about, my emotional attachment to my dog blinds me. He's a distemper survivor and I'm a first time dog owner, which I guess made me even more susceptible.

PBurns said...

Canine influenza is simple the latest scame. See >> http://terriermandotcom.blogspot.com/2009/08/canine-influenza-vaccines-are-latest.html

magx01 said...

I have read three of your posts today (found this blog after googling "dog heartworm scam" (I'm skeptical by nature and suspected there were some less than honest recommendations being issued by vets to clients) and I just want to offer my thanks for the informative, well researched and well written pieces.

I will be sure to direct people to this blog in the future, as the idea of people being financially taken while dogs are put through unnecessary treatment protocols and tests is something I just cannot abide.

-Anthony