Over-vaccination is Bad Medicine
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 (who helped fund the initial research), the world now has a good distemper vaccine.
Which is not to say that everything is fine.
You see, too many veterinarians continue to over-vaccinate. And the cost is not just billions of pounds down the rat hole of waste -- it's also a significant number of dogs that end up sick and dying due to vaccination-triggered auto-immune disorders.
What I am saying here is not new; it is OLD.
In fact more than 30 years ago, Ronald D. Schultz, chairman of the University of Wisconsin's Department of Pathobiological Sciences, and one of the foremost experts on dog and cat vaccines in the world, noted that immunity in adult dogs and cats lasted many years, and that there was no rhyme or reason to annual vaccination protocols.
Small Animal Practice (Current Veterinary Therapy, XI) published in 1992, notes that:
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 re-vaccination. Immunity to viruses persists for years or for the life of the animal."
In the March 1998 issue of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Schultz noted that:
"My own pets are vaccinated once or twice as pups and kittens, then never again except for rabies."
More recently, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) published Canine Vaccine Guidelines, Recommendations, and Supporting Literature. This 2003 report notes:
"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."
So what about all those annual Parvo, Distemper, Parainfluenza, Hepatitis and Corona virus booster shots that your veterinarian has been giving your adult dog every year?
Not needed. You are being ripped off. There is no other way to say it.
For decades now, veterinarians have known that cats and dogs inoculated with modified live virus vaccines create "memory T-cells" that contain the code to fight off disease.
If a vaccinated body is ever challenged again by that same type of infection, those memory T-cells swing into action and, using the old code, generate a vast reservoir of new antibodies to fight the infection and return the animal back to health.
Not only are annual booster shots in adult dogs never needed, but over-vaccination is actually dangerous.
And your vet knows this.
Think about it.
Vets love their children, but they have not been vaccinating their kids for measles, mumps, rubella, smallpox and polio every year, have they?
And why not?
Simple: because they know that over-stimulating the immune system of any animal can trigger auto-immune disorders and increase (however slightly) the chance of a cancer occurring at the point of injection.
And so vets do not over-vaccinate their own children and neither do any other doctors.
But many veterinarians over-vaccinate dogs and cats brought into their practice.
The short answer is money.
Let's do the math.
A veterinarian will typically charge £35.00 to £50.00 for an annual "booster" shot.
If the veterinarian does 2,000 booster shots a year (just 8 shot a day) those shots will generate £70,000 to £100,000, for which the vet will only pay about $2,000 for the vaccine.
A nice business!
Of course, the annual booster shot may only be part of the cost to a customer. After all, once someone brings their pet into a veterinary practice, there are so many other things that can be billed for: teeth cleaning, special dog foods, blood tests, stool tests, worming, and flea treatments, for a start.
Less this last point sound overly paranoid or suspicious, it's worth taking time to read through the articles to be found in the journal of Veterinary Economics magazine, which regularly advises American and Canadian veterinarians on how they can replace lost vaccine income by doing a little creative bill padding. How about annual teeth cleaning? The article is entitled "Pearly White Profits." How about performing more thyroid level checks, and doing more de-worming? How about checking the titer levels on old vaccines -- and never mind that low titers are not an indication of lack of immunity?
In short, the business of veterinary care is business. No surprise there.
What is a surprise, for many, is how mercenary veterinary billing has become. One of the sages at Veterinary Economics advises that "Practices that charge more will make more money and work less hours."
The same advisor tells vets across the country to never fee guilty about ripping off the rubes, no matter how poor they are. After all,
"The less money a family makes, the more TV channels they have."
Of course, it is easy to paint with a broad brush. It is important to remember that almost all dog owners will eventually need a veterinarian to solve a canine health problem, and that some of the very best people in the world are veterinarians.
That said, it's also important to remember that, as a group, veterinarians are not more honest -- or less honest -- than anyone else in this world.
As in all things, caveat emptor.
A lot of money can be saved by doing a little research, asking a few questions, expressing a healthy skepticism, and (sometimes) simply saying NO.
Finally, if you have a good vet who is not jabbing your dog with unnecessary vaccines at every turn, do not be shy about recommending him or her to your family and friends. Let them know why you are staying with their practice. Bill padding, after all, creates its own cash incentives. Only by speaking up, and voting with our feet and wallets, can we incentivize integrity.