The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recently issued its 2011 Canine Vaccination Guidelines.  The 2003 report, revised in 2006 and 2007, caused quite a stir.  Many veterinarians and pet parents didn’t trust the findings –and still don’t – even though the report was backed by scientific studies and written by 14 well-respected experts. Change can be scary.

The report’s recommendation to eliminate or limit many unnecessary and/or dangerous vaccines, and to give the important “core vaccines” no more often than every three years (NOT annually!), was and is unpalatable to many practices.  It could represent a huge drop in income.

Though veterinary organizations and every North American vet school changed their vaccination protocols to accommodate the report’s findings, most clinics continue to over-vaccinate. Pet guardians still overpay for shots their pets don’t need and too many pets (and pocketbooks) suffer from the subsequent vaccine reactions.

The AAHA report contains good information and acts as a resource for pet guardians wanting to stand up to vets pushing shots their pets don’t really need. But this report is very conservative — with decisions made by committee. It doesn’t go as far as many of us would like.  Important note: do not presume that your veterinarian abides by the report’s recommendations or that he/she has even read it.

Possible problems with the report

When reading any study,  see who sponsored it and then look for possible conflicts of interest. This particular study was sponsored by four vaccine manufacturers: Merck, Merial, Pfizer and Boehringer Ingelheim. In addition, the AAHA has close financial ties to both veterinarians and sponsors. I am not suggesting bias, but in a perfect world, studies would be funded by disinterested parties, not by parties with a financial interest in decisions.

To arrive at a consensus, and to accommodate readers with the least vaccination expertise, individual taskforce members had to compromise.  The consensus may or may not represent the personal view of any individual member.

For example, in 2003 task force member Dr. Richard Ford, Professor of Medicine, North Carolina State University, said that the decision to recommend a 3-year revaccination schedule for core vaccines was a compromise. “It’s completely arbitrary…,” he said. “I will say there is no science behind the three-year recommendation…”

Several committee members have personally told me this was a “political” decision, meant to ruffle the fewest veterinary feathers. (Read about vaccine duration of immunity at Vaccinating Dogs: 10 Steps to Eliminating Unnecessary Shots.)

I would have liked a section showing how taskforce members vaccinate their own dogs, just as the Supreme Court publishes ”dissenting opinions,” although this might have presented legal problems and required endless caveats.

Outside the report, renowned expert and taskforce member Dr. Ronald Schultz has a very different puppy vaccination protocol for his own family’s dogs. He uses only the three core vaccines: parvovirus, distemper and adenovirus-2 (hepatitis).  He does not revaccinate every three years. He runs antibody titers on the pups to know exactly when is the best time to effectively vaccinate. Then, 2 to 3 weeks or more after vaccination, he titers (tests the blood of) the offspring. If there is ANY positive antibody response, he doesn’t revaccinate for the reminder of the pet’s life.  (Before doing this yourself, listen to what he says during this YouTube video and consult your veterinarian.  Advance 8 1/2 minutes into the video. Also find his cat vaccination advice there.)

Notable quotes from the report

My dear friend Kris Christine read this report and pulled out the following quotations of note. Kris is the founder of the Rabies Challenge Fund and a tireless activist who was largely responsible for helping every US state to switch from 1- and 2-year rabies vaccination schedules to 3 year (though sadly not all local laws have followed suit). Kris is currently working with other activists and state legislators to provide rabies vaccination exemptions for dogs with health problems.  The fight goes on.

Note from Jan: I highlighted the important topics in the quotes below.

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Don’t vaccinate dogs with health problems:

>p. 21  ”It is reasonable to avoid administration of any vaccine to patients with a history of systemic disease suspected to be associated with previous vaccination (e.g., immune-mediated hemolytic anemia, immune-mediated thrombocytopenia) or known to be caused by vaccine (vaccination-site cutaneous ischemic vasculitis after administration of rabies vaccine).

p. 28  ”As with pregnant dogs, veterinary medicine has advised against vaccination during illness, due to concerns about suboptimal protection, or worse, vaccine-induced illness.”

p. 29  “Manufacturers only recommend administration of vaccine to healthy dogs. Dogs receiving immunosuppressive chemotherapy should not be vaccinated. Doing so may result in a suboptimal immune response or may aggravate (reactivate) an immune-mediated illness.”

(Also read my article Vaccinating Unhealthy Pets: Beware Reactions & Vaccine Failure)

The difference between noninfectious (“killed” vaccines like rabies) and infectious vaccines (“modified live” vaccines like parvovirus and distemper):>

p. 3  ”When compared with infectious (attenuated, avirulent, modified live, recombinant viral vectored) vaccines, noninfectious vaccines are more likely to produce local and systemic adverse reactions in some dogs.”

p.10  ”Most noninfectious vaccines require at least two initial doses to immunize, regardless of the dog’s age. The first dose of a noninfectious vaccine generally primes the immune response and the second dose, which should be administered 2-6 weeks later, provides the protective immune response. Immunity typically develops approximately 7 days after the second dose. Therefore, the minimum time for onset of immunity is approximately 3 wk after administration of the first dose of a noninfectious vaccine”

p. 12 “Because dogs older than 14-16 wk of age are not likely to have interfering levels of MDA [maternally derived antibodies], administration of a single initial dose of an infectious vaccine to an adult dog can be expected to induce a protective immune response. ….. MDA is the most common reason early vaccination fails to immunize.”

p. 12 “The onset of immunity after administration of a single dose of infectious core vaccine is approximately 4±3 days in the absence of MDA [maternally derived antibodies].”

p.13  ”Infectious core vaccines are not only highly effective, they also provide the longest DOI [duration of immunity], extending from 5 yr up to the life of the dog.”

Note:  see Box 1 beginning on page 14 of the report for more info.

Antibody titer testing (blood testing) to prove immunity

p. 17  ”Despite the confusion and controversy surrounding antibody testing, these serologic tests are useful for monitoring immunity to CDV, CPV-2, CAV-1, and RV. …..On completion of the puppy core vaccination series with the last dose given at 14-16 wk of age, a dog can be expected to have an antibody titer or positive test result, regardless of the serologic test performed, provided the serum sample is collected  > 2 wks after the last dose of vaccine.” (CDV=distemper, CPV-2 = parvovirus, CAV-1 hepatitis, RV= rabies)

p. 18  “….the last dose of CDV and CPV should be administered at 14-16 wk of age. At this age, MDA should be at a level that will not block active immunity in most puppies (>98%) when a combination MLV vaccine is administered.”

p. 18  ”In a study reported in 1997, dogs vaccinated with a product containing CDV (canine distemper virus) and then placed in an environment without CDV maintained antibody titers for at least 10 yr.”

Adverse reactions:

p. 20  ”…the list that follows includes categories of adverse reactions that have been attributed to vaccine administration.

  • Injection-site reactions: lumps (abscess, granuloma, seroma), pain, swelling, hair loss associated with ischemic vasculitis
  • Transient postvaccinal nonspecific illness: lethargy, anorexia, fever, regional lymphadenomegaly, soreness, abortion, encephalitis, polyneuritis, arthritis, seizures, behavioral changes, hair loss or color change at the injection site, respiratory disease
  • Allergic (hypersensitivity) and immune-mediated reactions: Type 1 (acute anaphylaxis): angiodema (especially the head), anaphylaxis (shock) and death; Type 2 (cytolytic): immune-mediated hemolytic anemia, immune-mediated thrombocytopenia (suspected only; causality has not been confirmed); Type 3 (immune-complex): cutaneous ischemic vasculopathy associated with rabies vaccine, corneal edema (‘blue-eye’) associated with CAV-1 vaccine, immune-mediated disease.
  • Tumorigenesis: vaccine-associated sarcoma or other tumors
  • Multisystemic infectious/inflammatory disorder of young Weimaraner dogs
  • Vaccine-induced immunosuppression: associated with first or second dose of combination MLV vaccines containing CDV and CAV-1 or CAV-2 with or without other vaccines (e.g., CPV-2, CPI). Immunosuppression begins 3 days after vaccination and persists for 7-10 days. The suppression may be associated with increased susceptibility to other diseases.

p.33  ”Vaccine adverse events are significantly underreported in veterinary medicine.”

Minimal vaccination protocols

In answer to the question: “Is there a vaccination program that could be recommended for those owners only wanting the least number of vaccines possible or for those dogs that are not likely to be seen again by a veterinarian?”

p. 34  ”The vaccination protocol that includes the minimum number of vaccines yet still provides a reasonable opportunity to immunize the dog would be: a single dose of combined infectious (attenuated, avirulent, modified live, recombinant viral vectored) CDV, MLV CPV-2, with MLV CAV-2, administered at 16 wk of age or older, plus a rabies shot at the same time (but inoculated at a separate site on the body).

Note from Jan:  It is important NOT to give the rabies vaccine with other vaccines or medications if at all possible. Renowned rabies vaccine experts and principals of the Rabies Challenge Fund, Drs. Ron Schultz (a member of the AAHA taskforce) and Jean Dodds both agree on this. The protocol above is for dogs not likely to be seen again by a veterinarian.”  Both have also told me, and the AAHA report warns as well, about the dangers of adverse reactions for multiple vaccines given at once, especially for smaller and medium-sized breeds. Please read Vaccinating Small Dogs: Risks Vets Aren’t Revealing for the particular risks of giving multiple vaccines to small dogs.

Links of interest:

  • A DVD: world-renowned scientists W. Jean Dodds, DVM and Ronald D. Schultz, PhD spoke at our Safer Pet Vaccination Benefit Seminar in March 2010. A 2-hour DVD of the event, along with articles by the speakers, is available here. Or learn more about it at  All proceeds less actual shipping costs benefit the study of the rabies vaccine.
  • Learn more about rabies vaccination and about canine vaccination in general and read articles elsewhere on this blog.
  • Read the 2011 AAHA Canine Vaccination  Guidelines
  • Read the World Small Animal Veterinary Association Guidelines for Vaccinating Dogs and Cats. This report addressed to a worldwide audience prepared by a small academic panel.  Dr. Schultz sits on this panel in addition to the AAHA task force. Intervet-Schering Plough Animal Health sponsored the report.