This vaccination dilemma is so frustrating being I am hearing more and more how it is bad for my boy, yet is mandated by law. I live in Michigan and have in the past always had my dogs get their shots as demanded. My last three have been Whippets and they have all lived to the age of 18. One had a seizure issue. Now having a new one I am doing my best to make sure he gets what is best. He again is a Whippet and is very strong and healthy, do you have any suggestions or input on this?

Thank you,
~ Pam

Dr. Jane DoyleHello Pam,

This vaccination dilemma is so frustrating because it is not simple and there are such strongly polarized viewpoints. Let common sense prevail.

You mention that you “have in the past always had my dogs get their shots as demanded.”

I don’t know which shots they have been getting, or who is demanding them, but for dogs, only the rabies shot is required by law. Some boarding, day care and veterinary facilities require far more than that, at their own discretion. They mean well, but they are uninformed.

Each state has its own law about how frequently the rabies vaccination is required. Some veterinary practices routinely do it more often than required. (Just last week I saw a dog from a neighboring state which requires rabies vaccines every three years, but the veterinarian there was giving it every year.) Be informed about your state’s laws so that you can advocate for your canine friend and say “no thank you” to overvaccination. Another time it is important for you to advocate for Bowser is when he is having any kind of health problems. If he is showing any kinds of symptoms, if you must vaccinate, it is by far preferable to wait rather than to have your dog vaccinated while he is sick.

If your dog has already been vaccinated and you want to avoid repeating a vaccination that is required by law or your favorite boarding facility, there is a blood test called a titer that measures the level of circulating antibodies in the blood. Those are the antibodies that were produced by your dog’s immune system in response to the vaccination already given. They continue to protect from that acute infectious disease. Any level of antibody above zero means that there are memory cells that can crank out a lot more antibodies in the event that the dog is exposed to that disease. The dog is protected. This can be a gray area for rabies laws, as a titer may or may not be legally acceptable. The vast majority of people who make and enforce the laws have no knowledge of immunology.

With a few exceptions, most vaccines do a good job of preventing the acute diseases that they are designed to prevent. Still, it makes no sense to vaccinate against any disease that is not endemic where we live. For example, here in Berkeley Springs, WV, I have seen zero cases of canine distemper in the past 23 years. It’s not around here. So even if I was into vaccinating, it makes no sense to vaccinate local dogs against canine distemper.

Vaccinations need not be repeated annually in order to maintain immunity. Knowledge of that fact is not new, and it’s not coming only from the holistic community. In fact, an article saying exactly that was published in Kirk’s Current Veterinary Therapy XI, Small Animal Practice, © 1992 (page 205). In it, Drs. Philips and Schultz state,

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 immunological memory that remains for years….” “The practice of annual vaccination in our opinion should be considered of questionable efficacy unless it is used as a mechanism to provide an annual physical examination or is required by law….”

As you can see, it is well-documented in the entire veterinary community that annual vaccinations are unnecessary. These authors do not, however, address the harm that can come from vaccinations.

While vaccines protect against acute illness, at the same time they often cause chronic illness. These illnesses can have more insidious onsets and the veterinarian may not recognize the connection. However over all these years of looking at medical records that people bring to me from other practices, I consistently see chronic illnesses that begin to appear within three months of vaccination. It’s right there in the records. I am certain that my conventional colleagues care about their patients and would not overvaccinate if they recognized the harm that it can cause.

A vaccination is designed to be a message to the immune system that it has been invaded by a pathogen; to stimulate it to mount a defense. Often the vaccine is multivalent, which means it has components mimicking several different disease pathogens. That has the effect of telling the immune system that it has been invaded by several pathogens, which is in turn quite a strain on the immune system. In addition, there are adjuvants (chemicals designed to further stimulate the immune system) in the vaccines, some of which contain toxic components. Contaminants from production can make it into the final vaccine product. The combination of pseudo-pathogens, toxins and contaminants in vaccines is a lot to ask a biological system to deal with. In response, the dog often produces symptoms in an attempt to be well in the face of that invasion.

Vaccinosis is the chronic illness that vaccination causes. Its manifestation cannot be reliably predicted in the naive patient, ie, the patient who has not yet exhibited his or her response to the vaccine. Dogs who have shown signs and symptoms after a vaccination often repeat the same illness when vaccinated again. Signs and symptoms run the gamut and can possibly include nothing at all, or itchy skin, warts, allergies, digestive problems, cardiovascular disease, cancer, epilepsy, or mental/emotional problems, to name a few. With curative treatments, these can be overcome.

You can opt to avoid vaccinosis by avoiding vaccinations. Each decision whether or not to vaccinate must be made individually, based on the risks and benefits of vaccinating, and of not. If your dog runs in the woods of Michigan and is at high risk of coming in contact with a rabid wild animal, it might be prudent to get him one rabies vaccination. The same holds true if there is any chance that your dog will bite someone and your local authorities are heavy-handed about killing unvaccinated dogs that bite in order to test for rabies. Alternately, if you and Fifi live in an urban apartment building, the risk of being bitten by a rabid fox is quite small, and the rabies vaccine is less compelling. If you do get your dog vaccinated, be on the lookout for vaccinosis. If you see that, go to a holistic veterinarian to have it treated.

All the best,

Dr. Jane Doyle