The Vaccination Debate
By Howard Silberman, VMD
Tri-County Animal Hospital
2075 Hamburg Turnpike, Wayne NJ
The first goal of medicine is disease prevention. For our four-legged family members, the most crucial part of prevention is routine visits to your veterinarian for comprehensive physical examinations. Another component is having your pet receive the proper inoculations. However, in recent years vaccines have become a hot topic of debate in both human and veterinary medicine.
The invention of the vaccine is one of the greatest advances in all of medicine. Vaccines have radically reduced the number of deaths and illnesses due to infectious disease. They are also now being used as treatment for certain types of cancers. For many years it was thought that vaccines were harmless and could only benefit our patients. Currently, there is significant speculation that vaccines may be a cause or factor in the development of other diseases. There is no concrete evidence to back this speculation, but it is making veterinarians approach vaccines differently.
All dogs and cats are at risk of exposure to various infectious diseases, some of which may be life-threatening. It is always easier, safer, and more affordable to prevent disease rather than treat it after it occurs. It is important to understand the basis for how vaccines work. When we administer vaccines, we are not just giving a "shot". The administration of a vaccine is creating a very complex immune reaction within the body. Vaccines may be given by injection, intra-nasal, or orally. They contain either killed or modified live (weakened) forms of virus or bacteria, which stimulate the production of protective antibodies. These antibodies will "remember" the virus or bacteria so that they can neutralize it, if they are exposed at a later time.
The immune stimulation created by a vaccine is the cause of some of the side effects that may be seen following inoculation. While quite rare, these adverse effects may include localized soreness in the area of injection, vomiting, diarrhea, and anaphylaxis (facial and throat swelling). There is also speculation that this reaction, from certain vaccines, could be a factor in the development of specific cancers and auto-immune diseases. With this in mind, it is still widely accepted that the benefits of vaccines far outweigh the risks. In general, viruses cannot be specifically treated, but must be managed supportively, to allow the body to cure itself.
Hopefully, as the research progresses we will have a clearer understanding of vaccines. It is imperative that you have a detailed discussion with your veterinarian on the appropriate vaccines for your dog or cat. Together, you can decide which vaccines are necessary and how frequently they should be given. There are a number of questions that should be answered before creating a vaccine protocol for your specific pet. How old is your pet? What is their previous vaccine history? Do they have any other medical conditions? Do they have contact with other dogs or cats? What is their lifestyle? Do they go hiking, camping or hunting? Will they be boarding in a kennel?
Prevention is the key to a long and healthy life. Vaccines can protect our pets from a number of infectious diseases, but they must be used appropriately. A vaccine protocol should be created for your specific pet based on exposure risks, medical history, and lifestyle. Together, with your veterinarian, you can provide the best opportunity for years of happiness with your tail-wagging companion.
If you have any specific vaccine questions or would like further information please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We'd like to thank Dr. S and the entire staff at Tri-County Animal Hospital. We have partnered with them to be the vet for our Pathway dogs and cats. They truly care about all our animals and have made a difference in their lives as they get ready for their forever homes.