Thursday, December 10, 2009

Vaccine Crazy

(Contributed by Dr. Jessica Levy)

As I go along in practice, I am becoming more and more anti-vaccine. It amazes me how often I see animals that have been diagnosed with some dread condition - cancer, lupus, Cushing's disease, diabetes, chronic renal failure - who are then vaccinated, because they are "due." As if all is well. As if the immunity provoked by vaccines magically wears off by the assigned "expiration date." As if, when sick with a chronic or immune mediated condition (allergies, urinary tract infections, hypothyroidism, epilepsy), the immune system is not already busy/messed up/dysfunctional, and therefore may not respond at all or may respond unpredictably to the vaccines.

Then there are the "shot clinics" where unsuspecting pet owners can get their pets vaccinated for cheap. Why? Because there's no physical exam, people! That's right; your pet is getting vaccines without anybody looking at it first to make sure it is healthy enough to tolerate vaccination! What a bargain!

This is the whole point of the twice-yearly exams that we do at our hospital - to evaluate the health of your pet, to determine if any adjustments in care are necessary, and to truly act preventatively, rather than giving a bunch of vaccines and then lying to pet owners and telling them "these will keep your pet healthy!" No, they won't. Because that's not what vaccines are for. Vaccines are meant to provoke the immune system into developing immunity - sometimes very limited immunity - to very specific disease organisms. Some vaccines are better at this task than others, and that's a whole different topic.

Why do most veterinarians persist in this regrettable practice? Because of a lack of perceived harm. In other words, vaccines might prevent disease and don't cause any damage, so why not? Plus it gets the pet in the door every year for that all important physical exam. My approach is that my clients are not stupid. They easily understand the value of the physical exam and the potential harm of vaccination, and are quite capable of making the right choice.

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