Pets Vaccinations: Safe or Sorry?
by Peggy Noonan
USA Weekend Aug. 4-6, 2000
Suddenly, taking Rover and Puff to get their shots requires more
thought: Many pet lovers and vets have become worried that routine
vaccinations may be dangerous.
"This is a hot topic in the profession," says Donald J. Klingborg, who's
leading an investigation into vaccination risks for the American
Veterinary Medical Association. The results and recommendations will be
available late this year.
No one says every vaccinated pet will develop problems, but there are
plenty of cautionary tales of autoimmune diseases, aggressive cancers,
chronic illnesses and even deaths. Veterinarians tell pet owners to talk
over their concerns with their vets to make a plan that offers the most
protection and the least risk.
Jenny Nelson, a Kansas State University veterinary graduate student
wishes she could do what some owners do: Vaccinate only when a pet's
immunity is low. To determine immune status, blood is drawn and tested
for various antibodies. But at $20 to $55 a pop, it's outside a student
Instead, with the support of her vet, Nelson began a modified schedule
of shots for her dogs: Holly Bear, a red Australian shepherd; Rowan, a
blue Australian shepherd; and Oliver; a golden retriever. Puppy
vaccinations stretched out to double the time between shots, and she
gives the once-every-three-years rabies vaccinations instead of annual
boosters. Nelson knows this tactic won't work for everyone. Military
families, for example, must stick to annual boosters or risk leaving
their pets behind if they get transferred.
No long-term studies support the practice of annual boosters, says
experts at Colorado State University. Worse, rabies vaccine labeled as
one-year strength might actually be three-year strength, meaning pets
might get much higher doses than they need.
Toy breed dogs are especially prone to vaccine reactions, with responses
so strong they can be fatal. Veterinary schools already recommend a
modified vaccination schedule for the tiny canines.
"Most pet owners don't realize that no vaccination is 100% effective.
And there's no clear information on how long they last in individual
animals," says Amy Shojai, the author of pet health books including New
Choices in Natural Healing for Dogs and Cats (Rodale, $29.95). "While
some will offer virtually lifelong immunity with one shot, others last
less than a year or don't prevent disease --- they only reduce the
severity if the pet does get sick," Shojai now vaccinates her Siamese
cat, Seren, less frequently.
Nevertheless, until the official study of vaccine safety is finished,
lead investigator Klingborg says that "vaccinations do much more good