by Laura Crum
Today I want to discuss something that’s been on my mind for a long time, but the recent “equine herpes” scare has brought it to the forefront. My topic is vaccines, and veterinary wisdom in general.
First off, if there was an effective vaccine against the current equine herpes, I would be lining up with the rest of the world to get it. I am happy to protect my horses from any real and present threat via vaccines. But the fact is that I don’t vaccinate my older horses (who have all been vaccinated for many years) on a yearly/bi-yearly schedule, as veterinarians usually recommend. And the reason is not because I am an irresponsible owner, or because I am cheaping out. The reason is that I don’t think such “over-vaccinating” is in their best interests.
I came to this conclusion because I had to do a huge amount of soul searching and research over whether to give my baby/child the officially recommended vaccines. In case, you don’t know, when my child was a baby, if I had followed the schedule, he would have had roughly sixteen immunizations by the time he was 18 months old. Some of these were for things like diptheria and polio, which are not seen in this country at this time. Others were for tetanus (which is always present), whooping cough (still active) mumps and measles (still around but rare), chicken pox (very much present but usually not dangerous).
I will spare you the enormous amount of agonizing and research I did, and merely say that I came to the (well-informed) conclusion that I would follow a modified shot schedule that I believed would likely give my son immunity to the diseases that were actually around and would not overstress his system. Because contrary to what they tell you, I believe there is a downside (in some individuals) from too many vaccinations. I said this to my small animal vet many years ago and he pooh-poohed me. And yet this same man very recently said to me that he is seeing all these diseases in dogs that used to be relatively uncommon and one of the things he attributes it to is “over-vaccination”. If the subject hadn’t been so close to my heart, I would have laughed out loud.
Both my small animal vet and the best horse vet I know have stopped recommending that I vaccinate my older animals, who have been vaccinated a good deal in their lives, on a yearly schedule. They know, and I know, that these animals probably already have immunity, and more shots will merely stress their system. All the horses on my place right now are in their teens or older and I no longer give them annual shots, though we did vaccinate for both strangles and West Nile, when these two diseases were actively present in our area. If they get a deep cut or puncture wound, I give a tetanus booster.
On the other hand, I am giving my puppy a modified shot schedule for parvo/distemper, and she will definitely get the rabies shot. I am not someone who believes vaccines are evil. As with many things I choose to take the middle road. One of the things I learned in my research on infant shots is that 98% of the population is adequately immunized after two shots (with the correct spacing/timing). The following booster shots (for infants—the shot being the D-TAP) were to immunize the 2% of the population that is resistant to immunization. So all these little babies are being over-vaccinated to insure that that 2% is immunized. This is justified on the basis that the unneeded vaccinations do no harm. I don’t agree with that point of view.
I won’t go into the details of why this approach is pushed by our government and our doctors, but I did, in fact, discover why. And also how nefarious the whole business is.
I’m not sure if the same politics applies to veterinary medicine, but I do know that many things that once were “pushed” by vets are now said to be dangerous, and some vaccines/wormers that burst upon the market as the new “white hope” were later proved to be very problematic and were responsible for not a few equine deaths (remember the injectible wormer?).
So my topic for today is vaccination. Do you, like me, vaccinate your older animals as you feel its needed, or do you continue to vaccinate them on a yearly schedule? I’d be interested to hear your point of view.