Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Another Controversial Subject

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.


Minus Pride said...

My two are vaccinated...but only because the boarding barn demands it.I love everything else about the barn and right now, it's not feasible to move them. But then again, I have a four year old horse, who probably needs the vaccines. The 12 year old probably doesn't.
Someday, when I have my own place, I intend to do extensive research to determine what is truly necessary.

Laura Crum said...

Minus Pride--I hear you. I did so much research for my son--and some of it carries over to the animals. But if I had time, I'd do even more. It is very time consuming, and also can be confusing, because much of what you learn conflicts with other things you hear and you have to figure out the "agenda" of the source of the information. Drug companies are not exactly unprejudiced sources of information, if you see what I mean. But neither are hysterical folks who think that all vaccines are evil. It is very hard to find studies about vaccines that show the downside of overvaccinating, or the downside of preservatives in vaccine, or the damage caused by vaccines in sensitive individuals, because such studies are not readily funded. Anyway, I could go on forever on this subject, so will stop here (!)

Minus Pride said...

I can definitely see what you mean!! Both sides have many extreme followers...and it's hard to find good, detailed information in the middle, or here's an article that presents both sides fairly & evenly...I wonder if that has ever happened :)

I think in theory, it's pretty similar to the "barefoot debate" with extremes on both ends.

Laura Crum said...

Yes! I agree. Just like the barefoot debate. And yes, wouldn't it be nice if studies tried to show the truth rather than vindicating a point of view that some entity has (and very often there's a profit to be made). I tend to be in the middle on most things and find the extremists on either side to be quite offputting (and usually more or less blind).

Laura Crum said...

And by the way, I like to have my horses barefoot if possible, but if they need shoes to keep them from being sore footed, I shoe em.

Minus Pride said...

Oh totally agreed everything you said!! I my mind I think well, I understand someone has to pay for the article/research and that yes they would benefit from it showing their chosen results...but then I think wouldn't people be more apt to use/agree to their services if they were honest? But I wonder a lot if people really care about honest business!!
Both of mine are barefoot as well, after researching for an entire year to find a knowledgeable (sp?) trimmer that would come to see them. This woman's motto is barefoot when possible, shoes when necessary...a mantra I really appreciate!!!

horsegenes said...

O.k. Because I am the daughter of a polio victim...please tell me that you had your son vaccinated for Polio. My mom contracted polio when I was 6 months old. We still have no idea how she contracted the disease. Several possibilites but we will never know for sure. She was a quadrapelgic my entire life. In a wheelchair, no use of her legs, or right arm and aided (very limited) use of her left. We don't see polio in the states anymore but they still have out breaks in other parts of the world. With foreign travel being so easy, it could pop up here again. It is a devastating disease.

As far as the animals...I am on board with you. My old friend that is a retired state vet even says that the yearly vaccinations for dogs and cats are just money making scams for vets. That after a couple of years the animals have plenty of immunity and yearly revaccination isn't needed. Try telling that to your local SPCA.

I vaccinate the old girls for west nile and every few years I booster them for the rest. The horses that I have that are young and/or travel alot get the full load. Rabies, strangles, sleeping sickness, tetanus, rhino, etc.

FD said...

Mmmm. There's an awful lot of what I don't hesitate to apostrophise as bollocks talked about vaccines, including the criminal level of nonsense as spread by Dr Wakefield et al.
On the other hand, I do agree that vaccination does carry a certain level of risk and there are good reasons for modified or even zero vaccination policies for certain segments of the population. I am very worried about the growing trend to think that not vaccinating is less risky than vaccinating - that horrifies me, speaking as someone whose uncle nearly died of polio in his youth, and having seen a friend deathly ill with TB and anther friend have a much wanted baby die due to complications from rubella.

On the people side, I don't think we do (in the UK at least) over-vaccinate, especially in the cities where transmission is so easy.
As regards horses - I know we vaccinate less anyway (not claiming any merit here, there's just fewer infectious diseases), and horses that don't compete less still, so again, I'm not too bothered.
I think your policy is probably sensible - I don't think everything needs yearly boosters for everything especially in a closed herd, although I support it for flu in competition horses. Where I'd be more concerned is if your horses lived on an open property, and had regular contact with a transient population. That to me is where the high risk lies.

It's a very complex subject, and unfortunately it's not really one that I can support everyone just making their own mind up on - individual people are so bad at evaluating this kind of risk, and so few people really understand the concept of herd immunity - I've had more than one idiot tell me that vaccines are unnecessary for everyone because he/she never vaccinated their kids and they all turned out fine.
On the other hand, it's also incredibly important that vaccination programmes are transparent and not driven by big pharma, or cost motives on the part of government.

Mrs. Mom said...

My horses get tetanus as needed, rabies yearly. My dogs- the puppy will finish up her parvo series soon, and rabies. All critters get rabies vaccs. Kids.. .... like you, we have chosen to heavily moderate their vaccs as well.

All things in moderation is our theory.

Mikey said...

I'm with you on this. I do think we go overboard on a lot of things. I think it's everyone's personal decision and if you're educated and informed, a person can do whatever they think is right for them.
I know a LOT of people here feed psyllium (sp?) and I did too. But I had a lot of colic for a few years. I finally quit feeding it after I realized I'd have colic episodes every time I fed it. Now I rarely (fingers crossed) have a colic episode and when I do, it's more often than not resolved with Banamine.

Laura Crum said...

kel--Yes, I did have my son vaccinated for polio. From what I have read, the only cases of polio in this continent in the last ten years (and more) were actually a result of the modified live (oral) vaccine. Either sensitive individuals getting the disease from the vaccine or "shedding" to unnvaccinated individuals.

When I hauled my horses to events they got all the immunizations, too. It just makes sense. Now that I don't haul them they get vaccinations if I see a need.

FD--As risky as "everybody just making their own mind up" may seem to you, I totally prefer that to government telling us what we MUST do--considering that the official motivation is just to create "herd immunity"--with zero regard to the devastating effects overvaccination can have on sensitive individuals. This may not be true in the UK, but in America, children who have been damaged by vaccination cannot sue the drug companies and the government decides which cases have "merit"--as you can imagine, its a very small percentage of the cases. I am not anti-vaccination--I am absolutely in favor of everyone making their own decision. I have, as I said, followed a modified vaccination schedule with my child. I do the same with my animals. I cannot see that someone else should be allowed to make these choices for me (and believe me, they will do it over my dead body--figuratively, anyway.)

Mrs Mom and Mikey--Sounds like we think a lot alike. Rabies is important in my book--its around where we live. And Mikey, I, too, fed psillium for awhile, and was uncomfortable with it. I'm not sure it caused any colics--I just didn't feel good about it. The older I get, the more I listen to that little voice of instinct/intuition.

horsegenes said...

I am so glad to hear that you have him protected. It is a virus that I wouldn't wish on anyone.
That was one of the possibilites with my mothers case. I had the vaccine, which I believe at the time was a modified live virus and she had previously had the sugar cube. I could have had a slight reaction or shed the virus and she could have not been fully protected. The other possiblity was they had back flushed the local water system. The water was unusable for 7 - 10 days - my mom said it literally ran reddish brown and thick. Who knows what bacteria or viruses were in there. There were several cases in our local area at the time and it wasn't ever determined where they came from. It makes me shutter to hear someone say that there child doesn't need to be vaccinated because Polio doesn't exist anymore.

Kelly said...

Great post, Laura. A couple of points really got me thinking.

You referred to diseases being "seen at this time" or "actually around" – but this mindset (or perhaps just phrasing) worries me because it is vaccination that prevents outbreaks occurring (i.e. being seen at this time). The diseases still exist, but because of vaccination they aren't occurring. If someone were to wait until a disease is active/causing trouble locally to vaccinate, it would be too late to protect their horses. I know this isn't your policy, but it might be someone else's.

Also, do you know what your vet meant when he partly attributed the rise in previously-uncommon dog diseases to over-vaccination? Was he saying that he thought that over-vaccination had caused weakened immune systems more susceptible to being overwhelmed by these diseases (or something like that)?

The last thing that caught my eye was when you said in one of your comments that the reason the government tells everyone to vaccinate is just to create herd immunity (emphasis mine). Herd immunity is important and is of great value – it's one of those things where the sum is greater than the parts. Vaccination of an individual protects that person against a disease, but vaccination of many individuals in a population protects not only those individuals, but also those who haven't been immunised by stopping or limiting the spread of the disease. Maybe it was just a throw-away word, but I don't think there's anything 'just' about herd immunity :)

You said you've done a ton of research, and I think we are on the same side, but I just wanted to add my two cents!

Laura Crum said...

Kelly--There is no doubt that herd immunity is important. Vaccines have stopped the spread of some horrid diseases and gone a long ways toward stamping them out. These are hugely good things. The flip side of this coin is that there is plenty of evidence that some individuals do react unfavorably to vaccines, and that sometimes it is the 'one too many" that tips the balance toward an unfavorable reaction, often with serious side effects. This is not adequately studied, nor is there adequate concern for the individuals adversely affected because of the HUGE emphasis on the importance of herd immunity. My point? Herd immunity is important. The good of sensitive individuals is also important. The obvious solution is to test for titer levels after the minimal number of vaccinations and see if the individual has resistance to the disease, rather than simply overvaccinating everyone. But this is not encouraged--and, in fact, when I asked to do it, my then doctor refused, saying "We can't have everyone doing that." Well, I was willing to pay for it and it makes perfect sense, so guess what? I think his response another example of the complete indifference of the medical profession/government to the good of the individual versus the good of the "herd".

And it is not too late to protect your horses when you find that a disease is actually in your area and then vaccinate. We (and all our friends) did this with West Nile. There is nothing irresponsible about this. No horse I knew got this disease. There was no point in vaccinating for a disease that was not a threat to us.

As for what my small animal vet meant--he was referring to diabetes and various cancers that he did not use to see and now sees often. He feels the reasons may be many, but overvaccinating and stressing the immune system is probably part of it. I have a hunch this may be true for us humans, too, and may account for the huge rise in various forms of cancer and type 2 diabetes among us. But that's just my hunch--its nothing scientific.

Susan said...

I'm not hysterical about it, but I have nothing to do with vaccines. There is just too much evidence that they do more harm than good, that there are cover-ups, the mercury and aluminum that are added, etc.

Healthy beings have immune systems that protect from disease and that's the worst part. The powers that be have us brain washed into thinking that if we're exposed to a disease we're going to get it, but the truth is that we are constantly exposed to germs.

I believe in my immune system a lot more than I believe in doctors.

Laura Crum said...

Susan--Well, at least you're not hysterical(!) A great many people are so rabidly for or against on this subject that they can't even sound coherent when discussing it. I am in the middle, as I said, however, I do agree with you that there has been a lot of "covering up" to do with the harmful preservatives and bad vaccine reactions. That said, as several commented here (and have to me in real life), the polio vaccine was a lifesaver, and if you know anyone who had polio (and I do), or understand just how rampant it was at one time, it is hard to discredit the real need/use for vaccines.

joycemocha said...

I'm in a training barn. I vaccinate.

Situation would be different if we didn't have people coming in and out so much from possibly other barns as well, but between lessons and all, yep, I vaccinate.

Funder said...

I don't vaccinate for strangles. (I'm kinda surprised that you do!) I'm considering dropping WNV - I need to do a lot more research before next spring and make a decision I can live with.

HorsesAndTurbos said...

Hmm...I only vaccinate for EWT, and only if there is there are reported cases of it as I trail ride in a misquito infested area this time of year. I also believe their immune systems are quite capable of healing. I think it's the few that can't that get attention; I'll bet those that do get sick are in very stressful situations like showing, too. My friend and I just had a discussion about this...wild horses don't get vaccinated and you don't see them dying from outbreaks of anything. And all those unvaccinated backyard horses don't seem to get many diseases, either. I know of a holistic vet who has horses and she does not vaccinate. My friend's dog is titered for rabies each year; she's had her for 8 years (got as an adult) and the dog has had a high titer all this time. I really think it's a $$$ making issue for a lot of vets, but at least now when I mention it, I don't get the headshaking attitude.


Laura Crum said...

Funder--I did the nasal strangles vaccine several years ago when there were A LOT of cases of strangles in our county and among our friends horses. I felt the risk of the disease was higher than any risk from the vaccine. And, in fact, our horses were fine and one unvaccinated horse belonging to a friend got a terrible case of bastard strangles that was almost the end of him. But I don't regularly use any vaccines right now, as I said in the post.

joycemocha--I totally understand why you would vaccinate.

Jackie--I, too, think the stress of showing and the constant exposure to many other horses creates a real opportunity for disease. When you keep your horses at home and mostly trail ride with friends you know, its a very different picture.