by Laura Crum
I’ve recently read some interesting posts on this very controversial subject (thanks Mel at Boots and Saddles blog—listed on the sidebar.) I’m not why this subject is such a hot button topic, but it is. Just trying hanging out with a mom group—as I have spent the last twelve years doing-- and start talking about your views on vaccination. Half the group will automatically hate you. Because people seem to fall into two camps regarding this topic. Either vaccinations are evil and of the devil and all their kids are unvaccinated (and yours should be, too), or not vaccinating is evil and of the devil and all their kids are 100% up-to-date on ALL vaccinations (and yours should be, too).
Animal people are not quite as rabid (oops, didn’t mean this as a pun) as moms, but there is still a tinge of this emotion in conversations about vaccination. “My horses are vaccinated for EVERYTHING!” (Implication being that yours should be, too.) Since my views are somewhere in the middle on this subject, I can be hated by both sides.
Anyway, brave person that I am, I thought I’d post about my latest conversation with my vet on the subject of vaccinations. I will preface this discussion by saying that I no longer vaccinate my horses on a yearly schedule, let alone twice yearly or whatever is recommended now—so that those of you who are so inclined can begin working on your scathing comments about what a bad horse mom I am. I had my vet out last week to have a look at a large swelling on Henry that I thought was a reaction to a tick bite (my vet concurred). And once I had the poor vet here, I picked his brain about vaccinations.
To be honest, I told him what I was doing and why and asked him some specific questions. So here’s what I said:
“All the horses I have here right now are fifteen or older. They’ve all been vaccinated many times in their lives. I happen to believe that there is a downside to vaccination, in both people and animals. I have seen plenty of vaccine reactions in my life and have heard of many more. I am choosing to vaccinate these older horses only when I think there is a real need.”
And then I went on to talk about the actual risk that these particular horses have. They’re not being hauled to competitions, they probably have pretty good titers, due to being vaccinated many times in their lives, however they ARE exposed to wildlife and mosquitos. I asked my vet if he had ever seen any West Nile in his practice or any rabies.
The answer to both questions was no. In all his years of practicing in this community, he had seen neither—he had not heard of any other vet having a case. He was aware that both diseases were theoretically present here.
I then asked him if he was OK with my not vaccinating my horses—in line with my belief that vaccine reactions probably pose a greater risk to the health of this particular older horse herd than the diseases I would be vaccinating against.
He laughed. I waited, having no idea what he would say.
“I’ve got this one client with an older horse,” he began.
Uh-oh, I thought. He’s gonna tell me how she didn’t vaccinate and the horse died of something. I said as much.
He laughed again. “No. The other way around. Last year she had me hit this old horse with the whole barrage of vaccines. The horse colicked an hour later and almost died. We had to send him to surgery. He recovered, but it was hard. And this year? This year when the time rolled around, she called me to come out and give him his vaccinations again.”
“You’re kidding me?” I said.
“Nope. I tried to convince her of more or less what you’ve been telling me; I suggested we at least skip a few of them, but she wanted him to have them all. An hour later he was down. Colicked again.”
“Oh no,” I said.
“Yep. He got through it OK—he’s fine now. But I wish I could convince her that the downside of those shots is greater than the upside—in his case.”
“So you don’t have a problem with what I’m doing?”
“Not at all.”
“What about the rabies and West Nile?”
“It’s your call, but I have not seen a case in this county.”
I thought about it. I have seen so many horses get sick from vaccines. I’ve known horses to founder and/or get sore-footed. When I hear of someone whose horse gets sore footed every time it is vaccinated and still they persist in vaccinating for a disease that their vet has NEVER SEEN, well, it reminds me of a person who is so scared of being struck by lightning that they won’t leave their house. Never mind that living solely indoors is causing them many real health risks. Never mind that these risks are far more likely to do them harm than the remote chance lightning would strike them. They still persist in staying in the house.
So, with my vet’s blessing, I will vaccinate my older horses only when I see a clear risk. A disease that is actually causing trouble in our area. Mind you, I would vaccinate young horses if I had them. Much of what I am doing comes from the fact that I know my horses have been vaccinated many, many times. Odds are their titer levels are acceptable. But even if this is not so, it’s my call that the risk of negative vaccine reactions in the older horse may be more significant than the benefits of the vaccine’s protection.
On the other hand, if any of my horses got a significant wound, I would booster for tetanus. If there were known cases in my area of any disease for which there is a reliable vaccine --I would booster for that disease. My vet has agreed that he will let me know if there is any vaccine he feels my horses should have. So I’m not neglecting this issue. Nor am I cheaping out. I am happy to pay to give my horses the best possible care. I am making a considered decision—with my vet’s agreement.
So there you go—all of you who are firmly in the vaccinate-for-everything camp can feel free to give me your thoughts. I love a good discussion.