Anti–vaxxers—those opposed to most or even all vaccines—are gaining momentum. Their claims are based largely on misguided and even made–up notions regarding human vaccines—and now even more distorted information regarding vaccines for animals.
This isn’t a small cult without impact. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are various measles outbreaks in the U.S. with an unparalleled number of sickened individuals. In New York City, as of April 15, 2019, there have been 329 confirmed cases of measles in Brooklyn and Queens since October of last year. The CDC says this only happens because people aren’t vaccinating.
In April, The World Health Organization (WHO) listed “vaccine hesitancy”—defined as the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate, despite the availability of vaccine—among the top 10 public health threats of 2019. WHO indicates that vaccination is one of the most cost-effective ways to avoid disease, preventing two to three million deaths annually, and an additional 1.5 million more deaths could be prevented if vaccines were more widely available globally. With a vaccine on board, typically there’s no need for treatment because disease is prevented, which also saves millions in medical costs across the globe.
This is all a consequence of undocumented effects of vaccines, such as allegedly causing autism or various autoimmune illnesses in people. Human health aside, there’s no peer-reviewed study confirming that vaccines cause or even contribute to these problems in pets. In fact, autism has yet to be described in dogs and cats.
Lack of research to support claims doesn’t seem to bother the so–called anti–vaxxers. And some of those anti–vaxxers have pets and carry their opinions over to making their pet health care decisions.
One common complaint regarding vaccines is, “The vaccination will make my pet sick.” I’ll address this one first as an example as to how misinformation can spread from a spark begun by one group online to a wildfire. And it’s not only anti–vaxxers who make decisions based on misinformation.
For example, during the H3N2 canine influenza outbreaks, some dog owners refused vaccines for fear that their best pal would get the flu from the vaccine intended to prevent the flu because they read that this is what happens. It’s not what happens. The dog flu vaccine is in fact a killed vaccine, not a live virus. Of course, it’s impossible for the vaccine to give dogs CIV.
What I suppose is possible is that some dogs were infected before being vaccinated with the initial shot or the required booster. Actually, this potentially even more strongly suggests the importance of pro–actively preemptively vaccinating.
Here is where there is a cause and effect: Vaccinate enough dogs, and there is no dog flu outbreak in the first place. Even veterinary professionals sometimes say, “Well, I don’t see it here.” And then it happens here—and it’s too late.
People say all the time, “I see no distemper,” or even, “I see no rabies, so why should I vaccinate?” At least for rabies vaccines in dogs, it’s the law almost everywhere. You can describe to clients what life would be like in the U.S. if lots of dogs were infected with rabies—likely the government would cull dogs. Who knows what would happen? That’s an extreme example, a better one may be leptospirosis.
If lepto occurs near you, explain to clients just how sick their dog can get, conceivably even die. And that leptospirosis is zoonotic. And if that client happens to have a toddler, all the more reason to vaccinate.
Clients can be skeptical, wanting proof that you’re not just trying to sell vaccines. Send them to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) online Lifestyle-Based Vaccine Calculator1 that addresses this issue for dogs. You might even go through it with them, checking the boxes that describe the dog’s lifestyle, and the algorithm recommends the most important vaccines.
For concerned clients, and also in conjunction with guidelines, one solution is to have clients return for an additional visit instead of administering all the vaccines at once; it’s typically done over two visits.
Sometimes it’s not the “you’re over–vaccinating my pet” issue but hesitancy solely because the pet “hates” being given a shot. With the human–animal bond being what it is, some pet parents become anxious about thunderstorms solely because they know how their dog is about to respond. The same can be true for veterinary exams and any associated needles. Cat Friendly Practices® and Fear Free Certified® practices with certified veterinary nurses/technicians and veterinarians who can provide enough distraction so the pet isn’t traumatized by the process of getting those stingy vaccines is one way to ease pet parents’ minds. Happy pet=happy owner!
Still, increasingly, some clients want near-zero vaccines as their goal. In two states, anti–vax activists have sought to go the legislative route. The first such effort, a Connecticut House Bill, was filed in the state legislature in 2017 which would have permitted veterinarians not to administer rabies booster shots on schedule if a dog’s titers are at a certain threshold. The bill would have also allowed veterinarians to adjust vaccines by administering smaller doses to smaller dogs, though there is no science to demonstrate the validity of that plan. The bill failed as did a similar proposal in New Hampshire. But more proposed legislation is on the way, which would chip away at the authority of veterinary professionals to make decisions based on science.
The anti-vaxxers suggest they are contemporary thinkers, pushing medicine forward to do what’s “natural.” In fact, the anti–vaxxers would take us all back to the dark ages. +