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T O P I C    R E V I E W
Dr. Jerry Vanek Posted - 10/23/2004 : 6:24:02 PM
Okay, time to take off the gloves. I have this fantasy I'll have the time to chip away at all the vaccination questions and comments regarding some of the new theories on vaccination.

My goal is to write a little bit every day or so, so as not to overwhelm people with lots of confusing things, which vaccination theory contains.

I'll begin by dispelling some commonly held mis-conceptions, then go on to basic immunology theory, vaccinology, then an evaluation of each vaccine, followed by an evaluation of the various race rules around the country.

In September, at the ISDVMA meeting in Anchorage, I invited Dr. Dennis Macy up from Colorado State University and charged him with the outline I listed above. He graciously conformed to it and enlightened us all with his profound expertise.

A good deal of what I have to say is based on his comments, but not all. I have stacks of references from other researchers, as well as my own deeply-held rabid prejudices based on 16 years of mistakes as a veterinary epidemiologist and herd-health and infectious disease kind of guy. My opinions, therefore, are an amalgam of the great thoughts of others crammed into my tiny little brain and scrambled into words I could understand.

So, my comments will be mine and you can blame me for being stupid.

Stay tuned.

15   L A T E S T    R E P L I E S    (Newest First)
jake Posted - 06/09/2012 : 06:46:00 AM
Thanks to all who have contributed to this thread, Swanny, Dr Vanek and others, I have read it through a couple of times and pick up on something new each time.

I have a question re: Corona Virus, I remember this being a problem some years ago but havent heard much about it since. As I understand there are two types, one can be immunized against and one cant. Is that valid?

I am taking some pups to Alaska soon, in July, they will have had the puppy shots and boosters plus rabies.

Plus heartworming and others.

Is there any value to immunizing against Corona? Is it still a danger?
swanny Posted - 12/10/2011 : 5:56:15 PM
Nicki, the 2011 AAHA Vaccination Guidelines were recently released, and provide a pretty good description of the differences between infectious and non-infectious vaccines. All of the core vaccines except rabies are infectious vaccines, and provide long term, perhaps even lifetime immunity. Meanwhile, rabies and the majority of the non-core vaccines are noninfectious, and have a more limited duration of immunity.

It's worth downloading the document from

I posted a sort of "reader's digest" version on my own blog at, but I'm a paramedic, not a veterinarian - so my explanations may be a bit simplistic (or even totally out to lunch).

nikelodeon79 Posted - 10/28/2009 : 8:34:01 PM
Sorry to dredge up an old thread.. but as it is a sticky I think it warrants updating. The info in this thread is interesting... but a bit confusing. On the one hand, Dr. Vanek seems to be stating that vaccinations can offer lifetime immunity... but on the other he seems to be saying dogs should be vaccinated on an annual basis.

Veterinarians certainly don't make a whole lot off of vaccinations as a whole... but drug companies do. Drug companies (and dog food companies... but that's another topic altogether) sponsor a lot of classes offered in vet school. Do you think these vaccine company funded classes are going to offer up the possibility that vaccinating your dog as a puppy will offer LIFETIME IMMUNITY?

A lot has transpired in the veterinary world since Dr. Vanek posted this thread so I wonder what his take is on the ongoing research surrounding lifetime immunity from puppy vaccinations. Personally, I follow Dr. Jean Dodds' vaccine protocol:

I believe that vaccines can and do offer lifetime immunity, similar to human vaccines. We are vaccinated as babies and then only get a few boosters as children and we're set. Humans live a LOT longer than dogs!

My dogs will be undergoing annual blood tests (titer testing) to test the level of immunity to each specific disease. It will likely cost me more money than annual vaccinations... but cost is not the issue.

I do not vaccinate against Lyme Disease, as it does not protect against every strain and the vaccination can be more dangerous than treating the disease. I have known more than one person who vaccinated their dogs faithfully against Lyme, and also used Frontline type products regularly, yet their dogs still ended up with Lyme.

I do not vaccinate against bordetella as, again, there are many strains out there that are not covered by the vaccine.
Daisy Acres Posted - 12/16/2008 : 10:44:44 PM
Thanks to whoever made this topic "Sticky"....but, um, last post was in 2005 and I'm pretty sure the race season came and went a couple of times since then, so I'm wondering if I can request a Vaccinations 102 or 201, or maybe just request a special half-time special presentation or something?!

Dr. Vanek...I know that probably a lot of the vaccination research has changed and maybe even more of the legal and political "rules" and loop-holes too...but I'm wondering if the immune system has changed too, or if maybe just your understanding of it?!

(You set us up with all that intrigue...and then...nothing?!)

Although please let me also say THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for posting as much as you did!
Daisy Acres
Two Rivers, Alaska
david poitras Posted - 03/06/2005 : 9:31:49 PM
After returning from Fort Nelson, BC my all puppies and some of the adult dogs in our kennel were spraying diahrea. The only ones that escaped with no loose stools at all were several dogs that I had given 7 way vaccinations to last February/04. Where do we go from here? Leave it be or vaccinate yearly. More questions than answers!!!

david poitras
Wayne Hall Posted - 01/29/2005 : 10:32:36 AM
Dr Vanek:
We have read that vacinatinating every year can cause an immunity to the vacinnations. For the past 5 years we vacinnate with "5-Way" every OTHER year. We have had no problems with this. Do the major races(specifically the Quest) require yearly vacinnation? And is every other year ACCEPTABLE TO YOU?

Wayne Hall
Dr. Jerry Vanek Posted - 01/24/2005 : 1:32:42 PM
Unfortunately, crunch time has arrived too quickly and I will be unable to finish "vaccinology" until about mid-March. For the next six weeks I will be locked in a continual siezure of resort business, emergency medicine, university teaching, and sled dog races, with no time to write.

In the meantime, have a great racing season, run fast and win lots, don't do anything stupid, or believe what you read on the internet!! I'll see some of you along the trail in Wisconsin, the Yukon, or Maine.

The rest of you can pray for my students ("A" is for God, "B" is for me, and you're damned lucky if I give you a "C!").

I'll be back on line with immunology in March, along with some updates on parasitology, such as giardia, which has been getting some slightly erroneous press of late.

Most of the overheating and hypoglycemia responses on SDC have been good, by the way. The rectal temperature not to exceed when cooling a hot dog is around 103 degrees F. If you cool the patient lower than that too aggressively, the dog may over-shoot the normal 101 and become hypothermic. Monitor, monitor, monitor. Furthermore, no serious musher should ever leave the driveway without a thermometer in the glove box or first aid kit. You can buy one for a couple bucks at any pharmacy or Target or Wally-World. It's not rocket science.

I'm surprised there is still a problem with hypoglycemia after all the research Arleigh Reynolds has done with Glycocharge and the other knock-offs being sold out there, not to mention all the Karo-syrup greyhound and hunting dog remedies out there, many of which Rob Gillette in Auburn is familiar with and has lectured to mushers about. Keep digging.

Happy Tails,


Dr. Jerry Vanek Posted - 01/08/2005 : 11:23:38 AM
You're not alone. This problem is as much a part of the mushing game as worms and icy trails and broken runners. We need to keep fighting all of them.
Good luck at the races!

Jake Robinson Posted - 01/07/2005 : 5:16:00 PM
amen to that! Out of all the dogs I have bought ONE person has given me the records, otherwise I have had to re-vaccinate every other dog. By the way Jerry, thanks for coming out today (to vaccinate more dogs that I didn't have papers on).

Do it by dog,
Dr. Jerry Vanek Posted - 01/07/2005 : 11:58:00 AM
I just looked at the date of my last vaccinations 101 entry - one month ago. How did that happen? Time flies and it's not a nice thing, except for root canals.

Today I was going to start to address b-lymphocytes, plasma cells, and (ta-da, drumroll) antibodies.

But instead, I need to digress to remind people that the vaccinations one gives a dog physically become part of the dog. And the cost of the vaccinations, then, becomes part of the value of the dog.

And, when there are requirements that one prove to the proper authorities that a vaccination has become part of the dog, then those papers travel with the dog.

In other words, when you purchase a sled dog from another musher, that dog's medical papers must accompany the dog. They are part of the purchase price because the vaccinations they represent are part of the dog.

If you bought a vaccinated dog, then you paid for a vaccinated dog. And that includes the proper documentation proving it (granted any document can be fabricated or forged).

When you buy a car, you get the title. When you buy a used car, nowadays, you can also demand an accident record. The dealer can pull them off the internet with a serial number. When you buy a house, you get the abstract and a disclosure statement about cracks in the foundation and flood damage, etc. These can be witheld under contract with only partial payment until the final payment is made. However, SOMEONE must have the papers proving the whole thing. The home owner can't simply say the documents are "somewhere in the attic."

With dogs, rabies vaccinations are required by most states and municipalities, as well as all countries for border crossings, and most of the major mid- and marathon races (most sprint races still play fast and loose). The distance races usually require other vaccinations, as well, such as distemper, parvo virus, etc. And they usually need to see the proof.

Therefore, when you buy a dog for the purpose of shipping, racing, or traveling, and the seller has warranted that the dog has "had it's shots," you need to demand a record of those vaccinations. They go with the dog -- unless, as part of your contractual agreement, the owner holds the documents until you have coughed up all the cash, (or have the dog spayed or neutered or bred -- as the AKC show folks do with breeding contracts or the shelters do with adoptions).

If the seller has no record of the shots, then the dogs are legally unvaccinated and you will be stuck paying a veterinarian to re-vaccinate the dog so you can license it, ship it, or race it.

Never give a seller paper money without getting paper records in return. Don't wait for the seller to "find them and mail them later." Dogs not only eat children's homework, they also eat vaccination records. And "later" can be a real, real long time.

Get what you pay for, and that includes proof that the dog is, indeed, "current" in all its vaccinations. Otherwise, you'll be paying for the shots twice - once to the seller, who supposedly gave the shots and incorporated the costs in the sale price, and again to your own clinician or veterinary supply house.

In the case of rabies you could be paying a third time, as well. This is because an "unvaccinated" dog needs a rabies booster after one year, while a vaccinated one only needs a booster in two or three years, depending your laws. Thus, there's the cost of the undocumented rabies vaccination inherent in the purchase price, the cost of the initial shot after purchase and the cost of the booster one year later.

Get the papers at the time of sale!

End of lecture. (And I didn't wag my finger once. Honest.)

Dr. Jerry Vanek Posted - 12/06/2004 : 09:19:48 AM
Internal immunology. Why?

Okay, you say, if intact body surfaces and copious secretions and anal-retentive animal husbandry prevent disease, then why do we even have an internal immune system at all, or waste our money on vaccinations? Or, is behavioral and physical immunity just hogwash?

No. The bugs we consider "bad" have been living with, and in, us and our wolves in population-level harmony for a million years and more. In fact, at the cellular level, more on the order of a couple billion years. Some of the internal organs of our cells are actually germs that invaded and stayed on to become working slaves. And our genes have been incorporating parts of virus genes, little by little, since the beginning of time!

Those which didn't kill our ancestors, made them, and us, stronger. The mechanism of "invade, then kill or strengthen" continues today.

Unfortunately, we don't think in terms of millennia. (We're lucky if we can remember what we ate for breakfast yesterday, and if we don't win this year's Iditarod, why, it's the end of the world.)

So, at the global level, germs and animals are all part of the same evolving system, living in relative balance. The un-harmonious part is only at the personal level, where we get really irritated when it's us that dies from infection for the greater good.

Just as at the cultural level, where border guards let some people into a country and not others (and occassionally make mistakes, letting in terrorists along with important trade goods), so too at the individual animal's level, "bad" bugs have ways of sneaking through our coverings and snot and scooping routine to invade our personal space.

Thus, when the few who can get inside do, we need internal surveillance.

However, that does NOT mean we can abandon healthy skin, secretions, and husbandry in favor of "modern' medicine. Otherwise, I have completely wasted the previous few postings and our time.

The internal immune system can be divided into two main systems. One is "innate", the other is "adaptive."

First, the innate, which literally means in natum, or what we're born with. In otherwords, like skin, the innate system is always there and always "turned on." (The adaptive is only turned on for a specific germ attack.) In addition, the innate system is "non-specific." Like a fence or a booby trap, it attacks anything that is "non-self" or foreign. (The adaptive system, in contrast, attacks a specific enemy.)

The innate system is made up of four major components. The first is the "macrophage," which is simply a large (macro) cell that eats stuff (phage). If it ain't me, my macrophages will try to eat it. Teen-aged macrophages circulate in the bloodstream until they enter the tissues, where they grow up and become full-fledged chow hounds.

The second member of the innate system is the "Natural Killer" cell. It is a type of "T-Cell," which we'll talk about more later (other types of T-cells are on the news all the time with regard to AIDS.) NK Cells are interesting in that they don't kill inffected cells outright. They identify an infected cell and then badger it into commiting suicide! Maybe we should call them "Mother-in-law" cells. But, I digress.

The third factor in innate immunity is a molecule called "complement," which circulates in the blood and attaches to an invading bacterial cell, causing the bacterium's outer skin to open up. The guts of the bacterium then leak out.

The fourth part of the innate system is called "interferon." It is a chemical which interferes. When a body cell is infected with a bug, the cell secretes its own interferon as a warning to the surrounding cells to be on guard and not to let any more bugs in.

While these four different mechanisms are always turned on, or waiting for something bad to happen, and while they are capable of working alone, they often don't. They not only work in concert with each other, they also can be enhanced and "opsinized" and futher turned on by the adaptive part of the immune system, which I'll tackle next.

Slowly, the subject of immunology will start to get more and more complicated (which is why rigorous husbandry and letting the vet do the vaccinations will start to look more and more appealing!)

Dr. Jerry Vanek Posted - 12/05/2004 : 11:59:48 AM
Second in importance to physical barriers against disease is "behavioral" immunity. All animals are born genetically "hard-wired" with two important and competing behaviors. One is a natural fear and distrust of the unknown. The other is an insatiable curiosity and ability to learn and adapt. They continually battle and compromise.

Fear of the unknown keeps us alive. Our distant ancestors huddled in caves at night whenever they heard something go "bump" in the dark. Those who boldly ventured out to investigate where immediately killed and eaten by lions and tigers and bears; or they were murdered by marauding warriors from distant tribes.

However, those who never left the cave starved to death and didn't reproduce because the noise-maker in the night was actually a wandering Bambi, who could be killed and eaten; or an ovulating bimbo who could be mated for future generations.

Our successful ancestors were the ones who waited until morning, then crept out to sniff and lick the tracks of the intruder, relating the exact sounds of the night before to the unknown beast and differentiating friend from foe, prey from predator, "self from non-self."

Over the millennia these competing fight or flight behaviors have been refined. Moreso in humans, as we can pass down cultural, political, religous, scientific, and legal taboos.

Most, if not all of, our prejudices have a biological basis. Religious condemnation of snakes comes from their venom. Fear of rats and other vermin from their association with diseases, such as the plague (even if pre-microbe peoples didn't know the cause), fear of spiders and other insects, fear of mushrooms, fear of people of different skin color bringing new sicknesses, fear of new things. Even if the cause wasn't known, our ancestors knew the Gods were unhappy with our sinning ways and would visit pestilence and plagues upon us in the form of other creatures seen and unseen.

These fear-of-disease-based behaviors have been passed down to us as "culture." We would never dream of eating someone else's snot or vomit or feces, because it is just too gross and disgusting to think about. Too "un-civilized." But, that is learned behavior as it is not found across all cultures. Only recently did the last Asian/Pacific Islanders stop eating human brains. Middle-Eastern cultures, until recently, would relieve themselves in their bathing and drinking water. Sophisiticated urban yuppies eat raw fish and meat. The list goes on.

Sneezing into the face of another is considered rude and bad manners -- cultural taboos based, like everything else, on disease transmission; although we seldom think of it that way. Promiscuous sex is considered "immoral," when in fact, it can KILL you or the offspring produced, or at the very least, destabilize a society dependant upon each other for survival.

However, the reason we comingle and trade and cohabitat with people of other cultures and skin colors and keep pet snakes and eat mushrooms, etc., etc. is because we are also highly inquisitive and capable of differentiating and learning.

We can determine what is bad for us and what is not. We learn to recognize self and non-self, friend and foe, good bugs, like yeast in our booze and sourdough bread, versus bad bugs, like yeast between our toes.

And, we learn that the dose is the poison and can develop deadly drugs into life-saving ones, dependent on dose, mode of delivery, duration, etc. Opium versus opioid pain killers. We can pop an aspirin without having to chew on the bark of a willow tree.

We neither cower in caves nor rush headlong over cliffs. We expose ourselves enough to thrive yet protect ourselves enough to survive. That is the basis of immunology. You already know all this. I'm not telling you anything new. You probably just never thought it was such an important part of your immune system!

Unfortunately, dogs don't have quite the luxury of cultural evolution we do, but they still learn. They learn to avoid that which harms them (except for hunting dogs and porcupine quills!) as long as they can make a direct, cause and effect association.

Sadly, they can't relate a trip to the veterinarian and the attendant terrifying smells and injections with long term health and survival. This is where human-based animal husbandry enters the picture.

With the domestication of animals, and our anthropomorphism, human cultures also pass on knowledge about disease avoidance in animal care. Thus, we study what helps dogs avoid disease, just as we do ourselves. Sometimes we use tribal taboos, which are highly efficient and economical, like "Never give a dog the red pill. Only give your dog the green pill!" Other times we use veterinary medicine as a subtle "art" and we tailor the husbandry to the animal with nuance and sensitivity.

Either way, we do to the dog what we do to ourselves. We protect the dog from disease while exposing the dog to food, water, and environmental stimuli.

Behavioral immunology, then, means all the things you've already heard about with regard to animal care: perimeter fencing, well-drained soil, plenty of deadly uv light from the sun, protective shade from the same uv light, scooping poop, feeding a high-quality diet free from pathogens, plenty of fresh water, raising puppies up-wind and up-hill from adults and feeding and scooping puppies first, breeding resilient bloodines, keeping the body weight trim and the exercise level high, routine medical check-ups, and on, and on, and on. You know the drill.

These are the behavioral ways we have battled disease for eons, learning through exposure and ovoidance that which kills us or makes us stronger.

Oh yes, and finally, after insuring that both the dog's physical barriers and behavioral immunities are met, then we turn to vaccination as an adjunct to long-term health.

But, never forget that humans and dogs are millions of years old, yet modern methods of vaccine-induced immunology are less than two hundred years old. The difference, now, is that there is a lot less "Russian roulette" in who survives and who doesn't.

The tougher your many skins, the more copious your various secretions, and the better evolved your immunological behaviors, the less important the type of vaccinations you will need.

Next: The internal immunology of the body.

Dr. Jerry Vanek Posted - 12/01/2004 : 09:42:32 AM
Where did the last six days go? Anyway, now we start on the immune system itself, which is what vaccination is all about.

But, we start with the important stuff you may never have thought about.

First, the immune system is divided into different parts. There is "innate" immunity, which is usually built into the body and functioning all the time and usually not discriminating.

There is also "adaptive" immunity, which is only turned on against a specific thing.

There is "structural" immunity, which is usually a physical barrier. And "chemical" immunity, which is a molecular reaction to invasion.

There is also "behavioral" immunity, which is being in the wrong place at the wrong time, etc. It can be "innate" (genetic) or "adaptive" (learned) as well.

We start with the most import part of a mammal's immune system. The skin. The skin is the largest organ of the body (not the liver, like you might hear on a TV game show). The skin has many other functions, but serving as a physical barrier against dying is the most important one (before you can be ANYTHING else, you have to be alive!)

What you may not realize is that the skin not only covers the outside of a body but the inside as well. The entire lining of the GI tract, from the mouth to the anus is covered with "skin" and the exterior and interior linings communicate at the mouth and anus. Think of a long, winding garden hose with an outside surface and an inside surface. (All of the food you eat is digested "outside" your body in the garden hose cavern running from your mouth to your anus.)

In addition, all of the valleys and blind caves of your body are covered by skin. Think of pushing your finger into a half-filled balloon. Your ears, eyes, nose to the lungs, urethra up to the bladder and beyond, your vagina through the cervix and up the oviducts, and your sweat glands all are big, blind dimples or caverns into your skin. (You were actually created outside your mother's body in the cavern at the end of a fallopian "tube"; migrated down the tube to a cave, called the uterus, where you grew bigger before leaving the cave).

Thus, all these tubes and caves and dimples into your body are covered with some type of "skin" or other with a major purpose to keep foreign things from invading your body and causing bad things to happen.

Furthermore, besides being a simple barrier, like a brick wall, your various "skins" also secrete a water or mucus or oil or some combination to continually flow against invaders. (It is easier to walk up stream on a dry river bed than to swim upstream against a flood, or to climb a dry pole than to climb one slathered in grease).

Therefore, we have saliva in our mouths, mucus in our intestinal tract and lungs, snot out our nose, vaginal secretions, ear wax, urine, sweat, and tears. And, while these bodily fluids have many other important tasks as well, we must never forget that their flowage is a major barrier against invasion.

So, before we reach for a miracle vaccine we must ask: "Are there holes and cracks and breaks in our skin? Are there ulcers in our stomachs and intestines? Do we have dry eyes or vagina? Little urination? Dry lungs and nose?

Vaccines help. But, there is nothing better than being the pillar of health in the first place and having intact surface coverings which are secreting normal fluids. The same applies to dogs.

Duane Posted - 11/24/2004 : 7:24:08 PM
Thank you Jerry; very interesting information, some of which I have been printing out for my vet.

Dr. Jerry Vanek Posted - 11/24/2004 : 6:58:59 PM
The long-promised mini-history of immunology and vaccinations - “History” (“Something that never happened written about by somebody who was never there.”) Understanding the history of immunology is important to our understanding why we now do what we do now.

Probably since the first rugby players climbed down from the trees humans have recognized that people who survived a serious disease never got the disease again. People who survived mild diseases often were reinfected. Thus, if one got smallpox and lived, they never got it again. But, if one got a head cold, they probably got one the next winter and the next.

In evolutionary terms, this makes sense. Mild diseases can be withstood easily, so evolving a means of avoiding them is not important for reproduction (although sexual intimacy with a snotty-nosed hacker might be a bit less appealing). On the other hand, how many times does one want to live through the German measles? (First, I was afraid I was going to die, then I was afraid I wasn’t.)

The Chinese were the first to play doctor by deliberately infecting their children with scabs from people mildly infected with smallpox. Many of these children got mild forms of smallpox and recovered with permanent immunity. A few died. (But, hey, for us population biologists the greater good is what counts.) Europeans discovering this technique called it “variolation” after the scientific name for smallpox, “variola.”

Meanwhile, in Africa, parents would deliberately inoculate their children with scrapings from a “Jericho Boil” caused by a protozoan parasite called Leishmania. If a person was naturally infected through the bite of a sand fly, they would develop a horribly disfiguring oriental sore on their face or other exposed body part. So, the parents would infect their children on their tummies, where the scar would be hidden by clothes, and the kids would be immune from further infection and disfigurement.

Hop to the end of the 18th century when Edward Jenner substituted a cowpox scab for the smallpox scab and successfully protected people from human smallpox by giving them bovine cowpox. Granted, they did get a little sickly, but it was nothing to moo about. Since “vacca” is Latin for cow, the procedure was dubbed vaccination. (I feel cowed every time someone sticks a needle in my butt.)

Here’s a quick analysis thus far: 1) The worse the disease, the more likely a survivor will be immune for life. 2) In order to get immunity to a disease one has to get the disease first. 3) One might die before one gets immune! 4) Catch-22s really suck.

At the end of the 19th century, Louis Pasteur took on these main tenets as he battled rabies. How does one get immunity to a dread disease by getting infected with the disease and not dying first? It worked for small pox because its relative, the somewhat benign cowpox, was easily available. But, what if a disease has no weenie cousin?

Pasteur discovered, using fowl cholera in chickens and also anthrax, that if one could make the disease organism more wimpy, the victim’s immune response could be mounted without the victim getting very sick. He tried rabies in what are now the classic clinical experiments in history. He weakened (“attenuated”) the rabies virus in rabbits (animal rights not having been invented yet), creating the first “modified-live” vaccine. The little boy lived because the bunnies died (don’t tell PETA).

There are problems with this, however. First, the patient still gets infected with an organism that can replicate. In fact, it is this multiplication of the virus within the patient that stimulates the strong immune response. Second, as mutations are continually occurring in all living organisms, some of these viruses would mutate back to a more virulent form, killing the patient. Or, the more virulent forms would be shed into the environment making others sick and the vaccinated person real unpopular. When immunology tests became available, the laboratory could not distinguish between a person sick with a disease and one merely vaccinated against the disease.

To keep a patient from getting sick from the vaccine, the infectious agent was killed (“inactivated”). Now, the dead organism couldn’t reproduce, cause disease, or be spread to other victims. Unfortunately, the body would often clear these foreign bodies without being exposed to enough to mount an immune response. Would you send an army to fight dead people? To counter this, very large amounts of killed viruses are injected, relative to modified live ones, and the killed ones are accompanied by an “adjuvant,” which is a chemical that creates a “depot” in the muscle or under the skin where the killed organisms are held for a long duration to continually aggravate the body and stimulate it into fighting back. (Stand on a corner and continually give the finger to a Hell’s Angel.)

There are problems with this, as well. The adjuvant can cause an immune response of its own, such as a painful lump under the skin or in a muscle; an anaphylactic response (like bee stings or peanut allergies); neurological disease; cancer; death; or a really mad Hell’s Angel. In addition, even with the adjuvant, the vaccination won’t stimulate immunity as long as getting the disease would.

Today, researchers are trying to create the best of both worlds using “recombinant” gene therapy. Their lofty goal is to insert only the parts of a disease organism which stimulate an immune response into another living microorganism that doesn’t cause disease at all. When the harmless, living microorganism reproduces it also reproduces the genes for the bad organism and, thus, continually presents them to the patient’s immune system. Thus, you get sort of a living adjuvant continually presenting a dead virus to the body. It’s not as easy as it looks and there are only a very few recombinant vaccines on the market. But, the market will continually grow in our lifetimes.

In summary, there is a trade-off in vaccinology between harmful, but effective modified live vaccines and less harmful but less effective killed vaccines. In every case, we are introducing a foreign substance into a perfectly healthy body and making it somewhat sick in order to avoid a more serious disease. Just like back-burning a forest fire.

Vaccinations are all MEDICAL procedures, each with their own attendant risks and pitfalls. Pet owners would do well to rejoice when their vaccinated animals DON’T have a reaction to being invaded with bad things instead of fussing so much when they do. We are so basically healthy compared with our ancestors that we have become complacent. Furthermore, that pet owners are allowed to perform such medical procedures on their own pets is a special privilege, as we would never allow humans to stick needles in each other without at least dressing up to look like a doctor or a nurse.

The fact that most pet owners do relatively good jobs of vaccinating is a tribute to their integrity and dedication and to the continual nagging by us veterinarians.

Thursday, let all in America give thanks for vaccinations. Our Canadian friends can do so retroactively back to their holiday, October 11th.

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