The Verdict: Guilty of (Nearly) AnimalSlaughter
(If you’re just joining us, you’ll want to read what all the fuss is about.)
Tigger’s “one rabies vaccine” that nearly cost him his life (twice!) was clearly the cause of this little cat’s problems. He’d been a normal, healthy, playful youngster before this vaccination, and his life was nearly lost after it, with two bouts of severe autoimmune hemolytic anemia and a year of languishing health in between them.
The germaine question from the mock “trial” depicted in Part One is this:
Who is The Real Perpetrator?
If you are driving your car, and hit someone on a bike and injure him, you could hardly argue, “My car is at fault! It ran right into this poor guy!” You were driving, and any court in the land would place the blame squarely on your shoulders.
So, who’s guilty in the bigger picture in the case of rabies laws and their instruments of administration, the veterinarians and animal control outfits and states’ and municipalities’ laws?
Clearly, none of the legal requirements that are out there, from one year to three year rabies vaccination rules, have been based on this basic understanding of immunology that’s at least a couple of decades old:
Immunity to virus vaccines lasts a very long time, probably for life.
Two Problems Unique to Rabies Vaccination
Since rabies is a human health concern, it’s more complicated than say, distemper or parvo or most other vaccines you might choose to use or not use. You are compelled to vaccinate for rabies. So, let’s break rabies vaccination down into two areas:
1. A medical procedure done to your animal.
2. A law compelling you to do and to repeat this procedure.
As we’ve seen, these two often get entangled. We’re trained in veterinary school that vaccination is not only not a risky procedure, but has saved the world from the scourges of infectious disease.
I, for example, had no clue that illness, let alone serious illness, could result from a vaccination. Nor did it sink in, if it was mentioned, that vaccinating pregnant animals is risky.
Vaccines Saved the World? Ah, No.
Clearly, the vaccines don’t deserve the accolades often awarded them by medical “experts” as they’ve missed an important understanding: it was largely sanitation and water management (simply separating sewage from drinking water sources, quite often) that brought about the decline of some of our deadliest human diseases.
Vaccines came later and were given the credit. Likely by those with a vested interest in their continued use.
And, early life animal vaccinations, rabies among them, if given after the youngster’s immune system is properly ready to respond (usually at 4 months of age) are highly likely to be efficacious in conferring immunity. Long lasting immunity, according to veterinary immunologists.
Likely life long immunity, they say.
Vaccination Works. But Over and Over? Not So Much.
Further, say these same veterinary immunologists, the likelihood of further adding to the already established immunity from earlier vaccinations is low to nil.
…revaccination with most viral vaccines fails to stimulate an anamnestic (secondary) response…. The practice of annual vaccination in our opinion should be considered of questionable efficacy…” [1. Schultz and Phillips, Current Veterinary Therapy, Volume XI, 1992]
Doesn’t Work, And Causes Harm? Damn.
Where the greater rub comes in vaccine repetition, is the possibility of damage to your animal. Part one of this series had an unprecedented response in the comments, where your stories of your own animals corroborated what Tigger showed us so clearly:
Vaccines are risky to health.
Remember, Tigger had a bunch of vaccines before Laurie ever took him in. He came from a shelter. That’s how shelters work. It’s the “steer in the chute” mindset: “Get ’em processed while we’ve got ’em caught!”
The rabies vaccine that caused him to nearly die was given to a “primed pump,” you might say. Because there had already been multiple vaccinations, the next one to come along was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
In his case, that broken back was life threatening anemia, twice over, from autoimmune attack. Your stories from Part One included seizures, inflammatory bowel disease, anxiety, and malignant tumors. Often from “just a rabies vaccine.”
So, Who Gets Sentenced Here?
In This Holding Cell: Vaccine Manufacturers
On the one hand, we have vaccine manufacturers, who make and sell the rabies vaccines. They’ve studied a vaccine for a year, noted how many were protected from challenge with live rabies virus, and labeled it a “One year vaccine.”
They’ve studied the same vaccine in a three year trial, did the same head count, and labeled that lot a “Three year vaccine.” (Yes, same stuff, two trials, two different labels. I learned this from Dr. Ron Schultz about 20 years ago). [2. Personal communication, AHVMA Annual Meeting, Minneapolis 1993]
And this is very important to understand:
But you already knew titer levels are an incomplete measure of immunity, right?
So, that manufacturer’s label? It’s only a result of the limited trials they’ve done to get to market.
And, In This Closet, Legislators Everywhere
Next, we have the law makers. Hold onto your hat, because now it really gets confusing. States have laws. All fifty states of the U.S., as of 2010, finally have a three year rabies requirement law. Way too many had a one year requirement to repeat rabies vaccinations for many years before this.
Fifteen states now allow medical exemptions to further rabies vaccination. See your vet for a rabies vaccine exemption if your animal:
- Has any ongoing illness.
- Regularly takes medicine of any kind, including thyroid hormone.
- Is on a special diet of any kind.
- Is plagued with itchy skin or ears (the commonest form of vaccine illness).
- Ever had a vaccine reaction.
Why? I’d be happy for you to know.
Is your state not one with exemptions on their books? See your veterinarian anyway, and try to get “Do Not Vaccinate!” on your animal’s records, especially if you’ve dealt with illness in your animal. That’s a very good start.
For inspiration, be sure to read the comments to Part One of this series. Some great success stories there.
Can you say, “I’m sick and tired and I’m not going to take it anymore!”?
Here’s the complicated part. While the states are now finally on the same page, cities and counties can and do set their own innane rules, many of which could be annual revaccination laws. And they likely have never been challenged in court, though I’ve asked my colleague who’s also a lawyer about this to see if I’m wrong. I really, really hope I am.
It’s important to note that law makers on all levels often refer to manufacturer’s vaccine labels for the language of their laws. So do the veterinarians in a national organization that oversees zoonotic diseases, rabies among them: The National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians.
A good number of laws quote the NASPHV’s Compendium on Animal Rabies. So, remember how manufacturers set their vaccine repetition intervals? They studied a given vaccine for a year. Or for three years. It worked, and the label then said, “Repeat every year (or three years).”
This is a very, very different thing from knowing that immunity runs out when the calendar comes around to one year or three years, right?
The duration of immunity is much longer than these labels indicate, there’s just no data as yet to prove that. The Rabies Challenge Fund is currently gathering that needed data.
And, In This Cage, Suspended Over Hot Lava: Dr. WhiteCoat
Adding further to the confusion surrounding rabies vaccination is the one who plunges the syringe into flesh and administers the shot to your animals: your veterinarian. It turns out that, although we are far from experts in immunology, my profession often has the critical say in how often your animal gets vaccinated for rabies.
Unless you stand up for your animals with a better understanding. (Say, have you seen those comments yet for inspiration here? We’ll wait for you. Go take a gander.)
A recent estimate revealed an astonishing statistic: 60% of practicing veterinarians are still recommending annual revaccination.
It’s true. Our track record on vaccination policies is embarrassing. According to some vaccine manufacturers, including Dr. Mark Kimsey, senior brand manager for canine biologicals (vaccines) with Boehringer Ingelheim, a full 60 percent of us (veterinarians) are still vaccinating our patients annually in spite of long standing evidence-based recommendations to the contrary.
At the risk of incurring the 60 percent’s wrath, I say it’s high time we abandon our protectionist’s ways with respect to vaccination protocols and accept that vaccinating annually makes us look like turnip-trucking idiots who care more about our bottom line than our patient’s well being.
I don’t care why you are doing it-whether it’s because you think you won’t get your patients in every year or because AAHA and the AVMA give you a wink and a nod in the name of “veterinary discretion” (for shame!)—you should just stop doing it already. It makes us all look stupid when we ignore reams of evidence just because it is expedient to do so.” [3. Dr. Patty Khuly, in Veterinary Practice News, March 2014]
So, if you are unlucky enough to have someone in this 60% making vaccination decisions for you, your animals are at high risk. Is it time to re-evaluate who you spend your hard earned dollars on for veterinary care?
Remember, you vote each time you get your pocketbook out.
Vaccinations in La La Land
Here’s something quite amazing to me, and it should make everyone associated with Tigger’s earlier veterinary care cringe. After all he’d been through in the Spring of 2013, nearly dying of anemia clearly brought on by his rabies vaccination, Laurie, his owner, was, in the Spring of 2014, sent a reminder postcard for more vaccinations!!!
Had no one in the entire clinic yet realized that Tigger’s rabies vaccination caused his prolonged illness, that was punctuated by not one, but two near death anemic emergencies?
Or were they simply so oblivious to the serious risks that re-vaccination (or any vaccination) can cause that they supposed such a “reminder” was benign instead of life threatening?
Perhaps the front desk of Dr. WhiteCoat’s clinic operates independent of doctors’ records, and just acts robotically, following the prompts of a computer instead of thinking about the living, breathing animals on the other end of the postcard?
Luckily, sanity and circumstances saved Tigger from going back for more shots that were supposedly “due:”
1. Laurie, seeing the light, swore she’d never vaccinate Tigger again. (Bravo!)
2. The family had moved, and the postcard was returned to sender.
And the Winner (Loser) is… Dr. WhiteCoat!
Yes, we have manufacturer’s labels, and cock-eyed, contradictory laws that have no basis in science, but in the end, it’s Dr. WhiteCoat who’s on the front lines, making variably responsible decisions for your animals that many of you feel you must accept.
When you stand up for better decisions, and vote for more Vital Animals in how you choose your animal health care, things will change, from the grass roots up. And my purpose in all this work will be fulfilled.
Next Up: In part three, my proposed alternative to this law. It’s up now, in which I advocate for a law based on facts. What a concept!