Why do we need to vaccinate our pets annually?
Onderstepoort Veterinary Hospital has advised us that all our boarders should be vaccinated ANNUALLY before boarding with us and coming into contact with other animals. Below are the reasons for this:
Let’s address the purpose of vaccination first. All vaccines, whether they are developed for use in human or animal medicine, are designed with two major purposes in mind. The first purpose is to reduce the severity of the clinical signs should the person/animal contract the disease, and secondly, to increase the chances of survival by virtue of the less severe clinical signs. The first point, is further supported by the fact that the most reliable way to test any vaccine, is to challenge the vaccinated animals with a far more potent strain of the virus/bacteria/parasite and measure the severity of the clinical studies as well as the survival rates. In addition, the latter also confirms that vaccines are not designed to prevent an animal/person from contracting a disease, but more importantly, designed to offer resistance to the patient should they get the disease. The main reason why vaccines do not prevent an animal from contracting the disease, is simply because there are a lot of factors beyond our control and the vaccines control in the environment that determine whether an animal will contract the disease or not.
Historically, annual vaccination had been recommended. There were two reasons. The most important was that the vaccine manufacturers at that time only had proof that the core vaccines provided immunity for one year.
Later on, the vaccine manufacturers were able to complete longer duration studies as well as make some small changes to their products for some of them, which yielded results supportive of a 3-year duration of immunity.
The 3-year duration of immunity must be put into context: It only applies to certain diseases e.g. Rabies, Canine Distemper, Canine Parvovirus, Infectious Canine Hepatitis and Feline Panleukopaenia (not Canine Parainfluenza, Bordetella bronchiseptica, Leptospirosis, Canine Herpes, Feline Rhinotracheitis, Feline Calicivirus, Feline Leukaemia, Feline Chlamydia) More than 90% of dogs and cats in South Africa are considered either non-vaccinated or inappropriately vaccinated, creating a very high “infection pressure” on the smaller part of the population that is vaccinated. Leaving <10% of animals with some form of protection against the diseases we vaccinate for. The latter is important because we cannot compare our country to other countries, as environmental conditions, challenges and vaccine intake by the population varies greatly. Should the challenge be greater than the protection acquired through inoculations, the animal will still contract the disease(s) e.g. outbreak situation, immunosuppression in individual animals, etc. On the positive side, should a vaccinated animal contract the disease for which it was vaccinated and recover asymptomatically is not the same as preventing infection – but we will never know will we?
We recommend annual re-vaccination for active/traveling/working pets in South Africa because the risk of these diseases remains high (“high infection pressure”). On the converse, if you own a pet that never leaves your property or gets exposed to other animals you may be able to justify a longer interval between booster vaccines. In addition to the latter, vaccination protocols were reassessed and the concept of “core” and “non-core vaccines” was introduced: “Core vaccines” are indicated in all animals, non-core ones only in individuals whose lifestyle, concurrent diseases or geographic situation places them at risk from specific diseases. The second reason used to justify annual vaccination was that pets will benefit from an annual health check – usually given at the time of vaccination. A general physical examination facilitates the early detection of a number of very common conditions and diseases e.g. heart disease, kidney disease and tumours (cancer) and is an ideal opportunity to remind owners about parasite control (fleas, ticks, lice, worms, etc.), discuss management of skin disease, as well as neutering and the like.
The point we are making here, is that we should be more preventative in our approach to pet welfare and less reactive. We are currently waiting for things to go wrong before doing anything about it. We should be taking responsibility for our pets by budgeting for their basic needs and being preventative. Preventative medicine is always more affordable and less complicated. If we simply react to problems and the challenges posed by our environment, we will expose our pets to a lot of undue suffering, huge expenses and a lot of heart ache.
(Courtesy of the South African Veterinary Association)