Mandatory Vaccination Laws Need Updating

October 8, 2008

The Reminder

I received a postcard in the mail recently from our veterinary hospital. Azelouan is due for his vaccinations. I was under the impression that annual booster shots were no longer de rigeur so I called up the vet. It turns out that his initial vaccine doses were designed by the manufacturer for puppies and have a guaranteed efficacy period of one year. All the research I have seen suggests that a final booster should be given at one year, but that isn’t enough to be legal.

DC Law requires valid vaccinations for Distemper, Parvovirus and Rabies for all dogs.* In order to be valid the vaccinations have to carry a guarantee of efficacy from the manufacturer. The longest efficacy guarantee available is for three years. He has to get boosters every three years in perpetuity. Why not measure whether the vaccinations are actually necessary through antibody titers? While they are happy to do titer tests on Azelouan, the District of Columbia will not accept them as legal proof of vaccination. The law requires that vaccinations are valid only if there is a manufacturers warranty of efficacy behind them.


Supplicant Look

Azelouan's supplicant look.

Perverse Incentives

Vaccine manufacturers and Veterinarians have an incentive to sell vaccines to pet owners. This is the reason that for many years we all had annual vaccination visits. Recent public concerns about the potential connection between excessive  vaccination and cancer and immune disorders has led to the development of 3-year vaccines.  I have a strong suspicion that there is no difference between the 1-year labelled vaccine and the 2-year labelled ones.

The point is that both the providers of the vaccine and the veterinarians have no incentive to stop giving vaccines. Quite the contrary, they get paid every time someone brings in a dog to get vaccinated. Mandatory vaccines are a guarantee that clients will show up to the office and spend money.

There is strong evidence that after the core vaccinations series is complete at 1 year, most dogs have lifetime immunity.

First, Do No Harm

The first principal in human medicine is to do no harm. We don’t give children antibiotics for a sore throat unless a throat culture indicates the presence of a streptococcus infection. We shouldn’t be vaccinating just in case or as a way to incentivize clients to show up for well-puppy visits. Vaccines are not risk-free.

Instead of vaccinating in perpetuity, the law should be modified to allow an antibody titer instead.

Below is the minimal vaccination schedule developed by Jean Dodd, DVM.

Recommended Vaccination Schedule
Vaccine Initial 1st Annual Booster Re-Administration Interval Comments
Distemper (MLV)
(e.g. Intervet Progard Puppy)
9 weeks
12 weeks
16 – 20 weeks
At 1 year MLV Distemper/ Parvovirus only
None needed.
Duration of immunity 7.5 / 15 years by studies. Probably lifetime. Longer studies pending.
Can have numerous side effects if given too young (< 8 weeks).
Parvovirus (MLV)
(e.g. Intervet Progard Puppy)
9 weeks
12 weeks
16 – 20 weeks
At 1 year MLV Distemper/ Parvovirus only None needed.
Duration of immunity 7.5 years by studies. Probably lifetime. Longer studies pending.
At 6 weeks of age, only 30% of puppies are protected but 100% are exposed to the virus at the vet clinic.
24 weeks or older At 1 year (give 3-4 weeks apart from Dist/Parvo booster) Killed 3 year rabies vaccine 3 yr. vaccine given as required by law in California (follow your state/provincial requirements) rabid animals may infect dogs.

Perform vaccine antibody titers for distemper and parvovirus annually thereafter. Vaccinate for rabies virus according to the law, except where circumstances indicate that a written waiver needs to be obtained from the primary care veterinarian. In that case, a rabies antibody titer can also be performed to accompany the waiver request.

*I was told yesterday by the veterinary technician that DC law required Parvo, Distemper and Rabies vaccinations. Today, I got clarification from the actual veterinarian that DC only requires Rabies. The hospital is willing to perform titers in lieu of vaccination upon request but does not accept responsibility for any legal rammifications with a failure to comply with city orndinances. It’s obvious that nobody knows what the real rules are. I looked it up in the DC code 8-1804: “the owner of the dog shall have the dog vaccinated against rabies and distemper”.

9 Responses to “Mandatory Vaccination Laws Need Updating”

  1. stanzebla Says:

    “Instead of vaccinating in perpetuity, the law should be modified to allow an antibody titer instead.” I agree completely on that. My vet looked at me like I was crazy when I suggested that to her. So we did the vaccinations like the law decrees them. -sigh-

  2. Jess Says:

    You’ve got to be kidding me. DC REQUIRES Parvo and Distemper? I don’t think that’s even legal; neither of those disease are a public health concern for humans, like Rabies.

    Titers have limited usefulness in deciding whether to vaccinate again. Titers do not show whether the dog is capable of mounting an immune response; only whether it has circulating antibodies due to vaccination or recent exposure. Titers are very useful for two things: checking to see whether a recently vaccinated puppy has seroconverted and produced immunity, and checking the immune status of a pregnant bitch to know when to start vaccinating the pups.

    Frankly, the law is stupid, does not follow the current science, and should be struck down.

  3. Brian Reiter Says:

    “You’ve got to be kidding me. DC REQUIRES Parvo and Distemper?”

    That’s what I was told yesterday. However, today, I got a clarification that it is not the case. Rabies is the only vaccination required by law. The vet is willing to do titers in lieu of vaccination in three years. She won’t take responsibility for my failure to comply with the law, though. She also said that the research confirming that high antibody titers correlate to an immune response comparable to a normally vaccinated dog is not yet conclusive.

    I’m not sure that it matters whether there is a risk to human health. I think a city can make just about any kind of law as long as it isn’t disallowed by the US Constitution or a state constitution. In the case of DC, the Congress can pass laws that directly affect our governance but we don’t have voting representation in Congress. That’s a whole other topic.

    Leptospirosis is very common here and it is zoonotic. Like Rabies, Leptospirosis presents a risk to human health. We’re not yet required by law to vaccinate our pets for lepto.

  4. stanzebla Says:

    I live in France, and am german. We got to vaccinate the dogs every year. Strange enough there is no law that forces us to vaccinate cats against rabies (in France), they have to get other vaccinations. But cats get more often rabies than dogs. They discuss the laws in Germany atm, so maybe they will change them one day.
    I heard pets can get sarcoma from rabies vaccinations. Don’t know how high the risk is.

  5. Jess Says:

    Maybe it’s because the Lepto vaccine is not very effective. There are many different Lepto serovars but I think only four or six are covered by the vaccines available. The Lepto vaccine is also a bacterin, so it only lasts six months to a year, then the dog has to be revaccinated. It’s very dry here so Lepto is not a problem. The Rabies laws are all over the place, though. Texas has a three year law but doesn’t prohibit counties or cities from requiring it every year.

  6. Brian Reiter Says:

    The lepto vaccine that we use here is tetravalent (covers four serovars) subunit vaccine. It is made from just the antigens of four differents trains of Leptospirosis. I think the efficacy is about 75% and yes it is a yearly. DC is thick with raccoons and rats which carry the bacteria. Dogs get it just by being in contact with contaminated standing water in the park.

  7. Puppy Food Says:

    I am in total agreement. There needs to be changes made. Many providers will continue to push it because of the monitary incentive, but there are some, I believe, that will do what is best for the dog as long as the laws don’t require it.

  8. Brian Reiter Says:

    I stopped relying on word-of-mouth from professionals. DC code states that “the owner of the dog shall have the dog vaccinated against rabies and distemper”.

    It’s obvious that the rules are not widely known. I have the distinct impression that the reason nobody knows what the rules are is that nobody actually applies for a DC dog license.

  9. Anneke Says:

    Keep up the good work.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: