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”.