ABCs of Vaccines

Vaccines are vitally important for the control of disease spread among human and animal populations. Speaking to your veterinarian and coming up with a comprehensive vaccine protocol catered specifically to your pet’s needs based on anticipated exposure to certain diseases is essential. While important to the individual pet and population, vaccines should not be given needlessly and should be given at the appropriate intervals to confer immunity.

Why vaccinate?

Vaccines are needed to establish herd immunity, which occurs when a high percentage of the community is immune to a disease either through vaccines or prior illness. When herd immunity has been established against a disease, it minimizes outbreaks, thereby protecting those pets who have not been vaccinated. Herd immunity fails when there is a pocket of unvaccinated animals near each other that are subsequently exposed to an infectious disease. Vaccines also have the added benefits of indirectly protecting people from zoonotic diseases like rabies that might otherwise be transferred from infected wildlife to pets to pet owners.

How often should your pet be vaccinated?

Once you and your veterinarian have come up with a comprehensive plan on which vaccines your pets should receive, the next step is to ensure your pet receives those vaccines in a manner in which will achieve the desired immunologic outcome. Stopping a vaccine series too early will result in a lack of coverage or incomplete coverage for the targeted disease or diseases. Equally, giving vaccines too frequently will not confer “extra” coverage and may increase the risk of adverse vaccine events. Your veterinarian will individualize your pet’s protocol using vaccine manufacturer guidelines and best immunological principles. As your pet’s lifestyle changes so should its vaccine protocol, if medically necessary.  There are serological tests available that might be a viable option to evaluate the likelihood that your pet has adequate protection against certain diseases. Serological testing may be an appealing option for pets who are unable to receive further vaccines due to an underlying condition or for owners wanting to avoid vaccinating pets who may already have adequate protection from certain diseases.

Vaccine reactions

Any type of medical treatment has associated risk, but the risk should be weighed against the benefits of protecting your pet, your family, and your community from diseases. A vaccine reaction or adverse event refers to any undesirable effect associated with the administration of vaccines, including failure to immunize. Reactions can range from injection site soreness to life-threatening complications. Although such adverse reactions are increasingly rare, you should contact your veterinarian if such an event is suspected. A discussion should be had with your veterinarian prior to starting any vaccines about what signs to watch for post-vaccine administration. Your vet should also provide you with the contact information to an after-hours facility should any issues occur outside of normal hours of operation.

Highlights

  • Vaccines are vitally important to the individual pet being vaccinated, and to the pet and wildlife population through a process called herd immunity. To achieve the appropriate immunologic outcomes, vaccines should be given at the appropriate age and interval. 
  • A conversation should be had with your veterinarian to figure out which vaccines are appropriate for your pet.
  • As your pet’s life circumstances and exposure profile changes, a conversation about which vaccines to add or discontinue should occur. 
  • While some restrictions and guidelines set forth by states and municipalities may limit a veterinarian’s ability to discontinue certain vaccines, serologic testing may be considered. Serologic testing will determine if your pet has a reasonable expectation of coverage against certain diseases, making additional vaccination unnecessary. This is especially important for those animals who may have underlying conditions. 
  • Adverse vaccine events are uncommon but do occur – and should be reported to your veterinarian immediately. 
  • Vaccines are an important feature of a good preventive health plan, but they should not be done in lieu of an examination and other preventive health items.
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