Over the last decade or so there has been a move in veterinary medicine to decrease vaccination of pets due to concerns about reactions, cancer, and other adverse events. Much of this attitude has made its way on the internet, and many clients don't seem to think that regular vaccination is necessary. While I agree that we need to investigate and implement longer durations for vaccines, I think that some people have a very false sense of security. And that may include some veterinarians.
In my 13 years in practice I have seen only two dogs with confirmed canine distemper, and they were littermates. I have practiced in many different areas of the country and have seen many different diseases, but not much in the way of distemper. There are vets who have graduated in the last few years that have never seen a case and may never see one in their entire careers. However, talk to older vets or ones that practice in more rural areas and they're good at looking at a dog and suspecting distemper. The "problem" is that the canine distemper vaccine is so effective and we as a profession have done such a good job of convincing owners to use this vaccine that we have pushed the disease out of the mainstream. But that doesn't mean it's gone.
Earlier this month an article reported that shelter in Mississippi had a problem with an outbreak of canine distemper. They tried to control it but dogs were dying and the disease can be highly contagious. They ended up having to euthanize over 100 dogs to get the problem under control and prevent further transmission. Back in 2004 shelters in Chicago also saw an outbreak, and ended up having to close all shelters in the metro area for a prolonged period of time to deal with it. You can find other examples across the country of outbreaks like these. And most of them could have been prevented with proper vaccination.
Just because a pet stays in a home or a yard doesn't mean that they are not at risk for developing serious contagious diseases. Stray dogs and cats can bring bacteria and viruses into an environment that a pet never leaves. It is very important to listen to your vet and keep your pets properly vaccinated. Not doing so could lead to a costly treatment or even losing the pet.