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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"Vaccines Are A Money-Making Scam!"

Vaccines are often a controversial issue in veterinary medicine and can stir up a lot of heated discussion (something from which I've never shied away).  You will have some people who are decidedly anti-vaccines, some who think they should only be given every 7-10 years, some who think that Leptospirosis is a highly reactive vaccine, and so on.  Even the veterinary community is often split, with some vets still advocating annual vaccination for all diseases and others saying that we should perform titers in place of vaccination.  I tend to fall in the middle and have changed my outlook over my career.  Medicine is constantly changing as new treatments are developed and our understanding of physiology improves.  As responsible medical professionals we in the veterinary field should be willing to adapt to these changes.
Because even vets differ in their opinions regarding vaccinations it can be confusing to owners.  You'll also get some very strong opinions about vaccines online, especially against them.  One of the things that I hear from time to time is that vets are recommending more vaccines than necessary and at closer intervals than necessary, all simply to make more money.  In the minds of people making those statements the vaccine protocols of the vets are nothing more than a way to scam money from hard-working people.

Unfortunately it's not that simple.  Anyone who thinks that the book is closed on vaccine immunology is deluded.  I've even seen specialists who disagree on the right interval between vaccines.  Our understanding of the immune systems and cell functions of animals is still developing and there is no way that we can say that we understand it all.  At the same time our technology is improving so that we can make vaccines that last longer and cause fewer reactions.  Someone condoning the same vaccine protocols as were done 20 years ago is just as wrong as someone who believes with certainty that they know what we'll be doing with vaccines 10 years from now.  This is an ever-changing field and we need to both pull people from the past into the current understanding as well as keep people from dismissing the past and forging ahead without proper evidence.

In my practice we have embraced the research that says that some of our vaccines will last for at least three years.  There is possible evidence that these vaccines may last seven years or more, but there are also limited studies and only slight evidence in support of this.  Most veterinarians are doing the best that they can while acting on sometimes contradictory information. Most vets practicing now saw the writing on the wall many years ago and have been moving away from vaccines as a big income-generator.  These vets are giving vaccinations based on their best understanding of currently accepted immunology and not just as a way to make money.  While some may disagree with their stance on vaccine intervals, most vets really are simply trying to do the best preventative care and make the best recommendations based on a combination of experience and current science.  Yes, vaccines earn them money, but they're looking at it from a medical standpoint rather than financial.

Unfortunately there are some vets out there who seem to be in it more for the money than anything else and they often have questionable practices in regards to vaccines.  Recently one of my associate doctors brought in a flyer for a mobile vaccine clinic that was going to be setting up at a local Walgreens pharmacy. That by itself wasn't too surprising, even though I'm not a fan of in-and-out shot clinics due to the lack of a good physical exam (I ranted about that recently).  What bothered me was their pricing structure, which was printed directly on the flyer.

"$10 1-Rear Rabies          $25 3-Year Rabies
$25 DA2PP/Cvk              $49 3-Year DAP"

The prices themselves aren't my issue.  It's the fact that they are being somewhat deceptive in their practic, as well as not following current vaccine recommendations.  First of all, the accepted duration of the rabies vaccine is one year if it is the first time being given and three years after that.  Some states and counties may require stricter booster durations, such as mandating annual boosters, but medically there is no reason for doing so annually.  What's deceptive?  Most of the time it's the same vaccine!  There are some rabies vaccines that only have a duration of immunity of a year, but most of them carry a three-year label.  So if this clinic is using one of these vaccines, they are charging more for a three year duration than for a one year duration, even though it's the same vaccine and costs them the same to administer!  It's also the same dosage!  So a three-year duration doesn't require a triple dose.  My clinic charges $19 for a rabies vaccine regardless of the duration since it costs us the same to administer either way.

It's a similar situation with the other vaccine.  There are more than one distemper-parvo combination vaccines (DAP) that are valid for three years after the initial puppy series.  And the adult booster is the same vaccine as the one used in the puppy series.  "DAP" and "DA2P" are really the same vaccine components.  The second "P" is for an upper respiratory disease, parainfluenza, which is covered in most kennel cough vaccines.  The Cvk is corona virus, which most immunologists and internal medicine specialists now recognize as an insignificant disease that doesn't need to be vaccinated against.  There is also doubt about just how effective the vaccine really is, so I don't even carry it or recommend it anymore.  Once again this practice seems to be worrying more about the money than the pet's health.  At my clinic a DAP vaccine is $32, regardless of whether  it is used in a puppy series or as an adult 3-year booster.  And that's because, as before, it costs us the same no matter what we make the duration. 

Vaccines are absolutely necessary to protect the health of humans and animals.  Such immunizations have saved literally countless lives and have protected human and animal health for well over 100 years.  Please don't misunderstand me and use this blog as an excuse to avoid vaccinating your pets.  However, feel free to ask your vet questions about the vaccines, how long the duration is, and whether they are necessary for your pet's lifestyle.  Most vets are simply trying to make ends meet and support their business, and aren't trying to gouge you when doing vaccines.  But there are bad apples in any profession, including veterinarians, and you need to be well informed and ask questions.