In the news recently, the debate about vaccinations for children was at the forefront during the measles outbreak. There has been a similar debate going on in the veterinary community about vaccines for pets. Clients are electing not to vaccinate their pets or are inquiring about why they should, and if they really need to vaccinate their pets every 3 years? What is the appropriate and recommended protocol? Are we currently over-vaccinating?
In 2011, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recommended that ALL of the core vaccines go to a 3-year protocol while also stating that “among healthy dogs, all commercially available (core) vaccines are expected to induce a sustained protective immune response lasting at least 5 years.” Many clients and professionals will still argue that an every 3-year protocol is still over-vaccinating and in fact most adult animals will have lifelong immunity without the need for repeated vaccination. Should we go to a 5 year or longer protocol for the DHPP and FVRCP vaccines?
The issue is that the immune system of every pet is different. How can we be sure our pet patients are protected? How can both sides of the argument be satisfied? One solution on the forefront is antibody titer testing. In lieu of a vaccination, a small blood sample can be taken and a “titer” test can be performed. This titer test will essentially say if this pet still has enough circulating antibody against a particular disease (canine parvo, distemper, etc.) In the past this has been very expensive to perform and samples had to be sent to an outside lab with results taking several days to come back. Now in-house testing kits are available to veterinary clinics and results in as few as 20 minutes.
For owners who have concerns about routine vaccination, a vaccine titer is a reasonable recommendation, and it may be that in the future this becomes a standard of care. Now that in-house fast titer testing is becoming available, it makes it more cost effective for clinics and for clients.
Lastly, one size does not fit all. The vaccine needs for our pet patients should be assessed yearly and the vaccination protocol should be modified as needed based on that pet’s risk, lifestyle, age, health, medical conditions, and travel as concurs with the recommendations of the AAHA task force.