Best Protection

Vaccination standards serve as a guideline, but veterinarians are making customized decisions for their patients.

Isabelle Francais

There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to canine vaccinations, but the American Animal Hospital Association is about to update what one professional calls “some very good science-based recommendations.” 

A special AAHA council expects to release vaccine recommendations this month that will replace a set issued in 2006.

AAHA President Gregg Takashima, DVM, says that despite all the changes in this area of veterinary practice over the past 10 years, much of the decision-making about what is appropriate for patients occurs just as it always has: on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the dog’s lifestyle and the region in which the veterinarian is practicing.

Michael San Filippo, media relations assistant at the American Veterinary Medical Association, says current research is too inconclusive to make sweeping recommendations that will work for every dog.

“Veterinarians have traditionally vaccinated annually; however, they are now learning that some vaccines induce immunity that lasts less than one year, whereas others may induce immunity that lasts well beyond one year,” he says. “The AVMA recommends that veterinarians customize vaccination programs to the needs of their patients. More than one vaccination program may be effective.”

Chris Pappas, DVM, director of companion animal technical services for vaccine manufacturer Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health in Summit, N.J., agrees, noting that beyond the core vaccines, veterinarians make decisions based on numerous factors.

“Non-core means they weren’t designed for every dog in the country,” he says. “The responsibility falls on the vet to research that disease and that vaccine and discuss it with their clients and decide if that’s a vaccine their dog will benefit from. Two people can go to the same vet and get different vaccines.”

The discussion with the pet owner can direct a veterinarian to the most appropriate course, and the more detailed the interview, the better, Dr. Takashima says.

“Fortunately for our profession, we still take histories and get information about our patients,” he says. “We ask about travel history, where the dog is from. Do you hike? Do you travel? Do you go to the East Coast with your pet?”

Dr. Pappas’ company, like others, offers many vaccines in both one- and three-year doses, and finds that veterinarians have good reasons for choosing one or the other.

“Three year and one year have to do more with how the practice functions,” he says. “A lot of veterinarians like to see their patients once a year. Sometimes switching to three-year protocols can’t be quite as simple. It gets away from the way they have been educating their clients. Some people are a little hesitant to make that change. It can cause confusion.”

The trend seems to be toward less frequent vaccines overall, says Bob Menardi, DVM, director of operations in field veterinary services for Merial Ltd. of Duluth, Ga., which also markets canine vaccines.

 “It’s a slow trend, but as of the last research that’s the trend I’ve seen,” Dr. Menardi says. “This was all driven originally by the feline market. The conversation started about vaccine safety. The goal has always been to vaccinate safely for all individual animals, and the idea was to have an evidence-based approach.”

Research has led to some quality industry standards, Menardi says.

“The AAHA has made some very good science-based recommendations,” he says. But like Takashima and Pappas, Menardi says the best insight comes from the front lines.

“Merial’s stance is that every practitioner is the most qualified person to make vaccine decisions for their patients,” he says. “They know the risks to their patients a lot better than we do.”

Pappas says Intervet also encourages veterinarians to continue assessing individuals to make vaccine interval decisions for each dog.

“You’re looking at safety issues,” he says. “There’s always a potential for an adverse reaction. If we can get three years or two years out of that vaccine, that’s decreasing the risk of adverse reactions if that product is safe.

“But it’s not as easy a question as some people to make it out to be. The goal is to provide the best protection we can with the least number of vaccines. I don’t think we’ve found that magic number yet.”

Nancy Scanlan, DVM, executive director of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA), says she has been pleased in recent years to see the vaccine interval recommendations of more traditional veterinary associations like AAHA and those of her organization begin to converge.

“We love the AAHA because they are the people who really listen to what we say, and if we have some things that we have some proof for, they will read it and then act on it,” she says. “There are some core vaccines that all dogs should get and we are definitely in agreement on that.

Distemper, parvo, rabies—those are definitely ones that dogs need. They have a good chance of dying from distemper, for example, and if they don’t die, they come through with seizures and twitches. So those are the definites.”

Beyond those core vaccines, Scanlan says it’s a matter of the veterinarian making a decision based on all available information.

“If you are in an area that has leptospirosis and you have a vaccine that protects against the same leptospirosis that’s in the area, it’s important to administer that,” she says. But because vaccines against leptospirosis cause some of the most side effects, she says, they should not be given unless the vaccine and the need match perfectly.

“One kind of lepto vaccine does not protect against a different kind of lepto,” she says. “If you have Lepto pomona [in your area] and in the vaccine is not Lepto pomona, it’s not going to help you. ”

Scanlan is excited about new research indicating that some rabies vaccines may be effective for as long as seven years as opposed to just three.

Her organization is concerned that frequent vaccinations or administering multiple vaccinations at once could be connected to an increase in autoimmune disorders among dogs, so the AHVMA supports less frequent vaccines as long as protection against dangerous diseases is maintained.

As researchers and manufacturers of vaccines continue to release more information and more products, veterinarians are certain to have more options than they do today for canine vaccinations, both in terms of which diseases they are protecting against and how often vaccines are administered. With so many types of dogs and so many different lifestyles, it seems unlikely that any industry standard will ever trump the expertise of the practitioner caring for the dog.

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