Something troubling happened during one of my appointments last week. I was called to help a family say goodbye to their 14-year old dog, who was diagnosed with a heart murmur and enlarged heart about a year ago. In spite of using heart medications and improving her diet, her condition worsened. She had been experiencing seizure-like activity (actually I believe she was having something called syncope, which is loss of consciousness due to lack of blood flow to the brain). She had very low energy and stamina and was having frequent accidents in the house. Her family made the difficult decision to euthanize her, based on her poor quality of life. We sat and talked about her, how she loved to go for walks and had an uncanny ability to know when there was chocolate on the table. During this sharing time, I learned that she had received several vaccines only a few months ago at her regular veterinary clinic.
In the days since that appointment, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the fact that this geriatric dog with a serious heart condition received no less than three vaccines within the past three months. Why was this done? For what medical reason did this dog require vaccination? Was she at great risk of contracting any of these diseases?
The answer is that there was NO medical indication for any of these vaccines. She had a vanishingly small risk of contracting these diseases, because she was not in contact with other dogs. She literally had to be carried into the backyard during the day and wasn’t able to go for walks anymore. Furthermore, she had received repeated injections of these vaccines over her lifetime, meaning with great likelihood that she had immunity. Can I give you incontrovertible evidence that she was immune? No, because I don’t have that data.
My point is that vaccines are not water. When they are injected into a body, a whole series of events takes place in the immune system. There is growing evidence that many types of cardiovascular disease have an inflammatory component, meaning the immune system is ramped up and spitting out chemicals and cells with the goal of solving the problem. When we introduce vaccines into this pro-inflammatory environment, we are 1) taxing an already stressed immune system; 2) diverting the body’s limited resources to respond to foreign particles (all components of a vaccine are foreign); and 3) probably not even getting the expected response out of giving the vaccine in the first place (which is a boosted immunity).
I cannot predict how, or even if, things would have been different for this sweet little dog had she not been given vaccines. I do strongly believe in the adage “above all, do no harm,” which is part of the Hippocratic Oath taken by physicians. We veterinarians don’t have anything quite so eloquent in our oath, which I have included below. I remember clearly reciting this on the day I graduated from veterinary school, with tears in my eyes and thanks in my heart that I had achieved my goal. Given that our oath does include the protection of animal health and welfare, I regret that I even have to write about this topic. My hope in doing so is that I can encourage you to speak up on your pet’s behalf.
The Veterinarian’s Oath
Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.
I will practice my profession conscientiously, with dignity, and in keeping with the principles of veterinary medical ethics.
I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement of my professional knowledge and competence.