The Vaccination Struggle

Lately I have been seeing a variety of vaccination articles floating around the web, most of them discussing the prominent over vaccination in the horse industry. This discussion feels more important to me now that ever, for a few reasons.

In the fall Estella had a bad reaction to a rabies booster. Because she has been boarded, she has been getting not only rabies annually but semiannually. Although I have never been thrilled with this, it has never concerned me too much until now. After her rabies booster last fall, her neck swelled so large that she wasn’t able to bring that front leg forward. She refused to place it directly under her body, let alone in front of her, which made it impossible for her to walk. Upon first glance, I thought she had broken a bone or had a horrible abscess because she could not move. That was for sure my wake up call that something needs to change and I am so thankful that now I am home and can make that change.

I have been thinking that Bella could be insulin resistant, which is just another reason for me to question vaccination. IR horses should be vaccinated VERY cautiously to reduce the risk of inducing laminitis. Bella also has a needle phobia, which doesn’t help the situation.

Without ever having the ability to determine my own vaccination schedule, the thought of spring vaccines was a little overwhelming. Not to mention I would be in a new area using a new vet and was concerned about the, “Hi, I am Emily, I called you here to do vaccinations but please don’t vaccinate my horses” conversation. I ended up having the vet out last week and figured I would discuss my options with him. He was an incredibly nice guy and took my concerns seriously. Because of the reaction to rabies and the fact that the girls don’t travel, we decided against flu/rhino and rabies for this round. We just did EEE/WEE, tetanus and west nile.

I felt okay with the decision, except Bella has to have a mild sedative which makes me nervous. That, on top of vaccines, could be a recipe for laminitis. So the real question is, where do I go from here? My vet wants to come back in the fall to do rabies, but I think I want to wait another year. And then what about next year? For a private farm, are vaccinations really worth the risk?

Here are some paragraphs of interest from some of the articles I have been reading. For those of you that do have control of your vaccinations, what does your schedule look like?

“For example, many horses are vaccinated annually for rabies, even though this vaccine is known to confer a longer duration of immunity – at least three and likely more years! Perhaps this just reflects the lack of awareness that the vaccine issues pertaining to dogs and cats also apply in principle to other species such as horses

Giving boosters annually or even more frequently as recommended for several equine diseases is likely to be of little benefit to a horse’s existing level of protection against these infectious diseases. It also increases the risk of adverse reactions from the repeated exposure to foreign substances.” Rethinking Equine Vaccinations

“A practice that was started many years ago and that lacks scientific validity
or verification is annual revaccinations. Almost without exception there is no
immunologic requirement for annual revaccination. Immunity to viruses persists
for years or for the life of the animal. Successful vaccination to most bacterial
pathogens produces an immunologic memory that remains for years, allowing an
animal to develop a protective anamnestic (secondary) response when exposed to
virulent organisms. Only the immune response to toxins requires boosters (e.g.,
tetanus toxin booster, in humans is recommended every 7 to 10 years), and no
toxin vaccines are currently used for dogs and cats (they are used in horses-tetanus
and botulism, ed comment). Furthermore, revaccination with most viral vaccines
fails to stimulate an anamnestic (secondary) response as a result of interference
by existing antibody (similar to maternal antibody interference). The practice
of annual vaccination in our opinion should be considered of questionable efficacy
unless it is used as a mechanism to provide an annual physical examination or
is required by law (i.e., certain states require annual vaccination for rabies). Current
Veterinary Therapy XI – Small Animals, p 205.” Vaccinations Rethought

“Although there are undoubted benefits of vaccination, recent statistics have shown that vaccinations on a yearly basis are not necessary to establish and retain immunity to certain diseases.

Dr. Ronald Schultz, immunologist at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, explains, “Immunity lasts for years, and often for the life of the animal, especially in the case of some viral diseases. Only certain vaccines require boosters at regular intervals, such as toxins like tetanus. Rabies boosters are required by law for certain species. Studies on some canine vaccines that are routinely given annually have shown duration of protection of as many as nine years. Therefore, vaccinating annually may not be unnecessary but it is a convenient time for a routine veterinary check-up of an animal.” Homeopathy – Natural Horse

“Another serious side effect linked to vaccination involves the onset of acute laminitis. A 2003 study conducted by researchers from Texas A&M University suggests a link between routine vaccination and acute episodes in horses with chronic laminitis. According to the study, chronically laminitic horses have a heightened sensitivity to vaccines compared to healthy horses due to changes in their immune systems. The exact relation behind vaccine-triggered laminitis remains unclear. Horses with Cushing’s Syndrome or insulin resistance, however, appear to be at higher risk.” Vaccination Risks

Sweet, BellaBean. I just want the best for her. 


11 thoughts on “The Vaccination Struggle

  1. Adele Shaw

    This is such a controversial subject but I’m so glad to hear you’re considering your options and doing the research! Personally I choose an extremely limited vaccine protocol. We do rabies only every couple of years and rarely vaccinate for other things. Have you heard of Titer testing? It’s becoming more common in dogs , but it tests the horse’s immunity for those specific desieases to see if they need to be vaccinated for them again or if they are fine without. I hope this becomes more and more popular in the horse industry, as we are WAY behind the science in this area… as with many areas .

    Don’t feel weird about telling your vet what you would like and don’t like. They work for you. It’s of course important to have a great relationship with your vet , but a lot of vets are very understanding especially if you do something like Titer testing.

    • Yes, I have heard of titer testing! We talked a lot about it in college. When I asked my vets about it at the time, they made it sound unreliable and too expensive to be worth it. Now that I have more of a concern though, I am definitely going to look into it for rabies. I keep seeing that rabies is good for multiple years, it’s really irrupting that it is recommended so often.

  2. I discussed the rabies vaccination issue with my vet re my cats and dogs, as well as Val. He said there is a titer test to determine how many antibodies there are. I think that suggests how effective the vaccination still is – my layman’s understanding. It was not inexpensive, but I do think it’s an option if you’re concerned.

    Val gets a five-way, west nile and rabies. I order the vaccines at Valley Vet and do everything but the rabies myself. This way I can give the vaccines on different days, and know which caused a reaction, if there ever is one. Spring is the five-way and west nile. Fall he gets west nile and rabies and his coggins. We have high incidence of west nile here, so my peace of mind is worth boostering that one shot. Luckily Val tolerates these medications well.

    I’ve found with other horses I used to care for that exercise right after the vaccinations helped disperse the medicine, which theoretically lowers the chance of an abscess-type reaction. As far as the private farm issue goes, if you have an emergency and have to haul out to a clinic, you’re probably going to want to have those vaccines on board.

    Thanks for the timely post!

    • I might have to talk to you about doing them yourself! That might be worth it for me for Estella. IDK if I could do Bella by myself but then again I am still on the fence if she needs them or not.
      We talked a lot about titers in college but my vets at the time made it seem unreliable and too expensive to be worth it. Now that I have more of a concern, I will definitely look into them. Thanks!!

  3. You also have another option with Bella: train her to be more relaxed around needles! I know there probably aren’t a ton of emergency situations where Bella’s needle phobia could make things worse, but there are probably a few. And it is something that is very trainable.

    In the past I have worked with groups that have trained monkeys and chimpanzees to present an arm or body part for a voluntary blood draw or injection (not always associated with biomedical research, mind you — a lot of these are sanctuary living animals who need regular blood monitoring for health issues, and one male even donates blood for other chimpanzees’ surgeries), and to present a hand or foot for toe pricking for insulin testing, and then accept the insulin injection on top of that.

    Needles aren’t so terribly painful that we shouldn’t be able to convince our equine friends to at least relax a little around them. You may need to learn to be the one to give the vaccinations to make this work, but I bet you could do it!

  4. I can understand your concerns and questions. I have them myself. also you have included some very good references, Thank you for those. I interviewed my vet at home about vaccinations and wrote a blog post about it. If you want to take a look here is a link. He is conservative about vaccinations and certainly puts up a big red flag if any horse reacts to a vaccine.

    • I will check this out! Thanks for sharing!!

  5. Copper is stupid needle phobic, so I totally get the thing with Bella. How we’ve been managing it lately is that I give him a dose of oral dormesedan under his tongue 30/45 minutes prior to my vet’s arrival. It’s an extra $25 on the bill, but much better than flying a 16.2 chestnut kite! He’s never had a reaction to vaccinations though. I am considering giving my own vaccines this year to save $$ (I have too many horses…) but will still have to get a vet to do rabies. I’m struggling with whether or not to vaccinate for Potomac horse fever since my guys have access to a creek now…the vaccine doesn’t even completely prevent the disease, just makes it less severe if they catch it. It’s all frustrating. :/

    • Yes, dorm gel it is!!!
      Let me know if you do go with your own vaccines. I’d be interested to see how that works out. That might be a good option for Estella who is good about needles and I could do myself..
      I have always heard that potomac vaccine is a bad idea (besides from obey hungry vets). Every vet I trust says it doesn’t work well and is not worth the risk. One of those articles said it increases the risk of colic more than other vaccines over 6.5 times. Eeek!

  6. I do all my own vaccines. I’ve got one horse who had a terrible reaction to the Calvenza so now he gets a different flu/Rhino and I split up my vaccines over the course of a couple months.

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