The Dubious Legacy of Vaccines
The links are invisible and, so far, unproven. Even to suggest they exist is to be heaped with scorn from the U.S. medical establishment. Yet a growing number of holistic and now even conventional veterinarians are convinced, from sad experience, that vaccines as they’re administered in this country to pets are doing more harm than good. I myself think that’s a conservative view. I think that vaccines, justly credited as the tamers of disease epidemics, are nevertheless the leading killers of dogs and cats in America today.
The links may be subtle, but they’re also pervasive. I can’t tell you how often a pet has been brought into our clinic with a history of telltale symptoms: fever, stiff or painful joints, lethargy, or lack of appetite, as if the pet had the flu, but it’s not the flu. “Did your dog by any chance get vaccinated several days before this started?” I’ll ask. The owner will look at me as if I’m a mind reader. “Just a week or two before,” he’ll say. “Why?” Less frequently but not rarely, a pet may have a serious anaphylactic reaction, essentially an allergic shock. This is a condition that can be fatal if emergency treatment is not administered quickly enough. When it occurs right after vaccines have been given, the link is all too clear.
More subtly, after a week or two, a pet may show other serious symptoms: bleeding gums, enhanced allergies, seizures, and hemorrhages. Months, even a year later may come kidney or liver failure, degenerative arthritis, and, among other life-threatening conditions, cancer. Are the vaccines to blame? I can’t prove that they are. But when I began long ago to suspect the connection and changed my practice accordingly, an amazing thing often happened with those telltale symptoms.
They began to go away.
Vaccines have a complex and often contradictory history—if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be so controversial—but in theory, they do a simple thing. Each contains a small, modified dose of an infectious disease, ostensibly not enough to infect the person or animal to whom it’s administered, just enough to activate the body’s immune system and imprint the memory of the disease upon it. That way, if the body is later infected with the disease for real, the immune system will be prepared to fight it off. Without the vaccine, the immune system will remain “naïve”—unimprinted by the infectious disease and so, in theory, less prepared to take it on. The result with no vaccines: worldwide epidemics. The result with vaccines: most of the world’s most horrifying, infectious diseases contained or wiped out by the late twentieth century.
Except it’s not as simple as that.
The use of vaccines to promote human health goes back two centuries, far longer than the use of vaccines in animal health care, and so provides any number of instructive case histories. Unfortunately, most are more troubling than the story of vaccines we learned in grade school. In 1796, Edward Jenner, an English doctor, observed that dairymaids who contracted a minor disease called cowpox on their rounds seemed not to succumb to the scourge of smallpox. He took a sample of diseased skin from one of the maids and applied it to the cut arm of a healthy eight-year-old boy named James Phipps. The experiment worked just as Jenner hoped: the boy contracted cowpox, but when injected more than a month later with smallpox, he remained impervious to it. The concept of vaccinations was established, and others soon followed. In his enthusiasm, however, Jenner revaccinated the Phipps boy for smallpox twenty times; the boy died at the age of twenty. Moreover, Jenner’s own son, who was also vaccinated repeatedly, died at twenty-one. Both fell victim to tuberculosis, which some modern-day researchers have associated with the smallpox vaccine.
Since then, vaccines appear to have played the dominant role in vanquishing several infectious scourges, among them diphtheria, polio, and influenza. The problem is, no one knows for sure if vaccines were responsible; the connections are too tenuous. Did a vaccine injected in February prevent a patient from contracting a disease that swept his village the following November, or did some other factor play a role? Perhaps something in his diet strengthened his immune system enough to ward off the disease. Perhaps he had some genetically passed immunity that made the difference. Maybe he was just lucky.
What we do have, in retrospect, is an alarming number of historical correlations between vaccines and disease to suggest that vaccines may have done as much to precipitate disease as to prevent it—a misperception, if true, of epic proportions.
Take smallpox. By the mid-nineteenth century in England, vaccinations had been made mandatory, yet more than forty thousand people a year died from the disease, most of them vaccinated. If the vaccine merely failed to work for some people but protected the rest, that would be one thing. But in several countries over the next century, mandatory smallpox vaccines were introduced after a long, steady decline in the incidence of the disease. Soon after the vaccine programs began—in India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, and Egypt, among others—the number of cases increased. In Australia, on the other hand, a mandatory smallpox vaccine program was curtailed after the deaths of two children, apparently from their shots; over the next fifteen years, only three cases were recorded. Vaccine advocates could say that other factors were likely at work in the countries where the number of smallpox cases increased after vaccinations, and that without the vaccine, more people would have died. But with other vaccines, the links are just as disturbing.
Pertussis, or whooping cough, was a widespread killer of infants in the nineteenth century, and a serious, though rarely life-threatening, disease among adults. A vaccine was not developed for it until the mid-1930s; over the previous three decades, however, the death rate from pertussis declined 79 percent in the United States and 82 percent in England. The disease continued to decline at the same rate after the vaccine was introduced; when outbreaks occurred, most victims turned out to have been vaccinated.
The pertussis vaccine may be worse than ineffective, however. Researchers have shown that it produces encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, in animal testing. In humans, encephalitis has been linked to seizures, retardation, and learning disabilities from dyslexia to autism. The first cases of autism in the U.S. appeared in the 1940s as the vaccine became available. Both here and in Europe, the rise in incidences of autism neatly matched the widening use of the pertussis vaccine.
Coincidence? Perhaps, but Neil Z. Miller, author of Vaccines: Are They Really Safe and Effective?, reports a further wrinkle. Initially, autism appeared almost exclusively among the children of well-educated parents, leading researchers to wonder if the disease might not be linked to high genetic intelligence, or perhaps to emotional restraint among upper-class mothers. During the 1970s, however, the disease grew to affect all socioeconomic classes. In retrospect, researchers noted that when the pertussis vaccine first appeared, it was a medical luxury that only families with private doctors could afford. By the 1970s, the vaccine was being distributed free to middle-and lower-income families through public health clinics.
The most dramatic correlation, both in the United States and Europe, appears in the case of polio, along with the most persuasive voice of doubt: the man credited with the creation of the polio vaccine, the late Dr. Jonas Salk.
For most of us, the overriding image of polio remains Franklin Roosevelt, tragically paralyzed in middle age. Polio does result in partial paralysis for some, and even death. The fact is, though, that most who contract this virus suffer far milder symptoms even as it moves to the nerve cells of the brain and spinal cord: headache, a sore throat, or vomiting may occur, or, among worse cases, stiffness of the back or neck, weak muscles, and joint ache. And these sufferers are the unlucky 10 percent: the remaining 90 percent of people exposed to the polio virus exhibit no symptoms or illness at all.
Until the advent of the Salk vaccine in 1955, the only prescription for extreme cases of polio was years of physical therapy and bed rest. Yet even so, in the three decades preceding the vaccine, the death rate from polio declined in the United States by 47 percent and in England by 55 percent. When mass inoculations began in the U.S., accompanied by stirring stories in Life magazine on Salk as the great healer of the century, the incidences of polio increased sharply. In Massachusetts, to take an extreme example, there were 273 cases of polio in the year leading up to August 30, 1954, when the vaccine was introduced statewide. One year later, there were 2,027 cases.
The correlation in other states and in England, though more modest, was striking enough that doctors at the National Institutes of Health in the 1950s declared the vaccine “worthless as a preventive and dangerous to take.” They also refused to take it themselves or give it to their own children. Yet the pharmaceutical companies that produced the vaccine had the clout to stifle the naysayers and induce the U.S. Public Health Service to declare the vaccine 100 percent effective. Not until 1976 did Dr. Salk acknowledge publicly that his vaccine was likely “the principal if not sole cause” of all reported polio cases in the U.S. since 1961. More recently, the Centers for Disease Control admitted that 87 percent of all polio cases in the U.S. between 1973 and 1983 had been caused by the vaccine, with all cases between 1980 and 1989 attributable to it. By then, tens of thousands of people may have contracted polio needlessly, even as the drug companies that marketed the vaccine made windfall profits.
Today, polio has virtually been wiped out in the United States. But so has it from those European countries that voiced doubts about the vaccine in the 1950s and chose not to institute mandatory inoculations. Why? Perhaps because only a few unlucky people had the physical predisposition to contract it naturally in its extreme, debilitating form, and so the disease “self-limited” as it ran the course of possible victims.
That may also explain, in part, the long, prevaccine decline of infectious diseases of the nineteenth century. In large part, as any doctor would agree, those declines occurred as a result of improved standards of sanitation and nutrition. It’s hard even to appreciate the ignorance of the era: surgeons were unaware of the need to keep open wounds from getting infected, city planners didn’t know to rid the streets of pestilent garbage and horse manure, restaurant owners didn’t understand the necessity of serving uncontaminated food. As people began to live in cleaner surroundings, their immune systems were no longer besieged and they grew healthier and better able to keep disease from infecting them. Until, that is, the vaccines arrived.
It’s a shocking perspective, but as one goes down the list of other vaccines—diphtheria, measles, mumps, rubella—every last one’s history bears out the same disturbing correlations. Low rates of vaccine effectiveness. Suspicious upticks in disease incidence after the vaccines’ introduction. And for women, an added threat: the likelihood that vaccinations may thwart these usually mild diseases in childhood but then wear off, leaving them as adults without the natural immunity they would have acquired from getting sick—the immunity they need to pass on to their babies as protection while their immune systems are developing.
So are we better off for having curtailed epidemics with vaccines if in the long run the vaccines leave us weaker as a species than we were before? At the least, such doubts cast troubling shadows on the once bright case for human vaccines.
For pets, the picture is far, far darker than that.
The history of animal vaccines is not nearly so sanguine. One of its most troubling aspects, in fact, is how little of it there is. When I became a veterinarian twenty-five years ago, there were four vaccine strains commonly given. Three of them were administered in a combination, or polyvalent, vaccine called DHL. The “D” was for distemper, an all-too-common disease in dogs that in extreme cases leads to fatal pneumonia or encephalitis. The “H” was for canine viral hepatitis, which attacks the liver or kidneys and was, like distemper, a widespread and potentially fatal threat. The “L” was for leptospirosis,*1 technically a spirochete, not a virus, which attacks the kidney and can also be lethal. A vaccine for rabies, given separately by injection but commonly at the same time, completed the list. These were awful, heartrending diseases to witness, and like all veterinarians I was terribly grateful for the vaccines that kept them at bay. Soon, we all hoped, vaccines would eliminate these scourges altogether.
Though none of those four threats is extinct today, reports are rare indeed. Perhaps the vaccines helped; perhaps the diseases self-limited. In any event, the vaccines for all four are still given. Is that a good thing? Let’s reserve judgment. Meanwhile, the list of standard vaccines has more than doubled, with various others recommended, depending on the part of the country in which one lives.
What happened in the last quarter century to make that list of inoculations grow? One answer, clearly, is that the number of infectious disease threats increased in that time. Parvovirus, which produces severe gastrointestinal reactions in dogs and which at its most virulent can kill a dog in forty-eight hours, went from benign virus in the mid-1970s to raging epidemic a decade later. Coronavirus, which produces vomiting and diarrhea that can lead to dehydration in both dogs and cats, was first noticed at about the time parvovirus was in the early 1970s, and often appears concurrent with it. I remember warning audiences in lectures at that time to watch out: surely in the Northeast, given the way diseases were appearing, some local benign organism would turn virulent soon enough. In 1975, the first incidences of Lyme disease, borne by deer ticks and infecting people and pets alike, were recorded in Old Lyme, Connecticut. Why then? Jean Dodds, a Los Angeles–based veterinarian whose ongoing, brilliant study of vaccines is finally beginning to change the way they’re perceived by the American veterinary medical establishment, is fascinated by those historical correlations.
“What happened by about 1975 to make the world allow highly infectious agents to come to the fore?” she muses. “Was it the accumulation of nuclear fallout? Toxic waste? A thinning ozone layer?” One thing is for sure, she says: it wasn’t coincidence. “The fact that human parvovirus was discovered at about the same time as animal parvo is very telling. Usually, you see the effects in animals sooner because their life spans are shorter. Something cataclysmic arose in the world environment if animals and people got it at the same time, something that made the immune systems of both less strong.” That AIDS arose at the same time, she adds, seems only more evidence of that lurking “something.”
Whether or not such a change occurred, animals, like humans, may have been rendered more vulnerable to viral diseases by the very vaccines used to combat them. Certainly the more vaccines we’ve developed, the more viral diseases we’ve seen. The history is too new for comparable correlations, but one disturbing pattern is clear: over the last twenty-five years, not only the variety but the volume of inoculations given to animals, of new and old vaccines, has increased dramatically.
An owner tends not to notice how many vaccines his pet receives—partly because several each visit are bundled in “combo” vaccines, but more because he’s assured that vaccines are “good,” and that besides, they “must” be given. But consider with a skeptical eye, just as an exercise, the standard schedule of vaccines to which a kitten is subjected today at almost any veterinary clinic in this country. At six to eight weeks old, it gets its first combo, known as FVRC+E: feline viral rhinotracheitis (an upper respiratory infection), calici (also upper respiratory), and enteritis (also known as feline distemper or panleukopenia). The same combo is given at nine to eleven weeks, then again at twelve to sixteen weeks. Interspersed with the combos are two feline leukemia vaccines spaced two weeks apart; at sixteen weeks comes a rabies vaccine. Then, at the one-year mark and often every year thereafter, comes one more of each inoculation. That’s the standard schedule. A kitten may also be subjected to vaccines for feline infectious peritonitis, coronavirus, and ringworm, among others. In its first sixteen months, then, the cat probably receives inoculations for up to twenty highly reactive agents.
A dog will receive a comparable lineup, but often in greater number, on the assumption that he spends more time outside than a household cat and is more exposed to germs, especially from other dogs. The vaccine for parvovirus typically is given three or four times in the first year. So are vaccines for canine distemper, parainfluenza, and coronavirus. And dogs, unlike cats, get vaccines for bordetella (kennel cough) and Lyme disease. Hardest hit are show dogs, who get more vaccines than household pets in their first sixteen weeks, then more before each show. (Why don’t the people being exposed to other people at the shows run off to their doctors to get vaccinated?) Not long ago, an eleven-month-old yellow Labrador puppy was brought in to me having been recently purchased from a very responsible breeder. At six weeks, the puppy had been given his first DHPP combo (distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus, and parainfluenza), followed by another two weeks later, a third one month after that, a fourth one month after that, a fifth one month after that. Plus leptospirosis, rabies, bordetella, corona, Lyme, and heartworm medication. More than thirty different highly concentrated organisms had gone into this dog before he was even a year old!
That the old vaccines are given more often than they once were might suggest they don’t work as well as they used to. Not true. Two of them, indeed, have worked well enough that they need not be given to every pet. What’s disquieting is that they are. Infectious canine hepatitis doesn’t exist anymore, so why bother to vaccinate for it? (In fact, a commonly given combo vaccine of ingredients for other diseases addresses hepatitis anyway, so the hepatitis vaccine is not only unnecessary but overkill.) I’ve seen one case of distemper in fourteen years—a dog from Puerto Rico—and frankly feel that the distemper vaccine is no longer necessary for adult dogs. Even though leptospirosis has reappeared after a long absence, the bacterin used to combat it is ineffective for protection, and has been associated with more adverse allergic reactions than any other ingredient of the typical DHL combo. The rabies vaccine remains crucial in areas where rabid animals have been reported, but does it really require a booster every year of a pet’s life, or even every three years, as some states require?
As for the new vaccines, they have a mixed record at best. The parvo vaccine appears to have succeeded in containing outbreaks, though the disease, like polio, may have self-limited. In any event, parvo remains a serious canine threat, which is also to say that the vaccine doesn’t always work. (It has side effects, too, but we’ll get to those later.) Kennel cough vaccines offer so little immunity as to be virtually worthless, as do the vaccines for feline upper respiratory viruses, like rhinotracheitis and calici. The coronavirus vaccine is generally ineffective, and unnecessary in any event—coronavirus, akin to kennel cough, is a mild condition best addressed with proper diet. Even less necessary is the Lyme vaccine, since most dogs in Lyme-infested areas acquire Lyme antibodies without ever exhibiting symptoms of getting the full-blown disease.
Why, then, are all these vaccines being given? And why so often?
By no coincidence, over those same twenty-five years, the manufacturing of animal vaccines has become a multibillion-dollar industry for drug companies like Pfizer, Intervet, Peska, Fort Dodge, and Solvay. Initially, those companies may have responded to health epidemics in an admirable fashion. Over time, they’ve evolved as any business does, pushing all the products they can, vying for market share, and creating new markets, sometimes by creating a market for vaccines to fight mild diseases better addressed with treatment. And veterinarians, well intentioned as they may be, have shared in the profits. “It’s the vets’ fault, really,” says Jean Dodds, the veterinarian whose research on vaccines I admire so much. “We stopped practicing medicine and started pushing vaccines and pills.” Vaccines, after all, could be “retailed” at sizable markups, with an extra twenty-five-dollar or more profit from the inevitable office fee. Eventually, they came to account for a major chunk of any veterinarian’s income.
By the early 1970s, as a result, a new tradition had been established: annual revaccinations. Veterinarians reasoned that the protocol provided a chance to conduct basic checkups of pets whose owners might not otherwise bother to bring them in. In that they were half right: annual checkups are important, and owners were prone to neglect them without the goad of “obligatory” shots. But even if one assumes for argument’s sake that vaccines have no adverse effects, the annual booster made no medical sense. Few if any vaccines lose their efficacy—such as it is—in just a year or two, as proved by various studies. At the least, then, administering annual boosters is redundant and unnecessary. But redundancy isn’t the only criterion. Giving too many vaccines makes pets sick.
A recognized ambassador between the homeopathic and allopathic worlds, Jean Dodds is more inclined than I am to credit vaccines for containing epidemics in the past. But that, she feels, shouldn’t keep us from recognizing the problems they’ve created since. “We have the luxury to be concerned with the adverse effects of vaccines more than we did before, because we have reduced diseases that were killing animals and people,” she says. “And vaccines did play a role: they provided protection during heights of infectious outbreaks. Now, as a result, diseases are more contained, and we can look at the incidences that remain and say that vaccines do sometimes seem to play a role. With distemper, for example, the incidence of disease from vaccine is higher than from the disease itself. But we wouldn’t have that if pets were dying from a rampant outbreak of the disease for which we had no vaccine.
“So vaccines were necessary to save the population in the face of epidemics. But it doesn’t matter what was. The fact is that now we have too many adverse reactions.”
Richard Pitcairn, one of the country’s most prominent homeopathic veterinarians, takes a harsher view that echoes my own. “If I may venture to make a prediction, it is that fifty or one hundred years from now people will look back at the practice of introducing disease into people and animals for the purpose of preventing these same diseases as foolishness—a foolishness similar to that of the practice of bloodletting or the use of toxic doses of mercury in the treatment of disease.”
• • •
With a subject as controversial as vaccines, it’s best to find one’s way to reason by starting with assumptions that all sides accept. Vaccines do clearly fail to protect certain pets in a group. And sometimes they’re followed almost immediately by certain adverse reactions. Why?
Conventional wisdom holds that vaccines are pretty much effective unless wrongly prepared or administered. To be sure, preparing vaccines is a tricky business and things can go wrong, not that that’s terribly reassuring. Vaccines are made in one of two ways, both of which involve doctoring the protein coats of a real disease virus so that its infectious agents are rendered harmless. A modified-live virus vaccine (or MLV) has, as its name suggests, living agents that actually replicate in a pet’s body, provoking a strong and enduring response from the host’s immune system. With any living pathogens, doctored as they may be, there’s some risk they may revert to virulence; hence the preference on the part of some veterinarians for “killed virus” vaccines, which are safer but less long-lasting, as killed viruses can’t multiply in a host. But even killed virus vaccines can be contaminated during production. Dodds observes that a commercial canine parvovirus vaccine was contaminated not long ago by blue-tongue virus, a cow disease. Administered unwittingly to pregnant dogs, the vaccine resulted in abortions and death.
Far more commonly, as both allopathic and homeopathic veterinarians acknowledge, vaccines fail because they’re given too soon. In their first weeks of life, puppies and kittens are protected from disease germs by a temporary immunity acquired from their mother’s first milk (called colostrum). This “maternal immunity” of antibodies comes either from the mother’s experience of fighting disease or from vaccines that stimulated those antibodies. As a result, it varies from case to case. A mother vaccinated just prior to pregnancy will pass on stronger immunity than one vaccinated a year or more before conception—a rationale for many veterinarians to inoculate animals before breeding. During the weeks when maternal immunity is in effect, it does ward off disease, but also blocks vaccines.
The now standard schedule of immunizations for a dog begins at six to eight weeks with a combo vaccine containing canine distemper, adenovirus, and parvovirus. That’s when maternal immunity starts to wear off. But it can last up to eleven weeks—or longer. That wouldn’t be a problem if veterinarians chose to do what’s called “titering”—having blood samples from the mother examined at an outside lab so as to determine how long her maternal antibodies will be effective in her pups (an extrapolation called a normograph), and scheduling vaccines accordingly. But titering isn’t yet taught in veterinary schools as a standard procedure, or routinely used in conventional practice. Easier—and more profitable—to revaccinate often and hope for the best. If the animal gets sick in the meantime—well, the vaccine was “bad.” This isn’t just the conventional view, by the way: Ronald Schultz, a much admired veterinarian and professor at the University of Wisconsin, advocates multiple vaccinations—three or four in all—to address the maternal immunity problem. “Vaccinating at six, nine, or twelve weeks, or at nine and twelve weeks, is probably adequate to immunize greater than 95 percent of all pet cats and dogs.”
Vaccines may also be given too late. A pet, that is, may have contracted the disease by the time he’s inoculated, in which case the vaccine will have no effect. Titering can detect disease as well as it does immunity, but since it’s rarely done, these incidences persist. Even if the vaccine takes, there’s a “window” of time before it becomes effective (if it becomes effective at all). For canine distemper, the window can be two to four weeks. For canine parvovirus, it can be as many as ten weeks. A puppy already adopted can be kept away from other dogs (and their feces) easily enough, but the parvo “window” is a real problem for kennels and animal shelters. The standard course in those cases is to revaccinate even more often.
There’s no doubt that maternal immunity plays a large role in blocking vaccines, that a disease can be incubating when a vaccine is given, and that a vaccine can fail to protect a pet during the “window” of time it’s becoming effective in the body. But I think lack of efficacy is the least of vaccines’ problems.
My doubts about vaccines begin with the way they’re delivered to the body. Injecting a concentrated foreign substance into the bloodstream is not only a shock to the system—it’s unnatural. With the exception of rabies and Lyme, none of the diseases addressed by that standard regimen of vaccines enter the body directly by injection. Distemper, parvovirus, viral hepatitis, leptospirosis, coronavirus, parainfluenza—all are absorbed via the oral and/or respiratory systems, where they encounter the immune system’s first lines of defense: the skin itself, saliva and mucus membranes in the mouth and throat, powerful stomach acids, and enzymes and bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. Obviously, diseases sometimes break through those defenses; still, the rest of the immune system is warned that a viral threat is coming, and given time to rally its white blood cells and antibodies. Where is there a dog or cat in nature who’s exposed to seven or eight diseases at the same time by injection? Yet we subject a pet to exactly that shock with injected, polyvalent vaccines. The immune system isn’t designed to withstand that onslaught. (How would you feel getting vaccinated for chicken pox, polio, measles, mumps, whooping cough, smallpox, and the flu all at the same time, year after year?) Hit with repeated injections, especially combinations, it can lose its strength.
Vaccines are intended, of course, to boost the immune system, but even if given individually, I believe they cause harm. If we artificially stimulate one aspect of the immune system to prevent a particular disease, we weaken some other aspect. The body is the ultimate zero-sum object: any gain by one part of it diminishes another part. And that changing balance, I believe, is proportional: the more you boost the immune system with vaccines, the more you weaken it—somewhere, perhaps later rather than sooner, but with the inevitable result of ill health.
When the immune system is compromised, it’s open to attack by germs from all sides. That’s the main reason why establishing links between vaccines and subsequent disease is so difficult: the results are as random as the germs are. Still, in certain group situations, a pattern emerges. One early warning sign about vaccines came from a study in the 1960s and 1970s of Australian aborigine tribes whose rates of infant mortality had skyrocketed to 50 percent. The infants were dying of all manner of diseases, which utterly mystified researchers. Finally, the researchers realized that the government had recently instituted a nationwide mandatory vaccination program. The vaccines appeared to suppress the infant aborigines’ immune systems so that they succumbed to the nearest germs they encountered. When the vaccinations were stopped and the infants’ diet was supplemented with good nutrition, the mortality rates quickly dropped to that of white Australians.
More than a century ago, a homeopathic doctor named J. Compton-Burnett coined the term “vaccinosis” to describe a wide array of subtle, chronic conditions he felt resulted from various vaccinations. Compton-Burnett felt that these conditions actually made people more susceptible to the disease they were vaccinated against, rather than less so, predisposing them to an acute form of it in later life.
In a fascinating adaptation of Compton-Burnett’s theories, Richard Pitcairn has applied the same logic to animal vaccines and their aftermath. Vaccines containing a modified acute form of a given disease engender a lowlying, chronic form of that disease in the host, he believes; the results may account for as much as 80 percent of the illnesses veterinarians treat. (Obscuring the connection further, a vaccine for one disease may provoke symptoms of another, or simply lead to manifestations of generally sluggish health.) Pitcairn has even identified “chronic” counterparts to the acute symptoms of various diseases, sort of like “Column A” and “Column B” on a Chinese restaurant menu. With feline distemper, or panleukopenia, for example, he draws these comparisons:
|ACUTE SYMPTOMS||CHRONIC SYMPTOMS|
|Lassitude; indifference to owner or surroundings||Lazy cats, not active, inclined to lie around most of the time|
|Inappetence||Appetite problems, finicky, not wanting to eat well|
|Fever||Chronic fever for weeks, with few symptoms except for cervical gland enlargements|
|Rough, unkempt coat||Poor groomers (or cats that never groom)|
|Dehydration||Chronic dehydration leading to cystitis and bladder calculi formation; chronic interstitial nephritis|
|Rapid weight loss||Emaciation; thin, “skeletal” cats; hyperthyroidism|
|Vomiting; profuse, watery diarrhea (often bloodtinged)||Inflammatory bowel disease|
These symptoms, reinforced by more immunizations, lodge permanently in the cat’s body, Pitcairn suggests, producing not only chronic conditions but also growths of all kinds. In time, they may bring on the disease the vaccine was meant to guard against. They may also bring on a troubling array of extreme, often fatal conditions. Patterns may not serve as proof to a skeptic, but pile up enough case histories and the sheer weight of them becomes persuasive. Consider these from Smith Ridge:
• Not long ago, a two-month-old Maltese puppy was brought into the clinic. He was the cutest dog I’d seen in months. But he was blind, walking in circles, his eyes clicking back and forth as he pushed his head against the wall. Three days before, he had had his first round of vaccines. Temporary blindness with encephalitis (swelling of the fluids around the brain) is just one of many potential short-term reactions. With homeopathics and specific supplementation to his improved diet, we managed to restore his sight and his health. Needless to say, he did not receive any more vaccinations in his recommended series.
• I saw a three-year-old terrier not long ago who had been treated over the course of half his short life with antibiotics and steroids for chronic colitis—bloody diarrhea. The dog’s condition had not improved, so the owner sought out alternative therapy at Smith Ridge. While working up the terrier’s case, I noticed that he had been treated for his initial symptoms of colitis just two weeks after receiving his yearly vaccinations: DHLPP (distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parainfluenza, and parvo), corona, rabies, and Lyme—eight ingredients given at the same time. Plus heartworm medication, all in the same visit. Coincidence? I highly doubt it.
• A four-year-old corgi with epilepsy was brought to me because his antiepileptic drugs, phenobarbitol prescribed in combination with Dilantin, failed to stop his frequent seizures. I weaned the corgi from his medication while initiating his metabolic and homeopathic support program. The seizures stopped—for nine months. Then one day I got a call from the dog’s owners, an older couple. The dog was suddenly in “status epilepticus,” a state of constant seizures that could only be broken by anesthetizing him. When at last he pulled out of the seizures, he was blind. What had happened? The owners had brought him in to their regular veterinarian after receiving a reminder about annual vaccinations. Two days after the vaccines were given, the seizures had begun.
The owners actually wanted the dog put to sleep—they said they were too old to deal with the problem, and felt so sorry—but I just couldn’t do that, so I took the dog in at the clinic myself. After several days of steady detoxification, he became severely diarrhetic, so I isolated him in the back room of the clinic. The next morning, I arrived to find the floor covered with bloody stool. But the dog’s vision was back! And no more seizures. This was, in fact, a healing crisis (see Chapter Six). Within a week, we’d found the corgi a new home, with stern instructions for his new owners: no vaccines.
• A five-year-old domestic short-haired cat named Rusty was brought to me in terrible condition. Her gums were rotting, her muscle tone was shot, she had flaky skin and several small lumps, and she’d begun vomiting everything she ate. And all of these symptoms had come on rather suddenly. Had the cat eaten anything unusual? I asked. No, the owner said. Had she done anything unusual recently? No, the owner said. In fact, Rusty had left the house only once in recent weeks—to go to her local clinic for her annual checkup. When I asked for her medical report, my fears were confirmed: Rusty had been given four separate injections, one for feline distemper, rhinotracheitis, and calici virus; one for feline infectious peritonitis; one for feline leukemia; and one for rabies.
In her own research, Jean Dodds has found evidence that all of these symptoms and more were vaccine-induced. One focus of her work is the onset of muscular atrophy, incoordination, and seizures—known collectively as polyneuropathy—as a result of vaccines for distemper, parvovirus, and rabies. I’m particularly intrigued by another link she’s established: the association between liver and kidney failures and a canine vaccine for Lyme disease.
The vaccine, known officially as Borrelia burgdorferi bacterin, was rushed onto the market in 1990 by the Fort Dodge Company and has been mired in controversy ever since. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved it after examining the results of a lab test on only eighteen dogs. As the Wall Street Journal reported, the vaccine was then advertised aggressively across the country, even though nearly all the cases of canine (or, for that matter, human) Lyme disease had occurred in the Northeast. In an ad (no longer in use) that appeared in medical journals, children were seen cavorting with dogs over a legend that read, “Lyme Disease plays rough … so why play around?”—implying that children could contract the disease from dogs, which scientists said was not the case. The ad also featured a map of the United States and the claim that Lyme disease had been “confirmed” in forty-four states, though in fact the Centers for Disease Control could only confirm it in seventeen states. The campaign worked: in Nebraska alone, where not a single case of Lyme disease had been reported, Fort Dodge sold 18,000 doses in 1990. In that entire year, 2.5 million doses of the vaccine were sold to 9,500 veterinarians in forty-six states.
Had the vaccine worked, or merely failed to work, the only result would have been a lot of unnecessarily vaccinated dogs. But by the end of 1991, researchers at Cornell University’s veterinary school had counted at least twenty cases of vaccinated dogs who later exhibited symptoms of Lyme disease. The most common symptoms were joint aches that led to limping and eventually degenerative joint disease. The next most common were kidney or liver failures,*2 as appeared to occur in the case of Annie.
Annie was a feisty, five-year-old terrier mix so energetic that when her owners sat down to dinner, Annie would jump higher than the table, as if propelled by a trampoline, hoping for handouts. Unfortunately, Annie lived in North Haven, New York, a tiny hamlet next to Sag Harbor on Long Island’s South Fork which has become notorious as the Northeast’s epicenter of Lyme disease, thanks to the epidemic proliferation of white-tailed deer who carry the ticks that carry the disease. Fort Dodge sold a lot of its vaccine in 1994 to the area’s unwitting veterinarians; one dose found its way into Annie. Two weeks later, she lost her appetite and drank large amounts of water—a sign, as her veterinarian knew, of kidney failure. These were also signs of Lyme disease, and as her veterinarian observed, Annie might have been infected by the tick-borne spirochete months or even years before. If so, however, the spirochetes had remained dormant—until the vaccine delivered enough reinforcements to activate them. When intravenous fluid therapy failed to restore her kidney function, Annie was put to sleep with an injection from the veterinarian who had injected her with the vaccine just five weeks before. The veterinarian wasn’t to blame; he’d had no idea the vaccine might do such harm. All he could do was note the suspicious chronological link between the vaccination and the onset of Lyme disease, and quietly stop administering the vaccine to other dogs soon after Annie’s death.
How many other cases of canine Lyme disease may have arisen from the Lyme vaccine? As of mid-1998, Professor Richard Jacobson of Cornell’s veterinary school remained wary of drawing any overt conclusions. But Jacobson, who has studied more than a thousand dogs vaccinated for Lyme disease that became symptomatic with all the clinical signs attributable to Lyme, does acknowledge this telling statistic: 52 percent of those dogs were found to have antibodies only to the vaccine, not to the disease itself. “We can’t prove the vaccine caused the disease,” he notes carefully. Perhaps, that is, some of these dogs simply failed to develop disease antibodies even though infected by the disease. However, he adds, every time he’s challenged a dog with actual Lyme disease, the dog’s antibody count has “gone through the roof.” To me, it seems fairly obvious that the vaccine caused the disease—obvious enough that if I were a conventional veterinarian and heard this account for the first time, I’d immediately discontinue using the vaccine. Why has Jacobson not been able to prove and publish his assumptions as yet? “There was no good way to control the study,” he says, “out in the field where it needs to be done.”
Meanwhile, various Lyme vaccines remain on the market, though some veterinarians have chosen not to use them. Dr. Mark Davis of the South Fork Animal Hospital in Wainscott, Long Island, for example, distributes an explanatory memo when clients ask if their dog should be given the vaccine. “Our observations during the last four years have shown some preventative effect from the vaccine,” the memo reports. “However, we have also seen a number of dogs who have been vaccinated develop Lyme symptoms. Side effects seen during the last four years include fever, soreness, lethargy. Most recently, we suspect but are unable to prove that several dogs have developed kidney disease from the vaccine. This is of major concern. Because of the side effects, we can no longer recommend the use of this vaccine. Perhaps in the future a safer and more effective vaccine will be available.”
In fact, a major pharmaceutical company called Meriel has come out with a new recombinant vaccine that seems promising, though as Jean Dodds observes, not enough testing of it has been done to be sure it doesn’t have side effects, too. But even an effective vaccine may be unnecessary. As Jacobson points out, only 5 percent of nonvaccinated dogs that he’s infected with the Lyme organism have gone on to develop any clinical disease. So even a vaccine that claims to be 90 percent effective is only addressing the needs of five dogs out of a hundred. If it’s 90 percent effective, it’s merely helped four of those five dogs—possibly at the cost of rendering many of the other dogs sick.
The distemper vaccine is, for both kittens and puppies, an important one that should be given. The key is moderation. When it first appeared, veterinarians simply added the distemper vaccine to others to make a combo. The result, I feel, is that the immune system in some cats broke down. Nutrition-poor commercial pet food and the overuse of antibiotics almost certainly played a role in these cases as well, but the vaccine seems to have tipped the balance. Today, it remains part of a combo, and cats continue to get hyperthyroidism more often than they once did. The pity is that the distemper vaccine could easily be modified to be administered on its own and, if given once, be effective for life without incurring much of a risk.
Less often, but no less serious a problem for that, vaccines appear to induce any of several autoimmune diseases. When a vaccine antigen is introduced, it may not provoke the immune system into generating antibodies as intended. Instead, it may sneak under the radar, so to speak, and insinuate itself into the body’s white or red blood cells. Eventually, it will cause a change in the cells’ outer membrane. The host’s immune system then reacts as if its own cells were foreign, and attacks itself. (Auto means “self,” as in autobiography.) An autoimmune disease commonly linked to vaccines is systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE, which causes skin eruptions but also affects the joints, kidneys, and heart, and renders the immune system that much more vulnerable to secondary bacterial infections. Others include AIHA, autoimmune hemolytic anemia; pemphigus, also characterized by serious skin eruptions; and bullous pemphigoid, in which blisters and other eruptions appear in and around the mouth but may spread to the abdomen, groin, and other areas.
It took me years to recognize that many of the conditions I was treating in cats and dogs might be traced to vaccines. The awareness grew slowly, incrementally. Maybe the eight vaccine components this dog got a week ago might have helped provoke this allergy. Maybe this cat’s stiff joints might be vaccine-related, too…. The most critical link eluded me the longest, even though it was staring me in the face every day at the clinic. It just didn’t occur to me that the cancers I was seeing might also be caused, in part if not completely, by overaggressive vaccine regimens.
Eventually, the coincidences simply became too obvious to ignore. I had animals all over the country responding beautifully to holistic treatment for one cancer or another. Then I’d get the panicked calls. A tumor had just appeared. Or with those who’d had tumors removed, the tumor was back, worse than before. I’d ask the owner, “What in the dog’s environment changed?” Nothing. “Did you put him back on commercial pet food? Stop giving him the supplements?” Nope. “In fact,” the owner would say, “our local veterinarian told us just two weeks ago how great our dog was doing when we brought him in for his annual vaccines!”
I suppose it should have been obvious from the start. Cancer, after all, simply doesn’t occur in hosts with strong immune systems. Vaccines, given as copiously as they are to pets, stress the immune system; the pets get cancer; the vaccines cause cancer. Call it a corollary to classic Aristotelian logic: If A creates B and B creates C, then A creates C. Any doubts about the connection have by now been crushed under the sheer accumulation of telling case histories.
By the time I treated Wesley, a three-year-old Jack Russell co-owned by the actress Jennifer O’Neill, he had a long history of overvaccination. Some months before, he had developed a tumor on his abdomen that another veterinarian removed surgically. When I studied the medical report, I was amazed: while under general anesthesia, Wesley had been given a combo vaccine of DHLPP (distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parvovirus, and parainfluenza) plus a coronavirus vaccine, plus rabies. Seven agents in all, while the poor dog’s immune system was already struggling with the general anesthetic and the cancer! Surprise: Wesley had soon grown another tumor, this one in the genital area. The second lump, too, had been removed under general anesthesia. Two weeks later, Wesley was brought in “shaking and breathing hard,” with a 103-degree temperature, swelling, and trauma. Only to be given antibiotics and cortisone. That was when O’Neill decided that another approach might help. Unfortunately, too much damage had been done. Cancers continued to grow all over Wesley’s body, no matter what we did; within a short period, the dog was dead.
Not long ago, I saw an older terrier mix named Missy with a tumor on her back already diagnosed as mast cell cancer. We chose in this case not to traumatize the dog by removing the tumor surgically, as the owners’ local veterinarian had recommended. Instead, we tried a nutritional program. The program worked; the tumor began to shrink, then stabilized for several months. Suddenly it grew much larger. Again, the owners’ local veterinarian made the case for removing it. Instead, I stuck an exploratory needle in. Clear fluid oozed out; the new growth had converted to a cyst. For two years, Missy did fine. Then last winter she had an eye problem, and her owners took her to their local veterinarian. The veterinarian took her off to a treatment room to examine her eye under a special light. “For a fourteen-and-a-half-year-old dog she’s doing fine,” the veterinarian reported as he returned Missy to her owners. “But I noticed from her medical history that she was long overdue on her vaccinations, so I brought her up to date.” The owners, who’d expressly avoided vaccinations at my behest, were appalled. Within six weeks, Missy developed an almost inoperable cancerous tumor surrounding her ankle joint. The tumor was removed, but only with difficulty. And at what cost to Missy’s overall health? Only time will tell.
Most vaccines are still given by injection, and only one oral vaccine for animals—given to wildlife for rabies—is available. The vaccine for bordetella, or kennel cough, can be administered “intranasally,” with nose drops. Unfortunately, intranasal vaccines sometimes seem to precipitate on-site problems. My own suspicions were first raised in the mid-1980s, when I obtained ownership of the small clinic that became the genesis of Smith Ridge today. Part of the business was a boarding kennel, which I began to manage along with my practice. In order to be as responsible as possible, I made sure that every dog who checked in was up to date on his bordetella, or kennel cough, vaccine. For any dog who wasn’t, I’d administer an intranasal vaccine, which was said to start being effective as soon as it was given, so that the dog could be boarded without delay. Within a few months, I realized that several of the dogs given intranasal vaccines were emerging from their stay at the kennel with flu-like symptoms—among them kennel cough! As owners began muttering that their dogs had “caught” bordetella at our kennel, I quietly stopped giving intranasal vaccines. The incidences of kennel cough dropped to virtually none.
Unfortunately, intranasal vaccines may also lead to other, more serious problems, including, in my experience, nasal cancer. One sad case was Wilhelm the Great, a wire-haired Jack Russell, who by the time I saw him had suffered for years with chronic sinusitis—an ongoing runny nose, in effect. A look at his medical history confirmed that the sinusitis had flared up right after the first intranasal vaccine he’d been given for bordetella bronchiseptica. Bordetella is a mild condition, hardly life-endangering, and easily addressed by isolating the afflicted puppy from other dogs and putting him on a good diet with supplements and homeopathic remedies. The vaccine, moreover, is often useless. But every puppy who gets the intranasal bordetella vaccine has to absorb the shock to its immune system of those disease antigens (sometimes at as young as two weeks old, if the puppy was born in an area where bordetella is prevalent). Often that shock produces sinusitis. Occasionally, as the sinusitis worsens and is medically treated, nasal cancer appears, especially when a patient’s medical history includes frequent administration of combo vaccines. That was Wilhelm the Great’s latest plight.
Along with nutritional supplements, we gave Wilhelm regular doses of Blue Earth Dragon, a Chinese herb combination found to ease sinus problems in both animals and people (Blue Earth Dragon comes in pill form; see Chapter Five). As it happens, the herb combination contains a controversial herb called ma-huang which works as an anti-histamine, but which to some doctors looks suspiciously like a narcotic stimulant. My own feeling is that if the herb is natural (as it is), rather than synthetic, and if it’s not actually toxic (which it isn’t), then we ought to use it for its beneficial properties, and not let it be outlawed by the medical establishment or its regulatory agencies that created the vaccines whose unfortunate consequences we’re trying to address. At any rate, the herbal treatment, in conjunction with the rest of the program of supplements we put Wilhelm on, worked: his nasal cancer receded, along with his chronic sinus problem.
If Wilhelm had not just been “the Great” but a Great Dane, the odds against him would have been greater. Great Danes are among several breeds that Jean Dodds’s research has determined to be especially vulnerable to cancer and other extreme adverse reactions from vaccines. A key factor may be their dilute, or whitish, coat color: weimaraners, Shetland sheepdogs, and albinos of any breed also appear to have extrasensitive immune systems that combo, or polyvalent, vaccines can more easily overwhelm. Diet can play a role too, Dodds believes: Akitas may be at increased risk because they were brought only recently to this country from Asia, and remain accustomed, biologically, to a fish-and-vegetable diet they no longer receive. As well, a breed may be susceptible to one particular disease, increasing its apparent requirement for one vaccine. Such is the case, tragically, with Rottweilers and the parvovirus vaccine.
Ever since parvo began afflicting dogs in the 1970s, Rottweilers have been recognized as being unusually vulnerable to it. Rottweiler pups, as a result, have been put on what veterinarians call accelerated vaccine schedules for parvo—which is to say that they’ve been blitzed. After the first standard inoculation at six weeks—too early, in my opinion—a Rottweiler pup will often get additional parvo vaccines each week or two until he’s sixteen weeks old, then again at six months and a year old. Conventional wisdom holds that vaccines are harmless, so the protocol is rarely questioned; indeed, it’s seen as that much greater a guarantee of good health. But vaccines are harmful! And the more of them you inject into an animal’s body—“modified-live” or “killed” as the antigens may be—the more of them the animal’s immune system has to combat. It’s as if someone asked you to store boxes of radioactive waste in your basement, after assuring you that it’s no longer radioactive. How does anyone really know it’s safe? Even if it is, you’ve still got a basement full of very unappealing waste. And you’ll still expend a lot of physical effort getting rid of it. You may also find, as you do so, that it damages your health in some unexpected way—causing anything from allergies to cancer—as the radioactivity “leaks out” and the vaccine gains access to the rest of the body. With Rottweilers and the parvo vaccine, the side effect was cancer.
Every month now, I see an average of five desperately ill Rottweilers from around the country. Many have bone cancer, a very painful kind and probably the most difficult of all the cancers to treat successfully, or lymph cancer, not painful but also very aggressive. We’ve had an unusual degree of success in treating both kinds with the methods I’ll describe in Chapter Eight. But when you start with cancers that have historically resulted in overwhelming fatalities, success is relative: a lot of dogs still die.
The FeLV vaccine is now refined enough that cats no longer die from it … directly. In certain cases, however, it may precipitate leukemia in directly. Sometimes, that is, it is possible that the leukemia virus is residing passively in a cat’s bone marrow, as if in a bottle on a sunken ship. Administering the vaccine may stir it up, just as disturbing a shipwreck might break the bottle. Spilling into the bloodstream, the virus may cause full-blown leukemia before the vaccine can stop it. Of course, FeLV, even if in the bone marrow, can be detected in cats by testing for it. If the antibodies are not present, neither is the virus. Then the vaccine may be more safely given, and will probably protect the cat for life. But I think that the only rationale for doing this is if the cat is in imminent danger of exposure.
Unfortunately, while testing can minimize the risk of having the leukemia vaccine lead to the disease, recent case histories that Jean Dodds has studied suggest the vaccine occasionally provokes another disease, the often fatal disease called feline infectious peritonitis, by compromising a cat’s immune system and thus rendering her more susceptible to it. Worse, it appears to be one of two vaccines that engender highly aggressive fibrous tumors called fibrosarcomas at the exact site where a cat was injected.
In incidences frequent enough now to constitute an epidemic, the vaccines for both feline leukemia and rabies are providing more than a pattern of seeming cause and effect between vaccines and cancer. If seeing is believing, what they’re providing is proof. Both are typically injected between a cat’s shoulder blades or the other flank areas. In case after case, a fibrosarcoma grows exactly where the injection was given. Remove the tumor, leaving nothing but healthy tissue behind, and it grows right back, right at the incision site or just adjacent to it. It’s like some surreal energy-field disruption from the vaccine. I’ve seen dozens of these cases; right now, I’m working on six of them. Although I’ve occasionally had success with this type of cancer, if I save one of these, I’ll be happy: basically, fibrosarcoma kills, either directly or by forcing a veterinarian to make the humane choice of euthanasia.
More than visual proof implicates the rabies vaccine in this hideous cancer. I’ve sent the tumors out for biopsy by a pathologist. The verdict: vaccine-induced fibrosarcoma. At the University of Pennsylvania, a veterinary pathologist named Mattie Hendrick recently conducted a broad study of similarly afflicted cats and found links definitive enough for her to formally name the condition vaccine-associated feline sarcoma. Hendrick stopped short of recommending that cats not be given the two implicated vaccines. Both leukemia and rabies, as she observed, are lethal diseases, and the risk of contracting either without vaccines is greater than that of developing a fibrosarcoma from the vaccines. The issue, she said, is not whether cats should be vaccinated but how often. While that’s under debate, she said, veterinarians can reduce the risk of mortality from vaccine-induced fibrosarcoma by following this handy tip: vaccinate in the left rear leg for feline leukemia, and in the right rear leg for rabies; then, if a tumor develops, the cat can be saved by amputating one leg or the other, and you’ll know which vaccine was to blame.
Excuse me? Is this really how we solve vaccine-induced fibrosarcoma—by cutting off the cat’s leg? That’s medical progress?
I think we can do better than that.
Considering that nearly all of the country’s sixty-five thousand veterinarians still promote annual revaccinations, and mutter darkly of the dangers of not adhering to that schedule, the new three-year recommendation is a major change and won’t be embraced overnight. “The recommendations are filtering down,” says Jean Dodds, whose research was critical to the conference. “And that will take some time. We’re in the transition phase, gathering data.” Dodds acknowledges that the new recommendations are actually more modest than they could be. “We don’t want to appear too radical here,” she says. “We want to take it a step at a time. But in fact, those of us who’ve done vaccine research for years know how much longer many vaccines last than advertised.” Indeed, Ronald D. Schultz, a well-known professor of veterinary science at the University of Wisconsin and the organizer of the conference, wrote more recently that when there is no interference from maternal immunity, immunized puppies are protected for life, just as children are.
I should preface my own recommendations by saying that Jean Dodds, forward-thinking as she is, views me as a radical. Frankly, I look forward to the day when no vaccines need be given. Several of the ones I do give now are administered to protect my practice from being targeted as unethical or, in the case of the rabies vaccine, to conform with the law. Those few that I feel are necessary now—because generations of decline in pet health have left so many patients more vulnerable to disease than they need be—can be given, I believe, just once. Both before and after they’re given, I also do all I can to strengthen a pet’s immune system, and to educate his owners, so that the vaccines do minimal harm to the little beings they’re infiltrating.
When a puppy is about eleven weeks old, and not before, I give him a distemper vaccine. A single vaccine, on its own, unbundled from the standard combo vaccine. On a separate visit, I give him a parvovirus vaccine. One. Your veterinarian may think that he can only get these vaccines bundled in a combo, but that’s not the case with distemper and parvo for dogs. Manufacturers will comply if he asks. With a kitten, I’ll give a distemper vaccine (feline rather than canine), also at about eleven weeks. With both puppies and kittens, I also give homeopathic remedies and vitamins to counteract the vaccines’ immunosuppressive effects.*3
With one important exception, I give none of the other vaccines claimed to be so crucial to a pet’s well-being. No to the Lyme vaccine for dogs, to canine hepatitis and bordetella, parainfluenza and corona, all of which either don’t work or aren’t needed, and may cause harm. (Safer, in each case, is to give antibiotics—or, better still, homeopathic remedies—should disease occur.) No to a new canine rotavirus vaccine that is about to hit the market, despite the fact that there’s virtually no incidence of the disease. A big no to the existing leptospirosis bacterin, which has caused more allergic reactions than any other single ingredient in the standard canine DHLPP combo.†4 With cats, for the same reasons, no to feline infectious peritonitis and feline leukemia and ringworm, feline rhinotracheitis and calici (although the last two are still included in most feline vaccine combos). The exception, about which certain qualifications need to be made, is rabies.
One might observe that any debate about whether or not to give the rabies vaccine is beside the point: it’s required by law in most states. But laws can change if enough logic and political clout are set against them. In New York, for example, the rabies vaccine was once an annual requirement; now it can be given once every three years. Better, then, to reason one’s way to the best answer about the rabies vaccine and hope the law follows suit.
Rabies among pets and people is rare, but it’s also a very serious disease that does have a way of cropping up unexpectedly. A virus borne by saliva from a rabid animal’s bite, the disease may take anywhere from a week to a year to incubate. Once it reaches the brain, the disease produces severe mood shifts, followed by encephalitis—some animals grow frenzied and violent at this point, as the popular image of rabies suggests; others become paralyzed—and, inevitably, death. Unlike other animal diseases, rabies can be passed on to people, who experience the same progression of dreadful symptoms if the disease incubates. Fortunately, the rabies vaccine has been remarkably effective in protecting pets—and their owners—from the disease. The handful of human cases each year in the U.S. are, therefore, almost always the result of bites from rabid wildlife, such as bats in the case of a girl in Greenwich, Connecticut, in 1996 and a New Jersey man in 1997.
This is not to say, however, that the rabies vaccine need be given every year, as Florida and certain other states require. Indeed it should not, given its potential to produce aggressive or destructive behavior, random barking, and paranoia-like fear—as well as damage to the thyroid and endocrine systems, skin irritations, a general compromise of the immune system, and, as noted above, feline fibrosarcoma. I vaccinate a puppy after three months of age, then revaccinate at the one-year mark, and then again every three years, as New York state law requires. If I could, I’d amend the law to require revaccination once every five or six years, and even then mandate titering to see if the reinoculation is needed. Titering can disclose astounding—and cautionary—results. I am currently treating a ten-year-old dog named Maggie who has been in remission for a year from mast cell cancer. The dog was legally due for a rabies vaccine; instead of complying immediately, I did a rabies viral titer. The dog turned out to have an immunity ratio of 1:4,600. Which is to say that due to all the other rabies vaccines she’d been given over the years, her immune system was better able by many multiples to combat rabies than if she’d had no vaccines. By comparison, a Lyme titer of 1:64 would suggest there was probably enough Lyme vaccine still in the animal to protect against the disease; a ratio of 1:128 would suggest ample protection (with the other common canine diseases, a titer over 1:5 indicates a positive response to vaccination—no need, in other words, to revaccinate in the immediate future). The dog I was treating had the protective equivalent of a nuclear arsenal. And with all that reaction in her system, I was supposed to give her more of the same? In my judgment, giving that dog another rabies vaccine would have been a criminal act: conspiracy to murder.
Cats are legally required to have rabies vaccines, too, though often they seem to have even less need of them than dogs. What are the chances of an indoor cat getting rabies? One in a billion? What are the chances, on the other hand, of a cat developing fibrosarcomas from the rabies vaccine? Greater chances than I’d like to take. For now, the law prohibits me from doing what I think is best; perhaps the law will change.
• Should the virus antigens be modified-live—the ones that multiply in the host—or “killed”? When I started out in practice, I used MLVs—the stronger the better, I thought. But as I grew wary of the whole notion of vaccines, MLVs began to seem particularly risky. Though they confer more sustained antibody protection than killed vaccines, their challenge to the immune system imposes too great a strain. Now, after all I’ve seen in the way of adverse reactions to vaccines, it scares me to put any potentially live infectious agent into the body. Does that mean “killed” vaccines are preferable? By process of elimination, yes. But this is hardly to say that “killed” vaccines are always harmless. Because they’re less virulent than MLVs, they’re also less effective. As a result, manufacturers routinely boost them with powerful adjuvants, or additives, to provoke a more sustained immune response. But these adjuvants can also cause adverse effects. My preference, overall, is still to give no vaccines.
• Should the same dose size of vaccine be given to a Chihuahua as to a Saint Bernard? If you’re not familiar with veterinary science, you’re probably thinking, “Gee, that’s an easy one—of course not.” Guess what? That is the way vaccines are administered. And to most veterinarians (and all drug companies), “one dose fits all” is such common practice that it’s simply never questioned. Press the point and you’ll get a vague rap about the vaccine antigens being such minuscule agents in an animal’s bloodstream that dose size is of no concern. Ergo, a one-pound Chihuahua puppy and a 150-pound full-grown Saint Bernard both get 1-cc vaccine doses that contain not only viral agents but various chemicals used to inactivate the pathogens, plus the chemical “vehicle” used to carry the organism into the bloodstream, plus a preservative to keep the whole toxic mix potent, plus a colored dye agent (typically red) to make it look pretty as it enters the body.
I’ve long felt that even a Saint Bernard doesn’t need all the antibodies that a 1-cc dose size produces, let alone the extra chemicals, and that a puppy’s health is endangered by that amount, especially when injected right into his body. But now Jean Dodds has learned something truly mind-boggling about vaccine dose size from sources in the drug industry. To ensure efficacy, manufacturers for years have made vaccines ten times more potent than what is needed to challenge the immune system. After all, if vaccines are harmless, what’s the downside? If you can, persuade your veterinarian to give smaller doses, but understand that even if he’s sympathetic, he may not feel he can oblige. In theory, he could lose his license for not administering the full 1-cc dose, or might have to recall all of the pets to whom he gave a substandard dose and revaccinate them at full dosages, meaning that those unfortunate “victims of the law” would be getting even more overdosed with antigens. That’s how controversial vaccines are—and will remain, until attitudes, and laws, begin to change.
• Should you buy over-the-counter vaccines for your pet and administer them yourself? That’s an easy one: no. Eager as I am to see owners rely less on veterinarians than themselves in matters like this, vaccines are too dangerous to be handled by people with no medical training. The over-the-counter brands emerged, ironically, from the drug industry’s unbridled growth. Enough people were turned off by the costs of ever more aggressive vaccination schedules that do-it-yourself, cut-rate vaccines appealed to them. But cut-rate vaccines only benefit other drug companies. The ones who lose—by not getting vaccines properly administered, and by missing out on the checkup that a vaccine visit, at least, provides—are the animals.
• Should your veterinarian administer vaccines to animals who are ill, malnourished, or on drugs? The answer is obvious—no!—but because most veterinarians view vaccines as benign, they administer them as standard procedure in some of these circumstances. Commonly, they even give a whole battery of vaccinations while a pet is under anesthesia for surgery, oblivious to the possible consequences of inundating a pet’s body with highly concentrated antigens while his immune system is already under siege. The cases that beat all, in my experience, are those of pets whose cancers are so terribly aggressive that they’ve been given just a few months to live. Yet their veterinarians diligently bring them “up to date” on their vaccines, and start dogs on heartworm preventatives despite the fact that it takes five months for the bite of an infected mosquito to produce clinical heartworm in a dog’s body. I don’t understand the rationale for giving a pet a chemical to prevent diseases that can’t even surface until months after his supposed demise. If anything, the vaccines will shorten these pets’ remaining life spans. Where’s the sense in that?
Looming over these issues is the most important and controversial one of all: When to revaccinate?
With my own dogs and cats, the answer is: Never. I will titer them and, in the event of any reported incidence of a certain disease in the area, consider giving a weight-related dose. I think these vaccines last for life, as human vaccines do, and I’ve been given no reason to revise that view in my more than two decades of living holistically with pets. The standard procedure of revaccinating every year is simply ludicrous. It makes no sense: How can animals of different sizes, given the same dose size vaccine, all need boosters exactly one year later? The vaccination policy at Smith Ridge is continually changing, due to the influx of new information, changing standards, and changing law. My current stance is that I may revaccinate after three to five years, but only after titering to determine if the antibodies generated by the original vaccines are no longer active. In most cases, they are active. I never vaccinate pregnant animals, because a mother may “shed” the virus as the vaccine takes effect, leading to abortion or infertility, or infecting her offspring. I never vaccinate females near or during estrus; the added stress of the hormonal activity they’re experiencing at that time can provoke disease when a vaccine enters the bloodstream. And I never vaccinate older pets if I can possibly help it.
Of all the unfortunate assumptions about vaccines, those about older pets are, to me, among the most exasperating. A fourteen-year-old golden retriever who comes to a clinic for some minor ailment will be brought “up to date” on his vaccines as a matter of course. The owner may be informed but not … consulted. Why should he be, when vaccines “must” be given? Indeed, an older pet needs them more than one in his prime, goes the logic, because his immune system is starting to deteriorate and needs the extra help. But that couldn’t be more wrongheaded. The last thing an aging immune system needs is the extra stress. And how likely is it that a dog near the end of his natural life span will contract any of the diseases for which he’s being vaccinated? How much more likely is it that the vaccines will do him enough harm to shorten that life span unnecessarily? Yet the logic persists. I remember a teacher at veterinary school discussing the case of a dog eight and a half years old who was diagnosed as having canine distemper. Usually, my teacher explained, canine distemper affected far younger dogs. In fact, this was the only dog he’d ever seen reported with the disease above the age of eight. Yet today, in our misguided enthusiasm, we’re vaccinating dogs twelve and sixteen years old—dogs who’ll never get canine distemper, but who may well suffer adverse effects from the vaccines.
Saddest of all are the older pets who’ve had to endure a whole battery of vaccinations to be admitted into a kennel. In our overlitigious world, some kennel owners apparently worry more about liability than about the lives of the pets they board (though, in fairness, they’re likely to be unaware of the health ramifications of demanding that pets of any age be completely “up” on their vaccines). Recently, we treated a nineteen-year-old domestic short-haired cat who had been boarded at a kennel for two weeks so that her owners could take a much needed vacation. The kennel rules about vaccines were inflexible, so the cat’s veterinarian dutifully gave her the full FRVC+E before she was checked in. When her owners picked her up two weeks later, the cat was emaciated, her immune system wiped out. It’s as if a one-hundred-year-old woman had planned a two-week stay at a seaside hotel, only to learn that before she checked in, her doctor would have to vaccinate her for chicken pox, smallpox, polio, and flu—at the same time! If this was your grandmother, would you let that happen to her?
If this sounds a bit like witchcraft—well, it is arcane, but only to those who’ve never heard of nosodes or seen them work. In fact, nosodes have been used in Europe since the nineteenth century, and are championed by a growing number of homeopathic veterinarians in this country. John Fudens, D.V.M., has written about them, and offers the analogy of a car’s combustion engine to explain the “energy” that nosodes impart. “We don’t use gasoline to power our cars,” he observes. “The gasoline is mixed with air and exploded by a spark. It is the energy released by this process that drives our car, not the raw gasoline.” By the same logic, he adds, “we do not use natural gas, coal, or diesel fuel that power stations consume to heat, cool, and light our homes. We use the energy of those materials broken down by the stations. The energy is called electricity. We cannot see this energy directly, only indirectly, in our homes and offices. The same principle is made with homeopathic nosodes.”
One of the great appeals of nosodes, Fudens observes, is that they’re benign. They’re taken orally, so the trauma of injections (both viscerally and to the patient’s immune system) is avoided. Not only are nosodes virus-free, they also contain no antibiotics or chemicals. And, says Fudens, “they work. There are hundreds of reports in the literature of homeopathy stopping human epidemics and saving lives when conventional medicine, with or without injectable vaccines, could do nothing.” Currently for animals, nosodes are available for canine distemper, parvovirus, heartworm, Lyme, feline leukemia, feline infectious peritonitis, and kennel cough, as well as other diseases.
I include nosodes here because Fudens is not alone in his enthusiasm for them. In my own practice, I’ve used them as a backup to vaccines, even as a substitute. Though, as it happens, my mentor on vaccines, Jean Dodds, still views nosodes rather warily. “There’s strong experimental data,” she says of nosodes, “but no real evidence of efficacy. Many people are happy giving pets nosodes. But the absence of a reaction doesn’t prove that what you did worked. It may just prove that one particular animal doesn’t need vaccines because he has natural immunity.” And indeed, I’m happier not using them. Partly it’s due to the emphasis I choose to put on health rather than disease. Health unleashes such a powerful form of energy, both physical and psychological, that neither nosodes nor vaccines should be necessary, in most cases, as adjuncts.
Ultimately, the best alternative to vaccines, the one that allows us to keep our use of vaccinations to a bare minimum in a pet’s youth and repeat them rarely if at all, is neither arcane nor complicated. Indeed, it couldn’t be simpler, yet it’s the concept on which my whole practice is based.