So while we often do vaccines throughout the year, a lot of people think of Spring as “vaccine season” so it is a great time to discuss them. Since puppies start their vaccine series whenever they arrive in a home that can be any time of year. I actually love to spread out vaccines throughout the year so that instead of having all of my patients come all at once, I get to see everyone at different times. If you haven’t had one of the specific kinds that I’ll talk about next week for your dog or cat that you think they could use, it can be given any time that works for you.
Likely we’ve all heard a lot about vaccines lately. Maybe you’re even sick of vaccines. The good news is human vaccines mean we will likely be able to see you soon. The good news on the other side is that pet vaccines help us prevent some pretty severe diseases. Today I am going to talk about vaccines in general, and next week I’ll talk about all the specifics.
The main vaccine caveat is that we don’t want any two vaccines given within two weeks of each other. They can be given on the same day, or three weeks apart. They shouldn’t be given 7, 10, or 12 days apart though. The basic reasoning for this is that when we give vaccines we ask the immune system to mount a response. The immune system is then busy doing this, so if a second vaccine is given it doesn’t get a full response itself. Think of asking an army to go to point A, and once they get there asking them to fight that battle while also heading back to point B and fighting a battle there too. It just won’t work as well as when our immune system “army” can focus on one thing.
While we are on battle analogies, I’ll go over the basics of what a vaccine does. There different types of vaccines (modified live, killed, mRNA, etc), and they all work slightly differently. However, the basic concept is the same even if it is carried out in different ways. Essentially, a vaccine introduces a small amount of something the body will recognize as a virus (surface proteins for Lyme, spike proteins for COVID, etc.) We are basically asking the body to BOLO (be on the lookout) for this going forward. When the body then does see the real virus or bacteria, it can immediately and effectively start fighting. If a whole army knows to look out for chickenpox, when it sees chickenpox it can start fighting it because it already has a game plan prepped.
Some vaccines are made to fight viruses, and some are made to fight bacteria. The vaccines for bacteria are called bacterins. These don’t last as long in the body, which is why those vaccines (Lyme, leptospirosis, kennel cough) are boostered each year. How long a vaccine lasts is called the “duration of immunity”. This is studied extensively and helps us know how often we need to give it. Rabies and distemper have a long duration of immunity which is why the adult boosters can be done every three years. So let’s say the immune system has a shorter memory for some vaccines than others, which is how we know when to remind it.
In absolutely no circumstance can a vaccine cause the disease. Not with Lyme, not with COVID 19. We sometimes confuse an immune response with that, but an immune response just means the immune system is working hard to get its game plan ready. There are circumstances where vaccines are not recommended in pets, however. These are few and far between and involve either life-threatening reactions or serious immune-mediated diseases. These diseases mean that the immune system is either not working correctly or can’t respond appropriately. These conditions should already be under the management of a veterinarian and so they can guide you.
“Core” vaccines are what we consider to be the minimal necessary vaccines. Historically these have been rabies and distemper vaccines (both dogs and cats) though now the Lyme vaccine is strongly recommended as core in Vermont for dogs. I’ll talk about these and a couple of other very common vaccines next week. Core recommendations can be tough because they are region-dependent, but veterinarians should guide these based on prevalence in our area.
Vaccines are an important part of animal and human health, and one of the vaccines for dogs even impacts human health. Stay tuned to learn which vaccine and how next week.