Manchester Veterinary Clinic

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Manchester, CT 06040


The Whole Meaning Of Holistic: Vaccination

Publish Date: 4/4/2019 7:54 AM

By Alexis Soutter, DVM

I have been thinking a lot recently about what I mean when I refer to myself as a holistic veterinarian. Too often, people believe that indicates I solely practice alternative medicine, when to me, that is not what I mean at all. To me, holistic medicine means evaluating the entire patient, their whole lifestyle, and using whatever tools we have at our disposal to maximize wellness.

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Note that term, wellness. Aiming for wellness is different from treating illness. It involves a combination of things, from diet and exercise to preventative care, with judicious use of conventional medications and/or alternative therapies as appropriate for the given patient. It is easy to focus on one of these components, but I believe that ultimately handcuffs us in our quest.

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Today I want to talk about the role of vaccination as part of that preventative care that I use, as it is an area that is increasingly controversial.

This is a discussion that is being pushed to the forefront right now by the measles epidemic in the United States, a direct result of the anti-vaccination movement. I can’t comment knowledgeably on vaccination protocols for humans, but I have spent the past sixteen years trying to come up with the best plans for my dog and cat patients to allow me to, as I say, maximize wellness.

The crux of the anti-vax movement came about from a truly fraudulent “study” in which data was made up linking vaccination of children with development of autism. The study has been disproven, the original doctor who did it admitted to making up the data, ironically in order to sell a vaccine he had developed, and lost his license as a result. But many people were lulled into a false sense of security because these diseases—measles, mumps, whooping cough, diphtheria, polio—seemed to be gone. We had forgotten, as a society, about the children who had died from them for millennia, and decided the specter of a possible link to autism was the greater evil than the very real risk of resurgence of diseases that were merely hiding.

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How is this relevant to my veterinary patients? The fear of vaccination has crossed over. There are many who talk about vaccines contributing to chronic disease in animals, and advocating that they not be given in an attempt to prevent later life development of allergies, cancer, and other illnesses.

The truth is, we do not know if in fact vaccination does contribute to development of chronic disease. It is very possible that there are numerous other factors that far outweigh any role vaccination may hold. A hundred years ago, puppies and kittens died in large numbers as a result of infectious disease, particularly distemper. This without a doubt altered the genetics of the population, to encourage reproduction by the animals who were able to survive or resist infection. When vaccination became prominent, lifespans drastically increased. We don’t have data from 1900s United States pets to compare to today’s rates, but we do have data from 1990 Japan. In 1990, vaccination of dogs and especially cats against routine viral infections was uncommon in Japan. When vaccination became widespread, the rate of death due to infectious disease went from 30% in 1990 to 2.5% in 2014 for dogs, and from 25% to 12% for cats. Over this same 24 year period, the lifespan of dogs increased from 8.6 years up to 13.2 years, and from 5.1 years to 11.9 years for cats.

Which begs the question: are our dogs and cats developing allergies, cancer, and other chronic illnesses because of a deleterious effect from the vaccine, or because they are living long enough to do so?

Again, my goal is to enhance wellness for my patients.

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We know that judicious vaccination increases lifespan of a population, of both humans and animals. Vaccination of healthy animals (and people) has the additional benefit of providing some protection against the transmission of disease to those who do not tolerate vaccines, or who have illnesses that prevent us from being able to safely vaccinate. I do firmly believe that vaccination protocols should be tailored to an individual’s lifestyle, and that excessive repetition, or vaccination of vulnerable animals, can certainly increase risk of bad reactions. But I also do firmly believe that, carefully selected and administered, they are part of the foundation of wellness I wish to build for my patients.

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