Non-Core Vaccines

 When veterinary bodies announced that we don’t need to vaccinate annually, I was overjoyed, believing that this would vastly reduce the number of life-threatening vaccine reactions visited upon dogs.  Then I realised that, so long as pet owners are persuaded to over-use the ‘non-core’ vaccines, annual vaccination simply won’t go away, and neither will vaccine adverse events.

The World Small Animal Veterinary Association has split canine vaccines into three groups, namely ‘core’, ‘non-core’, and ‘not recommended’.  Vaccines for the core viral diseases – distemper, parvovirus and adenovirus/hepatitis – provoke long-term, and potentially lifelong, immunity, so annual shots are out (or should be).    

My analysis of the non-core vaccines is that they have been designated non-core for three reasons.  One is that they don’t work.  Two is that they are dangerous.  Three is that it’s hard to justify recommending these vaccines in the light of one and two.  Looking at the non-core vaccines, I personally believe they should be on the ‘not recommended’ list – if only to remove them as an excuse to vaccinate dogs annually as is currently happening.  I would, incidentally, have no problem with annual shots of any type if there weren’t serious safety concerns. 

Unfortunately, important caveats in the WSAVA guidelines are being ignored, namely that non-core vaccines are “those that are required by only those animals whose geographical location, local environment or lifestyle places them at risk of contracting specific infections.”  The WSAVA also advises that “the practitioner should obtain informed client consent to provide that client, and the animal, with a current evidence-based vaccination schedule.”  There is no informed consent, and there no evidence to support these vaccines.    

So let’s look at the non-core vaccines and the issues surrounding them. 


Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, which means that it can be transmitted to humans.  It is present around the world, but is most likely to cause problems in places that lack adequate sanitation, in tropical climates, in flood areas, amongst farm workers, and amongst people who spend time in water, either for work or leisure.  The majority of dogs with known leptospirosis have been found to be without symptoms – they live with it without getting ill. 

This isn’t to say that leptospirosis can’t cause illness in dogs.  In some cases lepto can be fatal.  However, in the 1996 Canine Health Concern vaccine survey 100% of dogs with leptospirosis had been vaccinated within three months prior to infection.  This can only be because a) the vaccine caused the disease, or b) the vaccine didn’t contain the serovar that caused the illness, or c) the vaccine contained a non-local serovar that the dog hadn’t adapted to, or d) it just didn’t work. 

Despite being zoonotic and theoretically a notifiable disease, I have – after extensive research – been unable to find any public recording system for leptospirosis incidence in the UK for dogs or humans.  Leptospirosis used to be a reportable disease in the United States, but it was removed from the national CDC list, although it is reportable in some states, most notably Hawaii.  This would indicate that it’s not that much of a problem in most places. 

If your vet recommends a lepto shot, you need to ask him two questions.  The first is whether he has seen a case of lepto in the last, say, six months (i.e., is the vaccine necessary?).  The second is which serovar is involved, and is that serovar in the vaccine?  For if it’s not, the vaccine won’t help.  There are over 200 versions of leptospirosis and vaccination against one form will not provide protection against the others.     

The WSAVA VGG states that “the leptospirosis vaccine is the one least likely to provide adequate and prolonged protection, and therefore must be administered annually or more often for animals at high risk. Protection against infection with different serovars is variable. This product is associated with the greatest number of adverse reactions to any vaccine. In particular, veterinarians are advised of reports of acute anaphylaxis in toy breeds following administration of leptospirosis vaccines. Routine vaccination of toy breeds should only be considered in dogs known to have a very high risk of exposure.”

If you take time to understand the above advice from the VGG, you would have to conclude that the vaccine doesn’t work and is dangerous, but that the door is left open to give it annually or more frequently.  I don’t support this logic, and can’t help but speculate whether there have been heated discussions between VGG experts and the VGG’s vaccine industry sponsors before the lepto vaccine made it to the ‘non-core’ list.  If something doesn’t work and is dangerous, why  keep doing it?  It makes less sense when you know that leptospirosis, if diagnosed and treated, responds well to antibiotics and it can be treated prophylactically with antibiotics in outbreak areas.  If you use holistic therapies, there is also good evidence to support the leptospirosis nosode, and anti-bacterial herbal products.  There are alternatives to this useless, dangerous, vaccine. 

The WSAVA VGG states, “In the USA, the four serovars responsible for most, if not all, cases of leptospirosis are canicola, icterohaemorrhagiae, pomona and grippotyphosa. Therefore, the four component product is recommended. In many other countries there is insufficient knowledge of which serovars are circulating in the canine population. The VGG would encourage collection of such data.”

No-one seems to know what they’re vaccinating against outside the US!  So if you’re anywhere else in the world, the leptospirosis vaccine can provoke a serious adverse reaction, but might not even cover the serovar that may, or may not, be a threat to your dog in your local area.  Even in the US, if a dog is exposed to a version of lepto that isn’t in the vaccine, then he’s not protected. 

The VGG adds:  “Leptospira vaccines provide short-term immunity (e.g. 3–12 months) and the efficacy is often less than 70%. Also Leptospira products often prevent clinical disease but fail to protect against infection and shedding of the bacteria, especially when infection occurs more than 6 months after vaccination. The immunity among the serovars varies and immunity varies among vaccinated dogs. Persistence of antibody after vaccination will often be only a few months and immunological memory for protective immunity is short (e.g. 1 year or less). Thus, revaccination may be required as often as every 6–9 months for dogs at high risk.”

So it doesn’t protect a third of dogs; it might not protect any if the form of lepto in your area is different to the form in the vaccine; an annually vaccinated dog can be unprotected for up to nine months of the year; and infected dogs – irrespective of vaccination – are hidden infective reservoirs, capable of spreading lepto to humans and other animals.  And yet – despite all this – leptospirosis is still a very rare disease in most parts of the world.  There are virtually no records of dogs passing lepto onto humans, and we don’t hear of dogs with lepto often. 

Commercial vaccines against leptospirosis in humans have been produced in France and Cuba. However, these vaccines do not induce long-term protection against infection and do not provide cross-protective immunity against heterogenous leptospiral serovars.  No human vaccine is currently available in the United States or the UK.  Why, do you think?

The Lancet, Infectious Diseases Vol 3 December 2003 might explain why:   

”Several problems confront the development of a vaccine to prevent human leptospirosis. First, an unacceptable side effect profile of killed bacterial vaccines has often been reported. Second, the killed bacteria vaccines are likely to provide only short-term and possibly incomplete protection, similar to that reported with anti-leptospiral vaccines in animals. Third, the locally varying patterns of Leptospira transmitted may preclude the development of a suitably generalisable vaccine. Fourth, there is theoretical potential for inducing autoimmune disease such as uveitis and, lastly, there is incomplete knowledge of mechanisms of protective immunity against leptospiral infection.”

The Lancet also stated:  “Vaccination of animals such as dogs or cattle may prevent illness but not leptospiruria and hence transmission to human beings.” 

Scientists have been trying to develop a human leptospirosis vaccine for decades – one that is safe and effective and which governments will license around the world.  They have failed.  But a dangerous, ineffective, substandard canine vaccine is out there, and will remain out there until pet owners educate themselves of the risks. 

What is the leptospirosis vaccine doing on the WSAVA non-core list?  It has no place there.  It should be on the ‘not recommended’ list.  Leptospirosis is not even a vaccinatable disease, and the vaccine can kill!   

 Ask Alison Lovell what she thinks of this vaccine.  Her beautiful GSD puppy was a perfectly normal little man the day before she was persuaded to give him the lepto shot.  The day after he was brain dead, and the week after he was literally dead.

Ask Sue and Zoe Lewsley whose Champion Doberman, Tommy, experienced inflammation in his entire body after a lepto shot.  Tommy was screaming in pain and couldn’t move.  Within three months, despite extensive veterinary support, the nerve damage in Tommy’s body was so severe that he had to be legally killed.  An adverse vaccine event report was filed by Tommy’s vet.  Please note that neither a GSD nor a Doberman is a toy breed.  

Lyme disease

As with leptospirosis, Lyme disease is also caused by a bacteria, but is transmitted through tick bites.  Lyme disease exists in most states in America, but is rare here in the UK.  As with leptospirosis, not all dogs who test positive for Lyme disease suffer symptoms, and the disease can be treated with antibiotics or good holistic care. 

The society of veterinary internists, the ACVIM, stated in 2005, The ACVIM diplomates believe the use of Lyme vaccines is still controversial and most do not administer them.”  Neither do the American veterinary schools recommend the Lyme vaccine. 

Cornell University found long-term side effects from the Lyme vaccine.  Dr Patricia Jordan writes: “In some cases, dogs develop Lyme disease despite the vaccine, or maybe because of the vaccine. Research dogs develop all the symptoms of Lyme disease up to six weeks after receiving the shot, while tests for the Lyme disease bacteria show up as negative. Left untreated more concerning issues develop.”

“Cornell University’s School of Veterinary Medicine researchers suspect long-term side effects are associated with the Lyme disease vaccine for dogs, but nothing definitive has been documented or exhaustively studied”, says Allen Schoen, a doctor of veterinary medicine in Sherman, Connecticut. “These side effects may vary from rheumatoid arthritis and all the major symptoms of Lyme disease to acute kidney failure.”

There is some controversy about how long a tick must be on your dog before it injects the Borellia bacterin that causes Lyme disease into him.  Some say five hours, others say up to 70 hours.  Therefore the safest and most effective ‘vaccine’ would be to inspect your dogs daily and remove ticks before they attach, or as quickly as possible.  Other preventative measures include keeping your lawn short, not feeding wildlife near your garden, and using tick preventatives.  Diatomaceous Earth, Neem and household vinegar can be effective.

Given the evidence, it is difficult to imagine why the Lyme vaccine is on the WSAVA VGG non-core list rather than the ‘not recommended’ list.   

Kennel Cough Vaccines

Kennel cough is caused by a variety of agents including – but not limited to – parainfluenza virus, adenovirus, and the Bordetella bronchiseptica bacterin.  The WSAVA informs us that, “it is important to realize that not all members of the Kennel Cough complex have a vaccine. Also, because Kennel Cough is a localized infection (meaning it is local to the respiratory tract), it is an infection that does not lend itself to prevention by vaccination. Vaccination must be regularly boosted and often vaccination simply muffles the severity of infection without completely preventing it.”

Putting this is plain English, the WSAVA VGG seems to be saying that kennel cough vaccines don’t work, or that kennel cough is not a vaccinatable disease. 

Most combination canine vaccines contain injectable parainfluenza as well as adenovirus, expressed as ‘DHPPi = (D) Distemper, (H) Hepatitis/adenovirus, (P) Parvovirus and (Pi) Parainfluenza. 

The Bordetella bronchiseptica vaccine is a live avirulent bacteria, given up the nose.  It is generally combined with intranasal parainfluenza. The WSAVA advises that, “the Bordetella vaccine may promote transient (3–10 days) coughing and sneezing, and nasal discharge may occur in a small percentage of vaccinates”.  The implication of this, and the evidence suggests, that kennel cough vaccines cause kennel cough outbreaks.    

B. bronchiseptica is closely related to B. pertussis which causes whooping cough in humans.  Datasheets warn that vaccinated dogs can spread B. bronchiseptica for up to six weeks following vaccination, and that immunocompromised humans should avoid contact with vaccinated dogs for up to six weeks.  Although thought to be rare, this vaccine can actually give vulnerable humans a life-threatening infection.

B. bronchiseptica has also been associated in humans with endocarditis (inflammation of heart lining), peritonitis (inflammation of the lining of the abdomen), meningitis (inflammation of the linings of the brain and spinal cord) and wound infections. In some cases, a direct connection to animals is obvious.

As stated earlier, apart from the ability to infect humans, one dog vaccinated against B. bronchiseptica has the ability to infect many dogs.  Christine Sandiford of the Hazel Corner Boarding Kennels was quoted in Kennel and Cattery News:  “For the last 3 to 4 years, I have insisted that kennel cough vaccines be done a minimum of a month before dogs come into the kennels.  We have had no kennel cough outbreaks since we introduced this policy.”

Pam Gee of Daisybank Kennels said:  “Our experience has been that kennel cough outbreaks often originate from dogs that have been recently vaccinated.  Therefore ten years ago we began to advise our clients that they should not have their dogs vaccinated less than six weeks prior to them entering the kennels.”

Alison Hunt of the Tor View Kennels wrote to me this morning saying,  “We have just had a kennel cough case, meaning our workload goes into overdrive to isolate /disinfect even more. I’ve now found out that her owners were persuaded to have ‘up the nose’ drops on the 4th.  The bitch came to us 16th, and started it all on 26th.

“You can imagine the explanations and advice we’ve had to give to every other owner.  It’s very time consuming.  Hopefully we have controlled things, cordoning off areas, the staff spraying themselves, and so on.  We’re taking a mass of precautions.  Thankfully we’ve only had two cases, which we’ve been treating.  We’ve also given the kennel cough nosode to every incomer.”

Although kennel cough is not a serious disease for the majority of dogs, it is a serious disease for kennel owners.  Their reputation and livelihood can be irrevocably damaged by vaccine-induced kennel cough outbreaks. 

In its Guidelines document, the WSAVA states,Although the development of an adverse reaction is often dependent on the genetics of the animal … certain vaccines have a higher likelihood of producing adverse reactions, especially reactions caused by Type I hypersensitivity. For example, bacterins (killed bacterial vaccines), such as Leptospira, Bordetella [kennel cough], Borrelia [Lyme] and Chlamydophila are more likely to cause these adverse reactions than MLV viral vaccines.”

Type I hypersensitivity reactions involve an immune mediated reaction that releases potent inflammatory mediators and other chemicals that trigger an anaphylactic reaction in the affected animal. The reactions are usually acute, with the clinical signs appearing within minutes or hours of vaccination. Typical signs reported are facial oedema, shock, lethargy, respiratory distress and diarrhoea. Severe anaphylactic reactions may result in death. Urticaria (hives), facial oedema and anaphylactic shock are specific clinical manifestations of Type I hypersensitivities.

Ann wrote to me to tell me what happened to her dog Yogi, when he received a kennel cough vaccine.  On the night of the vaccine he was lethargic and quiet, hiding out in his kennel.  The next day he was struggling to breathe and panicking, and an x-ray revealed an inflamed and collapsed wind pipe.  A battery of tests costing £2,500 revealed no known cause, although the vaccine manufacturer offered £1,000 towards the bill.  Ann told them where to stick their offer, feeling that they should be held responsible for the entire bill. 

Once again, there is compelling evidence to suggest that kennel cough vaccines should be on the VGG ‘not recommended’ list.  Kennel cough is a transient disease and the vaccine causes outbreaks and risks more serious adverse reactions.  The only positive benefit for its existence is that it keeps booster income flowing.    


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