Making sense of the vaccine controversy

At the beginning of the 21st Century, veterinary bodies in America and Australia, as well as the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA), made it clear that once a dog is immune to the ‘core’ viral diseases of distemper, parvovirus and canine viral hepatitis, they were immune for many years, and probably for life. They suggested that dogs should be vaccinated against these no more frequently than every three years.

Unfortunately, this wording has led most vets to recommend vaccines every three years, which is generally unnecessary. Clarification was offered when the WSAVA made its puppy vaccine summary (1) available, stating: “This is often taken to mean that we should vaccinate every three years – but this is not the case. If the dog is already immune to these three core diseases, re-vaccinating will not add any extra immunity.”

They suggested that titre testing would show whether dogs had immunity, and therefore owners could avoid re-vaccinating. The Israeli company, Biogal, has made in-practice titre testing kits available. Called VacciCheck, it should cost only between £35 and £50 (depending on your vet’s mark-up), and could save you a small fortune – because you now know that annual or three-yearly boosters aren’t required, and your dog is less likely to suffer vaccine reactions, along with treatment or burial bills.

The WSAVA also says in its puppy summary, “The WSAVA seeks to reduce the number of vaccines given as there is always a risk of adverse reactions with any vaccination.”
You can safely vaccinate your puppy against the core diseases only once, preferably at around 14-16 weeks. This gives immunity from mothers milk time to wane. Before it wanes, maternal immunity will destroy the vaccine virus just as it would a natural infection – which means that a high percentage of puppies receiving their last vaccine at 12 weeks, as is the norm in the UK, will remain unprotected until they receive a booster at 12 months.

So, the good news is that you can keep your money in your pocket and not pay out for unnecessary vaccines. Even better news is that the fewer vaccines a dog has, the less chance there is of him developing allergies, autoimmune diseases, cancer, or brain damage (2).

Matters are not so clear where the ‘non-core’ vaccines are concerned. These are said to cover against kennel cough and leptospirosis. Both of these vaccines are fraught with problems. The first is that neither offers permanent immunity. The WSAVA states:


1. The leptospirosis vaccine provides protection for a maximum of 12 – 18 months.
2. This vaccine can be associated with adverse reactions.
3. This vaccine should only be given if there is a real risk.
4. Leptospirosis may be relatively rare in your geographical area, so it’s also worth asking your veterinary surgeon if he/she has recently seen any confirmed cases locally. If not, and your dog does not lead a lifestyle which carries a risk of exposure, you may decide not to vaccinate against leptospirosis.

Kennel Cough

1. In most dogs, kennel cough is generally a mild illness, similar to humans having a cold or the flu. It is usually treated by keeping the dog quiet and giving throat-soothing medications. Occasionally antibiotics can be given to treat secondary infections.
2. Kennel cough vaccines are generally only required by dogs in close contact with other dogs – for example in boarding kennels. However, you should check with your kennel because some will demand kennel cough vaccines, and others will not accept dogs that have been vaccinated against kennel cough (due to shedding).

The ‘due to shedding’ statement means that the kennel cough vaccine can cause outbreaks in kennels! Dr Ronald Schultz, a leading light in the WSAVA Vaccine Guidelines Group, has stated that leptospirosis and kennel cough “are not vaccinatable diseases”. He doesn’t use them on his own dogs.

Non-core vaccine issues

Whilst veterinary vaccine manufacturers and vets in practice are keen to promote use of the new Lepto 4 vaccine, MSD’s L4 vaccine is under investigation by the European Medicines Control Agency for an apparently high number of adverse effects, including epilepsy, organ failure and death.

Despite a Facebook group (3) with thousands of owners who feel their dogs suffered through use of this vaccine, the UK’s veterinary products regulator, the VMD, announced that it has received fewer than seven adverse reaction reports for L4 for every 10,000 doses sold. “The overall incidence of suspected adverse reactions for both L2 and L4 vaccine products is therefore considered to be rare,” they said.

The VMD didn’t release the actual figures, just the percentages. So let’s assume that only 3 million of around 8 million British dogs received MSD’s Nobivac L4 vaccine. This extrapolates to 2,100 adverse reactions if three million dogs get the vaccine. If every dog in the UK gets the L4 vaccine, there would be 5,600 adverse reactions.

Yet how many dogs would contract lepto if they didn’t get the vaccine? According to MSD’s CICADA survey (4) there are around 250 cases of Lepto in the UK in a year. Which makes the vaccine many, many times more dangerous than the disease itself!
To top it off, leptospirosis is rare in the UK. In May 2014, Christopher Ball from the University of Liverpool presented a thesis about leptospirosis in dogs, which was sponsored by MSD. He said:

“Climate plays a role in Leptospira infection rates, with temperate climates not having extreme weather situations that may contribute to infection rates. According to the Köppen climate classification, the UK has a rating of Cfb, meaning cooler summers but also milder winters. The classification reflects the milder climate changes between seasons which reduce the likelihood of leptospirosis.”

Nothing adds up. The disease is rare here; some vets in Mr Ball’s survey said they hadn’t seen a case of lepto in 15 years. The vaccine also offers incomplete protection, and it’s associated with horrendous side-effects. The vaccine, if we go by government percentages, is more dangerous than the disease we’re seeking to avoid.

The kennel cough vaccine is equally controversial. The ‘up the nose’ version is claimed to protect against kennel cough, officially called Bordetella bronchiseptica. Bordetella is a family of closely related bacterins which include Bordetella pertussis, Bordetella parapertussis, and Bordetella bronchiseptica. Pertussis and Parapertussis can cause whooping cough in humans. It’s also accepted that Bordetella bronchiseptica (kennel cough) can infect humans, giving them a whooping cough-type illness – and often from their dogs’ vaccines (5,6).

Natural kennel cough infection induces long-lasting protection in both the lungs and upper respiratory tract, whereas vaccines confer short-term protection only in the lungs (7). So a dog who receives the KC vaccine can become a source of infection for other dogs, and also humans – and it’s counter-productive for the dog!

Vaccine company datasheets advise that, “mild discharges from the eyes and nose can occur from the day after vaccination, sometimes accompanied by sneezing and coughing. In some cases, this may persist for up to four weeks”. Dogs with ‘mild’ vaccine-induced kennel cough are infecting other animals, as well as humans. I personally can’t see the point of this vaccine. It creates disease rather than preventing it. It’s actually a public health risk.

The bottom line is that many owners are giving only puppy shots, and only for the core diseases. Others, like me, don’t vaccinate at all, but build naturally robust dogs using diet, herbs and nosodes. Vets and the vaccine industry aren’t too happy about this, but those concerned with their dogs’ health are.


3. Lepto4 – Our experiences: Facebook group
5. J Med Microbiol. 2007 Dec;56(Pt 12):1608-10. Misidentification of Bordetella bronchiseptica as Bordetella pertussis using a newly described real-time PCR targeting the pertactin gene.
6. Clinical Infectious Diseases, Volume 37, Issue 3, Pp. 407-414. Human Illness Associated with Use of Veterinary Vaccines