Vaccines – Introduction and Immune System Basics

I’m going to start tackling a fairly in-depth topic this week: vaccines. We attended a seminar last weekend that included an early look at the vaccinations guidelines published periodically by the American Animal Hospital Association and the American Association of Feline Practitioners. These guidelines are created by a group of veterinarians and other experts in vaccines/immunology. The guidelines issue suggested practices on selecting which vaccines to use, how to use them, and how often to use them. The official guide will be published later this summer/early fall.

The seminar covered ways to assess each patient’s risks so we can develop an individualized vaccination program. We also talked about the various types of vaccines available and how each type has strengths and weaknesses as we examine their efficacy. I learned a tremendous amount from the seminar.

I’m establishing the timeline so that those of you who are regular readers (thank you! 🙂 ) have some time to research on your own as well. I would like to have a constructive and informative dialogue about vaccines. I encourage you to ask questions by leaving comments. I will try to answer them promptly and thoroughly.

August 7 – Introduction, Immune System Basics, and Vaccine Types
August 14 – Immune System Responses
August 21 – Canine Vaccines
August 28 – Feline Vaccines
Sept 4 – Controversy, Facts and Fiction

I’m saving the really hot topics for the last post (Sept. 4th). I will write in an open manner what the controversies are regarding vaccines, how often we give them, what the most current thoughts are about safety, and some of the consequences of vaccination. I’m confident that at Pet Authority our current strategy is in line with the most current recommendations for safety and good practices. We’re putting the health of the pets first.

The only thing I will *NOT* do through these posts is discuss human vaccinations. There are tremendously emotional issues with human vaccination strategy that go beyond the scope of my training. I acknowledge the fact that there are serious concerns with *any* vaccine given to *any* species. Beyond that, I will stick to veterinary patients and vaccinations.

Click the numbers below to move through the pages of the post…



Filed under immunology

2 responses to “Vaccines – Introduction and Immune System Basics

  1. I’m glad you’re tackling vaccines. I’m wondering about efficacy. Even though Ellie gets the Bordatella vaccine, she picked up kennel cough on a rare stay at “puppy camp” a couple of years ago. Now Dolce has it, after going to daycare every day last week. If you’re going to address this topic in the Canine Vaccines post later on, I can wait until then. If not, what say you?

  2. I’ll explain more about efficacy in the later posts, but I can give you a brief peek at an answer here. The simplest way to phrase this is that vaccination isn’t the same as immunization. We try to create immunization through the use of vaccines, but some vaccines are limited to preventing clinical signs and do not prevent infection and/or shedding of the pathogen.

    In some patients, the body’s response is insufficient to create enough circulating antibodies to neutralize every pathogen that enters. The cell-mediated immunity (memory cells) also take a little bit of time to wake up and start work. Pathogens can gain a foothold during that time. Stress can suppress the immune system, too — and not all stresses are the anxiety-based types we tend to think of for ourselves. 🙂

    In the specific case of upper respiratory disease in dogs, “kennel cough” is actually a multi-pathogen disease. Most commonly, parainfluenza virus is the cause of the cough. Bordetella bacteria are an additional bug that contributes to clinically apparent disease. Respiratory coronavirus, influenza, mycoplasma, and strep can all add to a kennel cough case. The vaccines typically cover Bordetella and Parainfluenza. Nasal vaccines create an immunity on the surface of the nasal passages as well as some systemic protection. Even if a pet is vaccinated for the pathogen causing the infection, the duration of immunity in some patients is shorter than the revaccination interval and the dogs are left with inadequate protection.

    The short answer is that not all vaccines utterly eliminate clinical signs, vaccination may not create an adequately strong response to protect a patient, and the duration of immunity may be shorter than the revaccination interval. This is the gap in the perception vs. the reality of vaccines. One of my big goals is to make sure we’re on the leading edge of current information and trends so that we can advise clients properly. It’s a daunting task to roll immunology into a 10 minute exam room visit. 🙂

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