In the world of companion animal medicine, vaccines are a relatively new concept. Initially we vaccinated dogs and cats for only those diseases that held a human health risk component, namely rabies virus. Rabies vaccine remains the only vaccine that is required by law for all companion animals and the only one for which we are held to a state approved protocol. Here in South Carolina, rabies vaccines can be administered as often as once a year but can be done every three years with an approved three year rabies vaccine. The rabies vaccine is an easy decision to make because the state law makes that one for you.
But what about the vaccines that protect companion animals for diseases specific to them? This is where the vaccine protocol water gets a little muddy and can vary greatly from region to region and from practice to practice. In years past we thought that all vaccines had to be administered annually because that is what the research and vaccine labels suggested. However as more research data is released from longer studies we are finding out that the vaccines we use are lasting a lot longer than we originally thought. Some of the data states that some vaccines have protective immunity lasting up to 5 years or more and some even have a lifetime immunity.
So if we now know some, if not most, of the vaccines provide immunity for longer duration then why do we continue to vaccinate more often? The answer lies with the FDA approved labeling on the vaccine. Each vaccine manufacturer has to submit their claim to the FDA. From there the FDA reviews the study and gives them an approved labeling. For example some may ask for a 5 year label but are only issued a 3 year. And by law we are only allowed to vaccinate as often, or more often, than the approved FDA label (for example an approved 3 year vaccine can be used annually but not every 4 years). Violating the label directions by going longer than approved opens us up to off label/unapproved use and liability should an animal get sick.
So what does all that mean for you and your pets? It means you have choices. Not every practice uses the same vaccines from the same manufacturers or the same protocols. Some adhere to vaccines only labeled for annual use. Others choose to use vaccines with longer label approvals. Here at Pine Street Animal Hospital we feel the less vaccines we have to use the better so we choose vaccines from reputable manufactures with the longest FDA approved labeling we can find. We also understand that each pet and their lifestyle is different so our recommendations for which vaccines your pet will need will differ from a pet who lives a totally different life. As more data is released I predict some vaccines will get a 5 plus year approval and some even a lifetime. Until that time comes we will continue to recommend vaccinations with the best protection and the longest label of duration possible. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and find out what your pet needs for their health, boarding and grooming. They are your pets and you have a right to be informed.