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Pro-Vaccine, Anti-Vaccine? Reflections After an Almost Deadly Adverse Rabies Vaccine Reaction

Today begins another 5-part series of posts about Lilly’s dangerous adverse vaccine reaction to a rabies vaccine earlier this year. Lilly continues to recover from meningoencephalomyelitis / meningoencephalitis (inflammation of the brain and lining of the brain and spinal cord). So, has all this made me anti-vaccine?

In a word, no.

I do think, however, that dog-loving people and veterinarians need to take a LONG, hard look at dog vaccination protocols and see where we can:

  • Maintain protection from dangerous / deadly diseases
  • Prevent the most susceptible dogs from suffering adverse vaccine reactions

I really hope the Rabies Challenge Fund is successful in showing that a 5-year or a 7-year timeline for rabies shots is sufficient. It was a big deal when (some) states moved from once a year to every 3 years. I hope in my lifetime we see that needle move again to 5 or 7 years.

In case you don’t know, we’re talking about the same vaccine that have been on the market for a long time. They simply provide protection much longer than we were told in the past.

I’d like to see longer booster timelines and better (more affordable) immunity titer testing as well so that we don’t vaccinate dogs who still have protection from last time.

Prevent Scary Diseases

Truly, things like rabies and distemper and parvo are a big, BIG deal if your dog gets sick.

Dogs do NOT survive rabies (and neither do people usually without quick intervention and aggressive treatment, until a few recent cases joined the one — and only one case — in medical literature).

Dogs can survive distemper, but they will have lifelong neurological issues as a result. If you think our troubles with Lilly’s brain are tough, you’ve never seen a distemper survivor.

And, yes, dogs can survive parvo with supportive care. Lilly and Ginko both did, but it’s expensive. It’s scary, and according to our animal behaviorist years ago, it can have an impact on the dog’s behavior for life.

So, I’m all for vaccinating dogs to prevent trouble and heartache … and for the community (human and canine) safety factors.

As I said in our 5-part Adverse Vaccine Reaction FAQ series, just because Lilly can never have another vaccine, I am NOT saying that you should not vaccinate your dogs.

RABIES is the only vaccine legally mandated. It has everything to do with rabies being zoonotic (transferable from dogs to people). States, which make the rules about having dogs vaccinated against rabies, care about public health, not dog health.

The Anti-Vaccine Movement

I’ll share that I have friends who no longer vaccinate their dogs at all. And, I’m not just talking about “old” dogs.

I also have friends who plan in the future not to vaccinate new puppies either. Not a single shot.

Call me old-fashioned or a conformist, but that scares the bejeezes out of me. I can see maybe not vaccinating after the “puppy series” of shots or after the 1-year boosters many dogs get, but not vaccinating at all seems like a big, big risk to me.

Risks and Risk Factors

Later this week, I’ll share highlights of the adverse vaccine reaction research I’ve read, including the data I got back from my Freedom of Information Act Request to the USDA.

There are indeed some things that put some dogs at greater risk for an adverse vaccine reaction. More on that later.

Which Vaccines

It isn’t as if Lilly got sick from an “optional” vaccine. She got sick from a legally mandated rabies vaccine. In three years, we’ll request — and likely get — a medical waiver from the state / county so that she doesn’t have to get another rabies vaccine, but that’s a big, BIG deal for several reasons that I’ll outline tomorrow.

For now, let me say simply this … if your dog is not vaccinated for rabies and either bites a person or another pet or is somehow exposed to a rabid animal, officials can force you to:

* Those bulleted items above are links to Centers for Disease Control rabies protocols.

So, let’s not be too cavalier about this. In some cases, it’s a matter of life and death.



Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

melF - June 18, 2012

I am really looking forward to your posts on the Rabies vaccine Roxanne. I agree with you. Not vaccinating puppies scares me too. It should scare everybody.

I am not someone who believes a dog should not be vaccinated. I had a dog dying of parvo in my arms at my shelter, I know how awful it is and would never want a dog to die of it. But, like you, I pray that one day I will see Rabies vaccines updated every 5 to 7 years versus the current 1 or 3. But, I am willing to do titers until that happens. I’ve already lost one dog due to a rabies vaccine, I will not lose another (I know you can relate).
Thoughtful piece. Thanks for writing it.
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Thomas Aaron - June 18, 2012

God, I hate this (necessary) topic! I would be devastated if my dog died from rabies –OR– the vaccine.

It just seems like one of those necessary evils.

Hilary - June 18, 2012

I sent your entire series, plus this one, to my dog’s veterinary staff to see how they respond. I don’t want Luna to get a rabies shot, which is coming up in September. She gets titers for everything else. She had a terrible reaction to vaccines when she was young, so I never gave her or Frisbee any shots again, except rabies, as was required by law. Now I don’t want to even give that. Thanks for your series–so interesting.

Jackie - June 18, 2012

I agree with you – I’m not anti-vaccine either; but I do think we over-vaccinate. I also hope that someday (hopefully soon!) we’ll be able to go to the once every 5 years routine for rabies. Fingers and paws crossed.
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Jen - June 18, 2012

Good post! I look forward to reading more about what you’ve found out.
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