Adverse Vaccine Reaction: What I Didn’t Know, When I Didn’t Know It
I’ve been meaning to write this post for many months. Now that I’ve pulled a bunch of research and seen the results of our recent USDA Freedom of Information Act request (more on that tomorrow), I suppose it’s time to tell this part of the story. I’m a smart girl. I’ve written (professionally) about veterinary medicine since the mid 1990s, and yet, I had no idea how dangerous vaccines could be for dogs like Lilly.
As we covered in our 5-part Adverse Vaccine Reaction FAQ series of blog posts, Lilly had experienced “mild” adverse vaccine reactions in the past — injection site swelling, lethargy within 12 hours.
However, because I would not classify those reactions (then or now) as anaphylasis — a dangerous, potentially deadly allergic reaction — I assumed with proper preventive strategies that Lilly would be OK.
I truly believed that anaphylasis was the ONLY serious risk. And, since that happens within minutes or hours and had never happened to Lilly, I figured we were “safe.”
In partnership with our veterinarian:
- We gave Lilly both steroids and antihistamines in advance of every vaccine.
- We greatly limited her vaccine load to just 3 vaccines.
- We increased her booster intervals by several years.
- We NEVER gave her more than one vaccine at a time.
And, yet, she developed meningoencephalomyelitis / meningoencephalitis (inflammation of the brain and lining of the brain and spinal cord) after an adverse vaccine reaction to a rabies vaccine given January 23, 2012.
To my credit (if you don’t mind me saying so), I was VERY careful not to say this was vaccine induced until our board-certified veterinary neurologist ruled everything else out and said so himself. (He teases me not to “piss anyone off” as I continue to write about this, but I think it’s important.)
Lilly — a then 7-year-old border collie — had an MRI and spinal tap. She received chemotherapy drugs to combat the inflammation. She continues to take numerous daily medications, some of which she may need for life. Her recovery is by no means over or 100% guaranteed.
Lilly is alive, but she is NOT the same dog. She has had a couple of relapses over these many months. We see her neurologist again at the end of June, and we hope then to try (for the third time) to wean her off of the steroids.
And, me … me, of all people, didn’t know this was even possible.
Granted, it’s rare — more on that tomorrow.
But it does happen to certain dogs. And, it happened to mine.
So to answer the questions I pose in the headline:
What I didn’t know?
I didn’t know that something other than localized adverse vaccine reactions or full-blown anaphylaxis was even possible.
When I didn’t know it?
My entire dog-owning, dog-loving life … but especially since I got my first very-own dog (a Dalmatian named Penelope Grace) at age 22.
So, right now, that puts me NOT knowing for about 22 years, including all the time I worked at the American Animal Hospital Association, worked at the American Humane Association, and volunteered for local animal shelters.
But, now I do know. And, now you know.
If you ever have a dog or ever hear about a dog that has even “mild” reactions to a vaccine — any vaccine — I BEG YOU to ask the veterinarian in charge to protect that dog from something worse.
As we’ve discussed earlier this week, Lilly will NEVER receive another vaccine as long as she lives (not just rabies, no vacines, none, zip, nada). Literally, her LIFE depends upon that.