Don’t come crying

Photo by Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee

Photo by Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee

Herd immunity is a wonderful thing. As long as we have about 70% of a population immune to a disease, the chances of a devastating epidemic are low. When the percentage of the population that is immune dwindle, the risk of an outbreak increases. And we’ve seen this in action in the natural world before the inception of vaccines – a population would be exposed to a disease like influenza or yellow fever, survivors would gain immunity, the epidemic would fade out, and the risk of a repeat epidemic would be minimal until an adequate supply of susceptible individuals emerged again.

There has been a real push back against vaccination in the last 10 years, in humans as well as pets. I’m all for minimizing vaccinations. I don’t think I’ve advocated annual vaccines for routine illnesses since graduating vet school almost 2 decades ago, and I hate that some local vets are advising clients to vaccinate their pet (mainly dogs) for diseases that we really don’t see here. So I’m not a shill for the vaccine companies, and I don’t live in the pocket of big pharma.

My concern is that there is a growing population of pets (particularly dogs, for some reason) that have had NO vaccines. I don’t know whether this is being fueled by misguided (medically ignorant) advice on the internet, bad advice from homeopathic veterinarians, owners feeling like their vet is ripping them off, or what. But it’s bloody dangerous.

These dogs are alive and well thanks in large part to the dog owners who do vaccinate and maintain that herd immunity over 70%. We are going to run into trouble in a big way when that number drops. I was around for the first parvovirus epidemic in North America in the late 70s and early 80s.

Every single dog in this country was susceptible (“naive” in immunology terms) because the virus was new. We had no vaccine, the virus was very “hot”, and dog after dog, puppy after puppy, died. And they died brutally, vomiting relentlessly and pouring bloody diarrhea. Survival rates were abysmal, even with intensive care. I have vivid memories of a litter of 11 purebred German Shepherd puppies, 6 weeks old, who all died in a 24 hour period. It was brutal.

People have obviously forgotten this frightening time. The virus has decreased in virulence, and while still fatal for many dogs, survival rates are better. But dogs still die.

So if you’ve never vaccinated your dog, don’t come crying to me when he gets parvo. I mean it – don’t cry. If you elect not to vaccinate and your dog gets a deadly disease, it’s not because his chakras were misaligned, or his infinitesimally diluted homeopathic remedy was incorrect. It’s because you chose to ignore science, and not vaccinate. I will feel sorry for your dog, but not so much for you. You knew, and I know you knew, because I told you.

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