May issue

May issue
May issue

Monday, 3 September 2012

Calling the shots

Hi Dogs Today

I foster for a couple of rescues that import puppies and dogs to England from Ireland. This time around we got two adorable 12-week old puppies (pictured) which had already been given the first dose of their vaccinations. The brand used in Ireland was 'Vanguard'. When it came to booking the pups in for their second jab, our local vet told me that they had to start over because they used a different brand and the two weren't compatible. I called another who said the same thing. Thankfully, a third seemed to take a more common-sense approach and reassured me that there was absolutely no difference and that the puppies only needed the second half.

I am the only one who considers this an issue?

1. Can there really be such a fundamental difference in the contents of these dog vaccines; something that is clearly a standard drug?

2 . With all sort of illnesses and conditions potentially linked with vaccinations, isn't it irresponsible to insist on pumping two little puppies full of extra drugs that they might not need (aside from the two mandatory injections of course) for the sake of a brand name?

It smacks a little bit of pandering to the drugs companies or implementing a 'computer says no' policy for the sake of making an extra £10 for the full course of vaccinations.

Kind regards, 

Christina, by email

A Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons spokesperson says...

This isn’t a matter about which we offer vets specific advice as the decision over which vaccination to use is a matter of professional judgement for the individual veterinary surgeon. However, he or she should prescribe responsibly and with due regard to the health and welfare of the animal, and should  also take into account relevant information about the products themselves – for example, about contraindications or advice from the data sheets for the vaccines.  

A BSAVA spokesperson says...

The British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) believes that vaccination plays a very valuable role in the control of infectious disease in companion animals. The BSAVA strongly supports the concept that a thorough risk /benefit assessment on an individual case basis should be discussed with clients when deciding on timing of vaccination and use of particular vaccines for particular animals.

The initial vaccinations given to a puppy require a series of injections to be given in order to induce a primary immune response to ensure the puppy is protected against the important diseases at an early age and throughout its lifetime.

The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA), of which BSAVA is a member, has produced guidelines for the vaccination of dogs and cats which recommends initial vaccination at 8-9 weeks of age followed by a second vaccination 3-4 weeks later and a third vaccination given between 14-16 weeks of age.  Where puppies have been in a shelter environment or mixed with a number of animals of unknown disease status WSAVA recommend vaccination prior to or immediately on admission with repeat injections every 2 weeks until 16 weeks of age if the animal is still in the facility.

The problem of compatibility between different brands of vaccine is more complicated. There are differences in components between brands, some minor some significant, and different vaccines are now authorized with different vaccination schedules and duration of immunity.  While there may be theoretical reasons to assume that vaccination with different brands of vaccine should be effective in stimulating an immune response this is not something that has been tested, and could leave both the veterinary surgeon and client without support from the pharmaceutical company in the case of a “vaccine breakdown”. 

Catherine O'Driscoll, Canine Health Concern, says...

Unfortunately, and with the greatest respect to the veterinary profession, vets aren’t very well educated about immunology in college. They’re probably doing their best to provide advice, but in this case there is a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding. Dr Schultz, a leading player in the WSAVA Vaccine Guidelines Group, actually states publicly that vets aren’t qualified to offer advice on immunisation! This is probably why the RCVS and the BSAVA are so woolly in their answers – to save faces.

However, Dr Schultz –the independent scientist who actually conducted the duration of immunity studies to prove that we don’t need to vaccinate annually – only vaccinates his own dogs once as puppies, at 14-16 weeks, and he never repeats the exercise again. The scientific premise Dr Schultz established is that once a dog is immune to the core viral diseases (distemper, parvo and adenovirus), he is immune for years or life.

The trouble is that if you vaccinate earlier than 14-16 weeks, the vaccine won’t necessarily work.

The question then arises … why do we have to give a series of vaccines to puppies? The answer is ‘just in case’. The thing is, puppies benefit from ‘maternal immunity’. This is a temporary immune system given by the mother. Newborns don’t have an immune system, the mother passes on immunity to their young until their own immune system develops. In dogs, maternal immunity doesn’t necessarily wane before the pups are 14-16 weeks old. The problem is that if you vaccinate a puppy below this age, maternal immunity might cancel the vaccine out, leaving the pup unprotected.

However, we all want to get our puppies out there and socialised, and we are also looking at the pups coming from a more risky shelter environment, so vaccine manufacturers have come up with the multi-jab concept in the hope that some protection will be provided sooner. The first booster (at a year) is designed to provide immunity to the puppies who didn’t get immunity through their puppy vaccines, which was potentially blocked through maternal immunity.

So, do you need to start again if you’re using different brands?

A full puppy shot series would cover distemper, parvovirus, adenovirus (hepatitis), and probably Leptospirosis.

I can think of no reason why a different brand would make any difference in the cases of distemper, parvo and adenovirus. All brands introduce the same modified live viruses into the puppy in order to produce an immune response. ‘Modified’ means that the vaccine is attenuated (heated) to ensure (hopefully) that it can’t cause the disease you’re vaccinating against. They then add various substances such as cow serum, formaldehyde, peanut oils, antibiotics, and so on. None of these is designed to interfere with the immune response, but to enhance it. And each vaccine is only licensed when the manufacturer has submitted data to show that the vaccine works.

It’s not as though they are using different forms of viruses. All vaccines would contain the same viruses – they’d have to in order to protect against the viruses out there that they tell us are a risk. Some of the companies even share the same seed stock.

It can’t even be because vets are worried that the previous brand didn’t work. One shot, if the puppy’s immune system is capable of responding, will provide protection for years or life.

I would think that the difference, if there is one, might be the different serovars in the Leptospirosis component of the vaccine. Leptospirosis is a range of over 200 bacterins, and vaccine manufacturers include two or three of the serovars – the ones they consider are relevant in any particular area. However, the WSAVA has stated that outside of America, no-one really knows which strains are around in each particular country. This is why they call the Lepto vaccine ‘non-core’ (optional). They further state that it’s not very effective, it’s short-lived (3-9 months), and it’s the one most associated with severe adverse reactions. Added to this, leptospirosis is thought by the WSAVA to be a rare disease.

Where the BSAVA says, “different vaccines are now authorized with different vaccination schedules and duration of immunity”, I can’t see this as anything other than a red herring. ALL the core vaccines are licensed with at least one year’s duration of immunity (i.e., are supposed to protect for at least a year), but others are said to protect for 3-4 years. This makes no difference to whether one brand can be used as a follow up to another for these puppies.

However, this may be more to the point. They say: “While there may be theoretical reasons to assume that vaccination with different brands of vaccine should be effective in stimulating an immune response this is not something that has been tested, and could leave both the veterinary surgeon and client without support from the pharmaceutical company in the case of a “vaccine breakdown”.

Basically, what they’re saying is that although it should be ok to use different brands, if the vaccine fails to protect (no manufacturer will guarantee that a vaccine will provide protection), then they could wriggle out of paying out or compensating if the puppy gets a disease the vaccine failed to protect against. This, however, has very little to do with switching brands, but more to do with the vaccine – of whatever brand – failing to protect in known instances, and no-one wanting to take responsibility for it.

Having quoted the WSAVA, the BSAVA failed to include something else the WSAVA says, and this is the statement that starting a full puppy series again if an adult dog has ‘lapsed’ (i.e. those vets who still think a dog needs an annual booster), is dangerous and unnecessary. I would think it would be even more dangerous for a young puppy whose immune system is immature and fragile.

A spokesperson for the Veterinary Medicines Directorate says...

The VMD regularly receives queries concerning the situation where an animal has received the first dose of a primary vaccine course at one veterinary practice and then transfers under new ownership to a second veterinary practice for subsequent doses. In such situations, as long as no suspected adverse reactions were experienced by the animal, it is preferable to use the same vaccine for the subsequent doses as this is how the safety and efficacy of the vaccine will have been supported for the authorisation of that product.

However, where this is not possible, the primary vaccination schedule can be completed using a different vaccine which contains the same ingredients, including types (strains) of virus/bacteria and at an appropriate vaccination schedule.

It should be borne in mind that to complete a primary vaccination schedule with a different vaccine is off-label use, as the data presented to the Regulatory Authorities to support a complete primary vaccination schedule will have been generated using a single product.


  1. We have had exactly the same response from vets for Irish Pound pups my Mother and I have brought in. It's a money making racket by the vets to ensure you pay out for two sets of treatment.

    In the end we found vets who would give just the one jab of the same vaccine without any problems, although we had to travel to do so.

    Most owners would just be intimidated or think that vet knew best.

  2. This is such depressing news I really thought vets were getting 'switched on' about vaccines, their compatability and length of immunity. So many mixed messages from different practices. When will the BVA get a clear message accross?