Vaccines in Relation to Autoimmune Diseases

Aug 19, 2019   Tracey Aston   Vaccinations

Vaccines are meant to trigger the immune system, that's what they do.  In some cases, that triggering can lead to serious autoimmune disorders. In Dr. Jean Dodds' article, VACCINES: WHEN TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING TURNS BAD she states the following:

“If the immune system is weak (immunodeficiency), your pet's ability to fight off disease is compromised or absent, which can expose them to many infections, including bacterial, viral and fungal infections. Immune deficiency may possibly also reduce the immune system's ability to recognize and attack cancer-specific antigens. On the other hand, an overly-stimulated immune system can trigger immune-mediated diseases – autoimmune disorders in which the immune system mistakes normal organs as foreign invaders and attacks them. Autoimmune diseases include those affecting many tissues of the body such as the blood, thyroid, adrenal glands, joints, kidneys, liver, bowel, reproductive organs, muscles, nervous system, eyes, skin and mucous membranes.

So, what does this post's topic – vaccinations – have to do with our pets' immune systems? Plenty! As a dutiful pet caretaker, you are no doubt vaccinating your pet against a host of diseases. And, of course, a proper vaccination program is essential to your pet's health. On the other hand, research shows that our pets simply don't require annual vaccination boosters to keep them protected. In fact, the American Animal Hospital Association's (AAHA) revised 2011 Canine Vaccination Guidelines recommend a revaccination program every 3 or more years for dogs. And the truth is that once your dog has completed his puppy series (or kitten series for cats) for the core vaccines, there is a good chance his body will maintain immunity to these diseases for life. Yet, many well-intentioned people continue to follow the advice of some veterinarians and give their adult dogs and cats annual (or even semi-annual) vaccine boosters. This can result in over-vaccination and a variety of potentially damaging – and in some cases, even life-threatening – adverse reactions (referred to as “vaccinosis”).

These risks are especially true for pets afflicted with immune-mediated disease, since over-vaccination places undue stress on the immune system and has been linked to autoimmune disease.

Side effects from canine and feline vaccinations can occur anywhere from instantly up to several weeks or months later. Vaccines can even cause susceptibility to chronic diseases later in life.”

Now, what is that all saying? Vaccines are meant to trigger an immune response within animals and in some animals, the immune system becomes overstimulated. Immune mediated disease is a disease with no known cause other than an overactive immune system.  It's then that the immune system starts attacking other parts of the body. Autoimmune diseases include cancer, leukemia, thyroid disease, Addison's, Grave's disease, autoimmune hemolytic anemia, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, lupus, thrombocytopenia, organ failure, skin inflammations, and more. In ITP, immune mediate thrombocytopenia, the immune system attacks the platelets and puts the animal at risk of life threatening bleeds as the blood can't clot properly. Similarly IMHA, Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia, is a disease in which the immune system reacts against red cells just as it would against a foreign bacteria or virus. When this happens, red cells are destroyed, anemia results, and oxygen delivery is greatly reduced. Both ITP and IMHA require lifelong treatment and could be deadly. Both of these conditions can be treated with steroids, which come with their own set of side effects and risk factors or immunosuppressive drugs.

Over vaccination poses many risks to pets but the potential to cause autoimmune diseases are without a doubt the scariest. These diseases are lifelong and will require treatment. If a pet has been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, either before or after vaccination, titer testing should be demanded in cases of vaccination. 

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