Vaccine Reactions: Underreported and Unrecognized, Not Unimportant

July 16, 2012

Dr. James R. Shannon, former Director of the US National Institute of Health, has been widely quoted as saying: “The only safe vaccine is one that is never used.” 

But are adverse vaccine reactions really a big deal? Aren’t they just the “fever and fatigue” we’re warned about after yearly shots? Or is there more to learn?

And aren’t moderate and severe adverse reactions rare? Let’s answer this question first.

Reactions are considered rare, in part, because reporting is rare. Unlike reporting for human vaccine reactions, required by the National Vaccine Injury Act of 1986, reporting is voluntary for reactions experienced by animals. Furthermore, there is no federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) for animals as there is for humans, nor is there a National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP). That does not mean that adverse events aren’t a serious a problem for animals. In fact, because animals are given numerous vaccines repeatedly (and unnecessarily) throughout their lives, rather than just in childhood, the problem is likely worse.

WSAVA Vaccination Group Guidelines (p. 18) recognizes that there is “gross under-reporting of vaccine-associated adverse events which impedes knowledge of the ongoing safety of these products.”  AAHA (p. 19) says, “Although AE [adverse event] documentation in veterinary medicine is limited, severe adverse reactions are considered uncommon.” But if reporting is rare, how do they know?

Perhaps the biggest problem in underreporting is the failure to match an illness or problem to a vaccine. Unless reactions closely follow vaccination, the incidents are often viewed as coincidences, not VIDS — vaccine induced reactions. Vaccine reaction education, both during vet school and after, is inadequate according to scientist and educator Dr. Ron Schultz speaking at the Safer Pet Vaccination Seminar and to many others quoted in Vets on Vaccines: Inadequate Education.

In addition, veterinarians often don’t want to believe or admit that the drug they administered caused an animal’s death or suffering.  To make recognition of VIDs even more difficult, the veterinarian who sees the reaction may not be the same one who vaccinated the animal. The client, inadequately versed about possible reactions, may even fail to mention that the pet was recently vaccinated or was ”never the same” after vaccination.  And, sadly, animals can’t tell us: I starting feeling awful after that shot.

Furthermore, reactions may follow vaccination by weeks, months or even years. And there’s also the self-fulfilling prophecy: don’t expect reactions and you won’t recognize them when you see them.

Here’s another big problem: When your pet suffers an illness or behavior change, you can’t just click on a link and see if it might be linked to a vaccine. Why is that? The USDA has the information but does not make it readily available.

So, back to the first question: are adverse vaccine reactions a big deal? Here is a partial list of reactions compiled by world-renowned vaccination researcher, Ron Schultz, Ph.D.  Dr. Schultz is on the board of the AAHA Canine Vaccine Task Force (all three taskforces actually) and the WSAVA Vaccination Guidelines Group, is Chairman of the Department of Pathobiology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has been researching and doing studies on over-vaccination since the 1970′s: 

Mild Reactions

  • Lethargy
  • Hair loss/hair color change at injection site
  • Fever
  • Soreness
  • Stiffness
  • Refusal to eat (transient)
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Sneezing
  • Oral ulcers

Moderate Reactions

  • Immunosuppression 
  • Behavioral Changes
  • Vitiligo
  • Weight Loss (Cachexia)
  • Reduced Milk Production
  • Lameness
  • Granulomas/Abscesses
  • Hives
  • Facial Edema
  • Atopy
  • Respiratory Disease
  • Allergic uveitis (Blue      Eye)

Severe Reactions

  • Vaccine Injection Site Sarcomas
  • Anaphylaxis 
  • Arthritis, Polyarthritis  – Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy (HOD)  
  • Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia (AIHA)
  • Immune Mediated Thrombocytopenia (IMTP
  • Hemolytic Disease of Newborns (Neonatal Isoerythrolysis)
  • Thyroiditis (possibly immune mediated)
  • Glomerulonephritis
  • Disease or Enhanced Disease which the vaccine was designed to prevent
  • Myocarditis
  • Post Vaccinal Encephalitis or polyneuritis
  • Seizures
  • Abortion, congenital anomalies, embryonic/fetal death, failure to conceive

In an article in DVM360 entitled Vaccination: An Overview, Dr. Melissa Kennedy states:  “Adverse reactions have also become a major concern in small animal medicine. … These fall into two general categories. The first is immediate hypersensitivity. This may be a local or systemic response, and is due to pre-existing antibody to the agent. This is the classic “allergic reaction” to the vaccine and can be life-threatening. The second is a delayed response, requiring days or longer to develop. The vaccine, seen as foreign, elicits a significant inflammatory response and is especially true for adjuvanted vaccines. This response can manifest as a granuloma, or more seriously, a fibrosarcoma.”

She also reports “The likelihood of adverse reactions in dogs has been found to correlate with the size of the dog and the number of inoculations given, with higher risk associated with small size and multiple inoculations.”

For more about vaccine reactions in dogs, see the AAHA Canine Vaccination report, p. 20.  

To report reactions, read Reporting Reactions to Vaccines, Veterinary Drugs and Pet Foods.

Has your dog or cat suffered a vaccine reaction? Tell us your story. And read the vaccination stories of others.

Related articles:
Questions to Ask Before Vaccinating

Clinical Approaches to Managing and Treating Adverse Vaccine Reactions by W. Jean Dodds, DVM  

Vaccinating Cats and Small and Medium-Size Dogs: A Special Danger

To avoid reactions, read Rabies Vaccination: 13 Ways to Vaccinate More Safely and Protecting Dogs From Vaccine Reactions 

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6 Responses to Vaccine Reactions: Underreported and Unrecognized, Not Unimportant

  1. [...] W. Jean Dodds Interviews TITER TEST Considerations | VacciCheck Antibody Titer Test Vaccine Reactions: Underreported and Unrecognized, Not Unimportant | Truth4Pets Should I Give My Dog a Booster Shot? | Truth4Dogs Dog Vaccinations Mindlessly Defended | [...]

  2. [...] you’re unaware of the dangers of adverse vaccine reactions, or of the particular Dangers of Vaccinating Small Dogs, click these links.  — Jan [...]

  3. nancy on July 23, 2013 at 10:00 am

    Years ago right after my Airedale was given the rabbies shot she had a seizure.

  4. Alceste on June 20, 2013 at 3:07 am

    I have a dog for three months I put the micro chip, I live in Italy.
    vaccinations are mandatory for the first few years? I do not want to vaccinate my dog
    What can I do instead?

  5. Phyllis Nowosad on December 17, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    I hope this changes things.
    Phyllis

  6. [...] it and read our companion article at our new not-for-profit all-vaccination website –  Vaccine Reactions: Underreported and Unrecognized, Not Unimportant.  Learn what world-class experts say about vaccine reactions. Watch other videos from well-known [...]

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