The importance of vaccination and related issues

I had chats with three veterinarians yesterday and this is what I’ve learnt about about vaccination for street animals (including pets, of course). The discussion stemmed from my earlier chats with certain feeders who told me that when they got their newly neutered street animals vaccinated, some died. Of course we all know that if any animal has an underlying medical condition or is already carrying the disease, then vaccinating will make the disease flare up. Some, but not all, street animals may be carriers of diseases too. This is a known fact.

Disclaimer: This sharing is purely my own, so I stand corrected if there are any errors in what I have understood. Please consult your veterinarian for confirmation and clarification.

What is the purpose of vaccination?

The principle of vaccination is to induce passive immunity in the animal towards the antigen that is inoculated into them so that it triggers can immune response to protect the animal from that particular disease.

When should an animal receive vaccination?

For the purpose of triggering the immune response, the body ideally should be in an immunocompetent state (this means the ability to produce a normal immune response). In other words, in a healthy state; not necessarily in the utmost prime of health but good enough to fend off most infectious agent/s or antigens. If the body is not immunocompetent or in immunodeficiency state, vaccine or concurring infectious agent/s may cause problems to the animal.

Therefore, to minimize any possible bad outcome, normally it is recommended that vaccination be carried out not around the period of any stressful condition like a recent capture, difficult handling or any surgery.

But for some strays, the chances of catching them again in a different time for vaccination might not be there, so some are vaccinated on the same day as neutering. This is not ideal but it seems to be best practice in situations where it is almost impossible to catch them again.

If the animal is already having some underlying issue but not showing any signs, then vaccination plus surgery may cause big problems to the animal.

As for strays, it is not surprising that they could already be incubating some infection in them (ie. they are carriers), so after surgery it may weaken them. If we further vaccinate, the outcome may be really bad.

Why is vaccination so important?

Without those underlying issues, vaccination is critical and very effective in controlling infectious diseases and may even eradicate infectious diseases if and only if more than 80% of population is PROPERLY VACCINATED. This creates the herd immunity. It is a known fact that diseases like rabies can be eradicated if this 80% herd immunity is achieved through vaccination. The same goes for other diseases as well.

So let’s do our part and get our street animals vaccinated.

This concept applies to vaccination in animals too.

Are there adverse reactions to a vaccine?

There are also some cases of adverse reaction to vaccine. Just like adverse reaction to drugs. It happens. But the incidence is very low since the vaccines for animals have been repeatedly for years before being approved for use.

Unfortunately, the Covid Pandemic was such an emergency that the vaccines used were not the safest since extensive testing were not carried out simply because time was not on our side. This led to many adverse reactions which were not surprising given that insufficient tests were performed. Thus, many who are not knowledgeable concluded and assumed that vaccines can kill.

The point is that there are adverse reactions to vaccine just like adverse reaction to drugs, food or even bee sting.

But those extensively tested vaccines were exhaustively tested for years before being released.

Why are there cases of animals that die after vaccination? 

For any stray animal that died after the vaccine, it is more likely that there has already been some serious underlying issues in that animal or they are already carriers of the diseases. And these possibilities cannot be known.

Some only have minor adverse reactions that can be treated to full recovery.

I did ask the vets whom I consulted how many cases of death after vaccination they have encountered. One said there was only one case in his decades of practice and that one case was a suspicious one. Another said none at all. I did not manage to ask the other vet.

We hope this sharing will shed more light on the benefits of vaccinating street animals and help you decide whether your street animals should be vaccinated or not. Since you feed the animals, always tell your vet the condition of each one so that it can help your vet make better recommendations for their safety and wellbeing.

Some rescuers/feeders we spoke with said they would rather boost their animals’ immunity by giving supplements such as multivitamins (B Complex is a favourite) or even immune boosters such as Vetri DMG. Of course there is no harm giving supplements as long as you have consulted your vet on their suitability.

But giving supplements may not provide adequate protection against the more severe and life-threatening diseases like parvovirus and distemper.

Vaccinating also cannot guarantee that the animals will not get the diseases they have been inoculated against, but it can lessen the severity of these diseases if contracted.

Most importantly, if we all do our part to get street animals vaccinated, we can look forward to creating the herd immunity once more than 80% of the animals have been inoculated. This can eradicate diseases in due time. This was how rabies was eradicated in certain countries – through vaccination.

Side note: Many years ago, my senior vet told me it is preferable to do the vaccination in the leg just in case of the rare occurrence of infection which requires amputation, it can still be done because it is at the leg area. But I don’t know if this still applies nowadays when the safety of vaccines would have improved.

Here’s what I practise:

For infants, I will give them their baby vaccinations (3 rounds). Then, a first and second year annual booster, and thereafter, a booster every three years until they reach about 7 years old, depending on whether I bring in anymore new rescues.

For adults, I will follow the vet’s advice because some might need a jab and a booster while those already with street immunity might just need one jab. The vet determines and I follow. Yearly boosters may be necessary but this depends on whether I can catch the outdoor animal again.

But for those who run shelters or keep bringing in new rescues, please consider yearly vaccinations.