Well, now that we have, I hope, grasped the concept of immunity, let us have some superficial discussions on vaccines. Vaccines, as you would have gathered from the last three weeks of Pet Corner, may contain living and virulent bacteria, ‘living’ viruses, weakened bacteria and viruses, tissue containing viruses, or toxins.

Usually, vaccines are used for the prophylaxis (prevention) of a disease. However, a vaccine can also be used to treat ailment. ‘Strangles,’ a streptococcus (strep) infection in the horse, can be treated by injecting the horse with weakened streptococci bacteria. The body’s defence resources are further stimulated by the weakened streps to produce more antibodies which will then destroy the streps that have caused the ‘strangles’ in the first instance. Nature works beautifully, doesn’t it? We just have to understand its workings and manipulate/exploit this knowledge for the benefit of the living being.

I should mention that vaccines can be produced not only to help defeat bacteria/viral infections. We can use X-rays to irradiate the larvae (immature stages) of worms that cause a bronchitis (‘husk’ = lungworms) in ruminants. Injections of these X-irradiated worms can prevent this lungworm problem. Similar vaccines have been produced against hookworms in dogs. And our own veterinarians themselves (not relying only on vaccines prepared by big pharmaceutical firms) have been known to produce vaccines against ‘warts’ in cattle.

Finally, allow me to share some important other considerations when dealing with vaccines.

(i) Irrespective of how good and efficient a vaccine inherently is, and from which renowned drug company it comes, there is the occasional ‘breakdown’ (failure). This may be due to improper storage of the vaccine or even the inability of the dog to react to the vaccine, or even that the vaccine has expired. I don’t really want to get into the debate of improper use and administration of the vaccine – not so much by the veterinarian, but by the layman who wishes to cut costs. I have known persons who purchase vaccines across the counter and then split the one into 4 and ‘vaccinate’ four puppies. Well, of course it is highly unlikely that any of the pups would have received optimal (even satisfactory) coverage against diseases.

(ii) In most cases (diseases), once the animal already has the virus or bacteria in its body (whether in hiding or with overt exhibition), administering the vaccine to the patient will not prevent the course of the ailment. In such cases, one can inject serum containing antibodies of the specific disease into the sick animal (passive immunity). The important thing is that you must tell the vet that the animal is sick and off its food before he/she gives the ‘shot.’

(iii) Follow the veterinarian’s advice relative to the vaccination schedule he or she proposes. If the vet urges you to return three weeks after the first ‘shot,’ don’t come back in three months. If the vet advises three shots at 3-week intervals, then please follow the stated regime. In any case, it is always an advantage to have a compulsory reason for your young animal to see the vet for the vaccination simply because the pup/kitten will be able to get a thorough check-up at the same time.

Enough is enough! Next week we’ll begin our discussions on actual infectious diseases.

Please implement disease preventative measures (vaccinations, routine dewormings, monthly anti-heartworm medication, etc) and adopt-a-pet from the GSPCA’s Animal Clinic and Shelter at Robb Street and Orange Walk, if you have the wherewithal to care well for the animals. Do not stray your unwanted pets, take them to the GSPCA’s Clinic and Shelter instead. If you see anyone being cruel to an animal, or if you need any technical information, please get in touch with the Clinic and Shelter by calling 226-4237.

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