Titers – education – viable alternative to over-vaccination

Michelle Mattei

            Titers is a word that some vets embrace, causes eye rolls from others, and for still many, an opportunity to launch into a diatribe akin to a Greek tragedy.  So why is this word causing so much controversy and agita between companion animal parents and some vets?  So let’s start with defining what a titer is.  As a human, we come across this when we apply to attend a university.  Most universities, either by State statute or university policy, ask for proof of vaccination against certain infectious diseases, the most common being MMR – measles, mumps, and rubella (German measles).  The prospective student contacts their pediatrician for a copy of their immunization records to show proof of vaccination.  If the immunization record cannot be located, the prospective student has two choices, get re-vaccinated or go for a titer test.  A titer is a test that requires blood to be drawn and sent for analysis to determine the level of antibodies against specific disease types.  Antibodies are a natural reaction to an antigen.  The body produces an antigen (stimulus) in response to an infection triggered by a virus, bacteria, or a vaccine.  The titer test results will provide evidence if antibodies are present in your system to provide proof of either vaccination or that you contracted a specific infection.  The titers test can be done on non-human animals to show which antibodies appear in their bloodstream.  In either case, if the antibodies are present, there is, in most cases, no need for revaccination. 

Titer tests for non-human animals have been used for several decades.  Still, the recent shift towards the increased use of titers is based on over-vaccination concerns, not only based on the vaccines themselves but also the frequency of boosters vaccinations and the expansion of non-core vaccines for a litany of different diseases.  The traditional core vaccines for dogs have generally been for; Canine rabies virus, Canine distemper virus (CDV), Canine parvovirus (CPV-2), and Canine adenovirus (hepatitis).  Depending on which of many guidelines are offered, Canine parainfluenza (flu) is either consider a core or non-core vaccine.  Non-core vaccines for dogs generally are considered to be; Bordetella bronchiseptica (kennel cough), Lyme disease, Leptospirosis, Coronavirus, and Giardia.

            So why is the titer topic so controversial with some vets?  Well, it depends on your vet, the type of vet you go to, how your vet chooses to interpret the science, and their financial motivation.  If your vet is traditional, they will likely suggest not only the core vaccines but also non-core vaccines based on their own set of beliefs, based on their interpretation of current scientific or non-scientific findings.  A holistic vet will tend to divert away from the vaccine guidelines and suggest the titer

There is yet another group of vets who are employed by large corporations that promote as part of their corporate governance policy or franchise agreement that the vets are required to encourage the use of vaccines both core and noncore, re-vaccination should vaccination be in doubt, and repeated boosters on an annual basis, all to meet their financial targets.  As a non-human animal parent, doesn’t this make you start to wonder and question?

Here are some interesting statistics that should bring additional questions and concerns to mind in your decision-making process.  There is a more extensive list as part of the embedded link.

  • Only ~40% of veterinarians follow the current WSAVA, AVMA, AAHA, CVMA vaccine guidelines
  • They can offer separated vaccine components, rather than give them all together, since the published data show more adverse reactions when multiple vaccines are given
  • Rabies vaccine is often given with other boosters for convenience, when this is ill advised, as Killed, inactivated vaccines like rabies make up 15% of veterinary biologicals used, but 85% of the post-vaccination reactions. Use only thimerosal (mercury) – free rabies vaccines
  • There is no such thing as an ‘up to date’ or ‘due’ vaccination
  • Vaccination may not equate to immunization
  • Giving boosters to immunized animals is unwise, as it introduces unnecessary antigen, adjuvant and preservatives
  • Heavy metal exposure from vaccines is an emerging concern for humans, pets and livestock
  • Half-dose CDV + CPV vaccines in small adult dogs sustained protective serum antibody titers
  • No evidence that annual boosters are necessary; need to lengthen the interval to every 3 yrs
  • Geriatric animals vaccinated only with caution

Just like not all veterinarians are the same when it comes to vaccines and titers, some veterinary schools are taking a more rational stance when it comes to this issue.  The College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University states, “Vaccine titers have been gaining more acceptance over the past few years to reduce the frequency of vaccination. In order to be useful, two criteria need to be met: 1) One needs to be able to detect a measurable immunity (antibody) to a disease in a blood sample, and 2) There needs to have been challenge studies performed to associate protection with that specific titer level. A challenge study shows that animals which have a specified antibody titer did not get sick when exposed to the disease for which the titer was checked.”  Let’s all hope that more veterinary schools will promote this view and the other points stated on the College’s website.

My personal experience was to leave my companion animals veterinary practice after 30 years with them when they attempted to scare me and deter me away from titers.  Our current vet is a blend of traditional when needed as well as holistic.  This article is meant to challenge the old ways and introduce you and your companion animal family and beyond to possible alternatives.

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