Sunday, October 6, 2013

Not cool CBC Marketplace...and I hope many people bite back before abandoning rabies vaccines...

If you didn't see CBC's Marketplace, please don't give their ratings a boost by checking the online segment.  

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have a great vet and a great clinic. I haven't always been that fortunate (memories of Manitoba and the government doc - also an MBA - who wrongly suggested a diagnosis of pemphigus) so I appreciate questions around trust and costs.  I'm also generally a big CBC fan (this morning's Sunday Edition is terrific and thoughtful and I have it on now).

The season premier suggesting most vets are misleading people in an effort to overcharge (the way the reporter pitched it on Metro Morning just before 6 am Friday) was misleading at best, deliberately inflammatory without doubt, and potentially dangerous - as much for people as for dogs.  Maybe more for people when you boil it down.

The lead item (repeated at the top of the hour for most of Friday morning and posted on CBC News as well as the program site) said most vets recommend rabies vaccines when they shouldn't - 6 of 10, in fact.  The undercover dog and handler 'told' the vet the dog was up-to-date on shots, but vaccines were recommended in any case.  Told is the key word there.  No record...just an unproven report.  By way of comparison, consider what most people 'tell' their physicians about how many vegetables they eat or how much exercise they get.

Ultimately, the program suggested all dogs only need rabies shots every three years.  It went on to quote an expert who said vaccines can last 10 years.  Neither suggestion is quite as definitive as suggested, but you'll only find that out if you ask or do the research.  Most people won't and that's my worry. 

My clinic does use a three-year cycle, but before that kicks in, a pup needs puppy shots and its first adult shot.  I'm not certain what the protocol is for an adult dog whose original record can't be confirmed so I won't pretend to be an expert.  Cats, by the way, can't tolerate the three-year shot as it increases their risk of tumours significantly - something that didn't merit the erstwhile reporter's attention, nor the supposed expert who studies vaccines.

As I posted to Metro Morning when I vaulted out of bed after hearing this, you've just given people permission not to vaccinate.  Now what can possibly go wrong with that?  A reporter told you you can, so it must be so....and the reporter didn't feel the need to add caveats or detail...and of course a reporter would know more than a trusted professional who she's savaging for ratings.

In 2008, a litter of rabid puppies was sold at a Toronto flea market. Getting to all the people who were exposed was a challenge and vaccinating all of them was no small feat. Rabid bats and skunks turn up every year in Ontario - and likely in other jurisdictions too.  That means pets can be exposed, sometimes without their owners even knowing.  A colleague of  mine found a dead bat in her home one morning and couldn't be sure when her pet had been vaccinated.  It made for anxious days although the titre test determined the cat was fine (yes, vets will do that for you if you ask, but they don't recommend this approach because it's expensive. Imagine.)

The representative of the veterinary association said vaccine schedules might be adjusted at a doctor's discretion.  Without knowing what tape the reporter left on the floor, I can't fairly determine whether his remarks were accurately reflected. The reporter used it as a suggestion that the association was giving its members free reign to abandon its own treatment protocols. I suspect that was not the true intent.  

There is an element of discretion and with a trained professional whom I trust, I'm prepared to have that discussion and evaluate the options. My pets typically come through rescue.  Often, that means when they arrive the agency taking custody of them doesn't have access to history or vaccination records.  Guess what?  They get a shot. For their protection.  For mine.  For everyone we come in contact with. It's a public health issue.

When vets begin their training, they have to have a rabies shot.  They have their titres retested periodically to see when they need boosters.  Different people retain their immunity for different lengths.  While some vets can complete their studies without needing another inoculation, titre tests show others need a subsequent shot.

So if I visit a leash-free park (which I often do) and one the dogs has an owner who heard this program and has abandoned regular vaccines, what happens if that dog makes contact with me along with other dogs who aren't properly vaccinated or their people who likely aren't vaccinated? If that dog - like the ones at the flea market - is ill, it creates a widespread issue that could have been easily avoided with a regular vaccine.  It's my problem courtesy of a reporter chasing a great lead.  My dogs, by the way, will be fine.  They're vaccinated.

If you think that suggestion is a stretch - and it's a reasonable question - consider this:  every year after college students are away for spring break, outbreaks of measles, mumps, and chicken pox blossom which is how doctors discover vaccines have worn off.  Consider the very flawed study suggesting vaccines gave rise to autism.  The study's author has admitted it was never valid.  Other studies have refuted the findings (with statistically valid numbers - which, by the way - 10 is not).  Regrettably, the retractions and corrections never have the caché or traction of the original.

The segment also suggested heartworm tests weren't needed as Toronto's incidence of the condition were very low.  Again, not quite the whole truth:  Ontario has hot spots of infection in a number of locations, so if the dog ever leaves the city, it's at risk.  Rates are rising even in Toronto as many dogs have come in from states where the condition occurs and can be carriers.  It's not unlike West Nile in the way it transmits.

As it happens, I'm off to the vet with my pal KC next week.  It's time for his annual physical and some shots.  (They're staggered so as not to overload his system).  I don't know if his rabies booster is on the agenda, but it's in his record:  the one my doctor keeps for us that tracks his long-term care, health, and progress.  Yes, I pay for his care and I'm happy to as its an investment in his long-term health and quality of life.  

My trips to the vet aren't like my trips to the grocery store or gas station:  they are not strictly a consumer exchange; they involve consultation with a trained professional who knows a lot more than I do.  And she knows a lot more about the health care needs of my pet than any reporter ever will.  When my pets have a need, I get detailed discussion, options, and choices. 

I trust my doctor and no slanted coverage is going to change that now or ever. My happy, healthy, regularly-vaccinated pets agree.  They aren't CBC fans as a rule...although the dogs do like Don Cherry.  I am a CBC fan mostly and one bad segment does not paint a complete picture of a usually commendable network.

I'm going to give them the courtesy they didn't see fit to give the vets.


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