Barn Buddies

Pet Vaccination Lawsuit

By Lisa Ross-Williams with Bob Rogers, DVM

Jackie Lump

Welcome back to another great If Your Horse Could Talk show which promotes natural horse care through knowledge. I’m your host Lisa Ross-Williams and today I’ll be chatting with Dr. Bob Rogers about the class action lawsuit concerning pet vaccinations.

Lisa: Welcome, Dr. Rogers. Thanks so much for being with us today. Before we get into the nitty-gritty of this issue, please tell us a bit about your background and how you got involved with this issue.

Dr. Rogers: I’m a 1975 graduate of Texas A&M University and I’ve been in practice for 30 years. In 1988, I noticed a new vaccine came out for corona virus and I was confused because I had never seen a case of a dog with corona. In talking with the manufacturer, they said the vaccine was only developed for use for puppies, they acknowledged that corona was not a disease of adult dogs and yet, their marketing department was marketing it for adult dogs. I asked them what was up with that and they said that Marketing doesn’t talk to Research & Development.

I thought that over the years vets would quit using the corona virus vaccine but what I’ve seen is more and more unnecessary and ineffective vaccines coming out. In 1997, I went to a seminar where Dr. Ron Schultz, probably the most prominent immunologist in veterinary medicine, said that giving vaccines like rabies, distemper, and parvo annually had no effect. I went back to my practice and changed my vaccine recommendations as I cannot in good conscience charge a client for something that does nothing, especially when I know that there’s a risk involved. I was very surprised over the years to see that nobody else was changing.

Lisa: Do you think that’s because vets are so busy with their practice that they don’t have the time to try to find new information about vaccines?

Dr. Rogers: I think that’s a big part of it. Certainly a vet would be more inclined to get continuing education about diabetes because that’s a big challenge. However, he would probably think he knows how to vaccinate a dog. But the drug companies have disseminated a lot of false information; they come into town, buy dinners at the most expensive restaurant for all the vets and present a seminar on vaccines where they misconstrue the studies, they omit the most current studies, and they conclude that we should go on vaccinating every pet for every disease known to man, every year. So that’s a big part of the problem too.

Lisa: So at what point did you decide you needed to take a more active role?

Dr. Rogers: Over three years, I went to the Texas State Veterinary Board; their mission is #1 to protect the public and #2 to elevate the standard of practice. I merely asked them to encourage vets to get continuing education on vaccinations and to stop allowing continued education where the speaker is a paid employee of a drug company because that is a big conflict of interest. I think that was a very reasonable request and they refused.

Lisa: Did they give you a reason?

Dr. Rogers: They said they didn’t want to tell vets how to practice. Well, stopping fraud is quite different than telling vets how to practice. This isn’t just a matter of which antibiotic is better; this is charging people for something that has no effect. As more scientific data came out and as more organizations like the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Animal Hospital Association came out with recommendations and guidelines, I kept going back to the state board and they continued to refuse. After about the sixth time, I threatened to sue them for negligence for failing to protect the public.

Lisa: Good … and did that work?

Dr. Rogers: Yes, they then agreed to investigate my complaint and in fact sent a letter out to every Texas vet saying that they should change their vaccine recommendations. To me the word “should” means "do it" and the board's interpretation means it’s a suggestion. As people here have filed complaints against vets for giving unnecessary vaccinations, the state board has told these people, “if you don’t like your vet’s recommendations, find another vet.” They still are not enforcing this.

So I went to the Sunset Commission which is a group of senators who oversee the state board and they told the board in no uncertain terms to crack down on unnecessary vaccinations. The state board sent me a letter saying they intended to ignore the Sunset Commission. People continue to file complaints and the board continues to say vets can do whatever they want.

There are attorneys who just hang around the state capitals to see what’s going on and this issue came to a law firm’s attention. They made an announcement that they would represent clients who are upset about unnecessary vaccinations and whose pets have been harmed. That firm approached me and asked me to provide them with the scientific literature to support this, which I have done. On the day they announced this, they got over 300 people on the first day alone.

Lisa: I believe that. Is that just Texas or is this across the U.S.?

Dr. Rogers: I know of lawsuits going on in several states. They just changed the class-action ruling on a national level redefining how class action suits can be filed. This law firm’s focus started in Texas although they have identified plaintiffs in other states.

Lisa: I certainly can see many people involved because this is an issue across the country. I’m finding that animal owners are becoming more informed and learning new things and I certainly think more people are aware of the vaccination issue. I see it growing to tens of thousands at least.

Let’s talk a little more about vaccinations. I always tell people to do some research. If you’re going to vaccinate, try to understand the diseases, the efficiency & duration of protection and the side effects. That way, you can make an informed decision. Unfortunately, a lot of people look to their vets for guidance, but it sounds like many of the vets are not aware of the latest studies and plug along, sending out annual vaccination notices.

Dr. Rogers: What a vaccine consists of is a virus or bacteria that has been weakened or killed so that it cannot cause the disease, hopefully. But it still is essentially a parvo virus, or distemper virus, so it stimulates the immune system to protect against that disease. We’re depending on our patients to respond to that vaccine by producing antibodies and cell mediated immunity. If a pet has already been immunized for one of the core vaccines of which we know the vaccines produces a long-term immunity, when you give them another vaccine, the antibodies for the first vaccine will block any subsequent vaccine from having an effect. This is what Dr. Ron Schultz published, clear back in 1995, that the client is paying for something with no effect. There are other vaccines like Leptospirosis for which the duration of immunity is very short and they do have to be given every year. But these vaccines should only be given to a dog that is at risk of developing the disease.

Lisa: So if there have been no reports of that disease in your area for many years, then that would be a reason not to give it.

Dr. Rogers: Correct. For instance, in Texas, they only see an average of 12 dogs a year with Leptospirosis. Over 12 million dogs and the chance of your dog being exposed to Lepto is less than 1 in a million. We know that the dogs at the highest risk are hunting dogs. So, if you were given that information, would you purchase that vaccine for your dog? I wouldn’t. The other thing is that vaccine is only 60-80% effective. Clients should be provided with enough information to make an informed decision.

Lisa: From what I understand, on the back of vaccination bottles it states it only should be given to healthy animals. So if an animal has a compromised immune system or some type of chronic issue, they might not be able to build the immunity even if given the shot. If they’re not healthy enough to launch a reaction, what happens then?

Dr. Rogers: The real danger is that the animal could develop the disease for which the vaccine was intended to prevent. Distemper is the biggest culprit. A dog with diabetes or Cushings could get distemper from the vaccine and this actually happens, depending on the brand of vaccine in 1 out of 10,000. I personally have seen this happen to three dogs and this is an awful experience for the animal, the owners and me as well.

Lisa: When you are talking about core vaccines, what are you referring to?

Dr. Rogers: These are vaccinations that are recommended for every dog to receive; rabies, distemper, and parvo. We are currently recommending these for puppies at 8, 12, and 16 weeks and again one year later. The American Animal Hospital Association and most veterinary schools have adopted a compromise here. We know the vaccines are good for at least 7 years, probably the lifetime of the pet. But to try to compromise with vets who are worried about losing money, they came up with an every 3 year recommendation. This is really just an arbitrary number that they just pulled out of a hat.

Lisa: Is it true that the USDA doesn’t require the drug companies to prove efficiency?

Dr. Rogers: They do have to prove 85% efficacy. The USDA certainly needs to revise its standards for licensing vaccines. They do not have to prove how long the vaccine is good for; they can test at three months and get a license for the vaccine. The vaccine might only be good for four months or for the life of the pet. The USDA makes no determination on that.

Lisa: So unless you’re testing for efficiency beyond one year, then you don’t have to come out and say it’s effective longer. Is that what has happened in the past where the drug companies say we have tested it at one year, but never went further? It is a business and we need to understand that vaccinations involve a LOT of money for the vets and the drug companies.

Dr. Rogers: Yes, it’s a billion dollar industry.

Lisa: How about some of the adverse reactions that are seen in pets today. Quite frankly, I think that this is just the tip of the iceberg and I don’t feel the current adverse reporting procedures are efficient. I hear so many times from people who may see a reaction in their dog, cat or horse and tell their vet. The vet says, “On no, it couldn’t possibly be linked to the shot.” The people then just stop there, where in fact this needed to be reported, either by the vet or the owner. Let’s chat whether there’s a better way to report these reactions

Dr. Rogers: There is no reporting. There is no government supported reporting for veterinary vaccines. We can report to the drug company, but they have no obligation and they do not report back to vets about these reactions. We have no idea and no way of finding out.

Lisa: That seems like it’s broken. I thought there was a reporting agency?

Dr. Rogers: There was a reporting network but it was discontinued several years ago.

Lisa: I didn’t know that. What was the reason?

Dr. Rogers: To save on government funding. Probably the most severe vaccine reaction that has received the most attention is cats getting cancer from the vaccines. This is called a vaccine-associated sarcoma and it is 100% fatal. It is thought to kill 22,000 cats a year in the U.S. and that’s an estimated figure.

Lisa: Say someone takes their cat in and are diagnosed with this. Are they being told why or do the vets even know why?

Dr. Rogers: I’ve talked to a lot of cat owners where the vet didn’t tell them that the vaccine was the cause of the cancer.

Lisa: Is that because the vet is afraid of repercussions?

Dr. Rogers: I think it’s a knee jerk reaction for people to be defensive and say “I didn’t do it.” But the owners find out. They all tell me the same thing - "I wasn’t warned, nobody told me this could happen." If vets would do one thing we could greatly reduce the number of cats getting cancer. Warn the owner that if a lump develops at the site of the shot and it doesn’t go way within three weeks, have it removed, hopefully before it becomes cancer. Maybe only 1 lump out of 100 will develop into cancer but it’s worth removing them all.

Adjuvants are something that's added to the vaccine to stimulate the immune system. There is lots of evidence to show that it is adjuvant that is the cause of cancer in cats. I’m not saying that a non-adjuvanted vaccine can’t possibly cause cancer, but certainly the adjuvanted vaccines are at least five times more likely.

Lisa: What type of substances are used for adjuvants?

Dr. Rogers: It’s usually an aluminum additive. The way it works is it creates inflammation which draws the immune system to the site of the vaccine. It also makes a vaccination more of a sustained-release product. Cats are unique in that inflammation can turn into cancer. There are non-adjuvanted vaccines; they don’t cost anymore and yet they only have about 10% of the market. Only 10% of vets are going to all non-adjuvanted vaccines.

Lisa: Does that go back to them just not knowing?

Dr. Rogers: I think it goes back to the vaccine manufacturer disseminating false and misleading information. Certainly the companies that don’t make non-adjuvanted vaccines want to go around and say it hasn’t been proven that adjuvants are the culprit.

Lisa: Doesn’t that come down to demand? If there were more vets and owners demanding the types of vaccines, then the drug companies would either get onboard or they’re going to lose their shirt.

Dr. Rogers: Absolutely. Adjuvants were declared a Class 2 Carcinogen by the World Health Organization. If that was recognized by the USDA, they would have to take all the adjuvanted vaccines off the market. So again I think the USDA is asleep at the wheel.

The AVMA asked the USDA to revise their standards for licensing vaccines back in 1998. Since that time, they have licensed vaccines that have no effect, vaccines that don’t even contain the virus or disease to which they were intended to protect, and many adjuvanted vaccines. So the USDA has not done what the AVMA asked them to do.

Lisa: Do you think this class action lawsuit will put pressure on the USDA to change that? How can we get that changed?

Dr. Rogers: It’s very sad to see that it had to come to a lawsuit. I think vets are good people who have made one bad decision which is to ignore the scientific evidence and studies and to refuse to accept change. Basically, good people who said, “I don’t care what the scientific evidence says, I’m not changing.” But I do think we need some moral, ethical leadership at the AVMA; the state boards should do their duty to protect the public and the USDA needs to clean up their act.

Lisa: How about the AVMA. You said that they did change their recommendations. Did they send that out to all the vet members?

Dr. Rogers: Yes, in 2001 they published a position statement on vaccines. They said there is no scientific data to support annual vaccination and said that repeated administration of these vaccines does not enhance the pet’s immunity.

Lisa: So you’re getting risk with no benefit.

Dr. Rogers: Correct. It’s been ignored for 6 years. Those guidelines have been ignored by 90% of vets.

Lisa: Can’t the AVMA get stronger in their stance?

Dr. Rogers: They’re afraid people will quit paying their dues. They do get most of their money from the drug companies. It is a trade association.

Lisa: I want people to understand that the AVMA is a private trade organization whose goal is to benefit the vets.

Dr. Rogers: I have filed complaints with the AVMA about false advertising and they blew me off.

Lisa: But isn’t that their duty to look into that?

Dr. Rogers: They do have an ethics clause and committee, and they do have the power to sanction vets who are doing false advertising, but they refuse to. It’s about following the money.

Lisa: I do understand big business but I do what I do for the love of the animals. If doing the right thing means I lose some money, then so be it.

Dr. Rogers: Well, look at this Vioxx trial. I think it’s a good example of what drug companies do. If they don’t like a study, they just ignore it.

Lisa: That in itself should be illegal. It sounds like there just needs to be a whole bunch of changes at all the different levels. I believe you initiating this and getting the legal people involved is the beginning.

Dr. Rogers: It has had an effect. I just attended a seminar on vaccines and a vet in the audience was very concerned about lawsuits. The speaker indicated that fear was justified.

Lisa: Let's talk a little but about the disclosure statement which should cover the pros, cons, and adverse reactions to help educate the owner. What would be involved with something like that?

Dr. Rogers: There is legislation pending in many states to require vets to have informed consent before vaccinating a pet. I know that the Texas AVMA has a committee that is looking at drafting such an informed consent form.
 
Lisa: Do you think that’s what it’s going to take to get the vets doing what’s right? Introducing legislation at a state level requiring them to do so?

Dr. Rogers: Well, I’m not sure if that’s the answer. Say I have a client who comes in, a Dad with three kids and a dog. He says that Mom says all the shots are due and please hurry because the football game starts in 15 minutes. He doesn’t want to know anything about vaccines and no doubt, if I don’t vaccinate the dog for parvo and distemper every year, I’ll get a phone call from Mom asking why not.

Lisa: Perhaps Mom would like that information. Dad can bring it home and she may say, I had no idea and next year we’ll have to think twice about it. I run into some owners who just don’t want to know - they figure if they don’t have the information, then they can’t be held accountable.

Dr. Rogers: Maybe when the dog develops a severe reaction, they will say, “if only you had told me”. It’s got to start with the client.

Lisa: I know with my dealings with the Arizona Vet Board, it’s tough to introduce a new idea and get them to change the way it’s been going forever. My question goes back to, is this something that each state needs to get their legislators to introduce a bill? Whose responsibility is this to get the vets giving disclosure information?

Dr. Rogers: It’s the responsibility of each state board and I have written to every state board in the U.S. They said they would take it under advisement which tells me my letter got filed in the round file. To your listeners: If you really love pets, get on the state board. Go apply to be on that board. Right now we have the foxes watching the henhouse and we need people on these boards who love pets. We have far too many people on the board who love vets and care about protecting their income. Now we need people who love pets.

Lisa: That’s certainly a way to do it. I believe here in AZ we have two or three seats open to the public.

Dr. Rogers: Well, I hope they are not like the lay people on the TX board who sit there like a bump on a log and think this is over their head. We need people on these state boards who are out to protect the public and their pets.

Lisa: Let’s talk about the actual lawsuit. Again, is this just for Texas people only?

Dr. Rogers: No, this firm will accept complaints out of Texas and there are a number of firms looking at this issue.

Lisa: The law firm is Childress, Duffy, Goldblatt of Chicago. Their website is www.childresslaw.net.

Dr. Rogers: Yes, that is one of them. Click on the “contact us” and then go to "Class Action". It has a companion animal vaccine lawsuit there.

Lisa: So what are their main goals? Is it to require vets to give disclosure statements or is it bigger than that?

Dr. Rogers: I think they want to see vets quit giving unnecessary and unsafe vaccines. Certainly, this begins with disclosure. The point of law here is the standard of the reasonable patient. Would a reasonable patient elect to purchase, for example, the corona vaccine if they knew that adult dogs don’t even get this disease? Would a reasonable client purchase an adjuvanted vaccine if they knew they were five times more likely to cause cancer? Or would they elect a safer, non-adjuvanted vaccine? I provide my clients with that information and have not had one client take the riskier product.

Lisa: So would it be up to the individual vets to come up with their own disclosure, or would that be something at a state level?

Dr. Rogers: The problem with the individual vet coming up with a disclosure is what if he gives false information and doesn’t disclose, or withholds the information? What if his disclosure statement said that dogs can die from corona? Then we’re back to the lawsuits for misrepresentation.

Lisa: Do you think it’s the responsibility of the AVMA to come up with something?

Dr. Rogers: Yes, I would encourage the AVMA to come up with something, but ultimately the state boards are going to have to enforce the law that already exists, which in Texas says that a vet can be punished for giving unnecessary treatment. Most states say vets must deal ethically with the public. I don’t think you’d say it’s ethical to charge someone for something that has no effect or to administer something to a patient which could cause a 100% fatal cancer without warning the client.

Lisa: Where can people go for more information? www.newvaccinationprotocol.com is one.

Dr. Rogers: There’s good information on that site. Most veterinary schools have their vaccination recommendations on their websites including Cornell and University of California at Davis. There’s a lot of good info about cancer in cats at www.catshots.com. My website, www.critteradvocacy.org is good and has a lot of links to other excellent sites.

Lisa: You brought up vet schools. So they’re on track with this?

Dr. Rogers: Sure, the University of California at Davis changed their recommendation over 7 years ago. They do not use any adjuvanted vaccines.

Lisa: Do you think that the new graduates are going to be coming out with an understanding and perhaps realize the dangers of this?

Dr. Rogers: I think this is heartbreaking. When I graduated from vet school 30 years ago, the vet I went to work for told me on the first day, “When things go wrong, tell the truth.” I have interviewed 40 new graduates who have told me at their job interviews, the vets tell them that they will vaccinate every dog for corona, every year or they can’t come to work for them. Any vet who has graduated from Texas A&M in the last 17 years was taught that adult dogs don’t get that disease and the vaccine is unnecessary, but they come out of schools and their boss tells them they have to do it. They have student loans and they need a job. To me, this is heartbreaking.

Lisa: Yes because it’s making people give up on their principles.

Dr. Rogers: Of these people who graduated in the last 17 years who know better, 30% of them are still giving corona every year.

Lisa: Any last message you want to leave our listeners with? If they’re saying that this is outrageous, what can they do? Hopefully, they pass this information along to every animal owner they know. What is your message to everyday animal owners?

Dr. Rogers: As the Attorney General in Texas told me, “If this is going to get changed, it’s going to take a BIG public outcry.”

Lisa: The first step to that is education.

Dr. Rogers: Get educated, and start writing letters to your legislatures, your state boards, and tell them you want things changed. I think the core of the problem is doctors, dentists and vets need to quit getting their information from drug companies. Continuing education should not be allowed from a speaker who is a paid employee of a drug company. I prefer to get my information from the university or someone who is board certified in the field and someone who has no conflict of interest in the products being discussed. A lot of various things need to be put in place and certainly the state vet boards need to open their minds, listen to the information, and truly do what’s best for the animals and the public.

Lisa: Dr. Rogers, thanks so much for being with us today. I pat you on the back for coming forward and taking a stand as I know it’s not an easy thing to do. Well, folks, I'm hoping that you will listen to this, it will stay in your mind, and you will tell every single animal lover out there about this issue and ask them to get educated, and perhaps get involved.

That’s it for another great If Your Horse Could Talk show. Until next time, I’m Lisa Ross-Williams.

Be sure to listen to the full audio interview at www.NaturalHorseTalk.com.

For more information:
CARES (Critter Advocacy, Responsibility, Ethics, Science)
Robert L. Rogers, DVM
5703 Louetta Rd.
Spring, TX 77379
281-370-3262
www.critteradvocacy.org

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