Still On Vaccination (Maternal Immunity)

Dog-worn-outTHE very delicate and intricate science of vaccines and immunisation, should be carefully understood by every pet owner. This is because arguments arising from apparent failure of the process of immunization have damaged relationships between many veterinarians and their clients.

I consider it very germane that pet enthusiasts should show more than a passing interest in getting educated about the issue.

I have in the last two weeks tried to scratch the surface, at least, to stimulate the interest of pet owners in the understanding that relevant awareness would be created.

Initially, I had planned to go into the details of the vaccine and procedural factors that can affect the uptake of immunity after vaccination.

But someone took me up on the subject of maternal immunity and wanted to know why it is such an important factor to consider when formulating vaccination schedule and ensuring the success of the process.

I also felt it was important that the issue of passive immunity conferred by the mother is very crucial in the overall appreciation of the subject.

Maternal immunity (also called passive immunity) is the protection conferred by the mother on the puppies or kittens as a result of the colostrum suckled by these young ones few moments after birth.

Colostrum, which is the first milk produced by the mother, contains antibodies against major infectious disease organisms that the bitch or the queen had encountered in the past (which includes the live or killed organisms that the mother encountered during vaccination).

These aggregates are entirely referred to as maternal immunity. These antibodies will then enter the blood of the puppies or kittens and circulate therein for up to 14 weeks, defending the young animals from infection, while their immune systems are maturing.

The problem starts when we decide to vaccinate. At what point do we vaccinate to ensure that the pup or kitten remains protected?

Let us consider the dynamics. Studies have shown that the passive immunity can last for up to 14 weeks. But usually, it lasts only six to eight weeks. In the case of the prolonged immunity, what happens is that the moment we vaccinate, the maternal antibodies that still exist in the blood of the vaccinated puppy recognise the tiny dose of the minimally harmful viruses or bacteria that we have just introduced as enemies and attack them, neutralising them very quickly, thereby preventing the pup from being exposed to them and gaining protective immunity.

However, if the maternal immunity is short-lived and wears off at about six to eight weeks, then there will not be any issue, as the influence of the mother’s antibodies would have significantly waned to allow a response from the puppies or kittens.

So once again, the pertinent question is: How do we determine when it is right to challenge the new puppy or kitten?

The good news is that technology has begun to provide a solutions to this problem, as we can now conduct tests that will check the status of our pups and kittens before challenging them with vaccines.

Also, newer vaccines have been designed to overcome the issue of maternal immunity and so vaccine failure for this reason should become minimal.

The overall success can only be guaranteed if the owners, in collaboration with their veterinarians, work together to ensure that the mother (bitch or queen) is maximally protected; the young ones are offered colostrum by their mother. (Sometimes, this does not happen in cases of inexperienced and sloppy mothers, in which case, the owner must supervise manual expression of the colostrum and administer it properly for the benefits of passive immunity.

They also need to ensure that the status of the puppies is  known before any challenge is contemplated.

In the alternative, the owners should agree with their vets on the best time to challenge the young ones in a well-thought-through vaccination schedule that will ensure that the pups or kittens are reasonably protected and veterinarians are encouraged to take advantage of the newer type of vaccines that have reduced the negative influence of passive immunity to ensure that the pups or kits are always protected.

Another issue is whether a pregnant bitch or queen can be vaccinated to ensure that the passive immunity conferred on the young ones is prolonged —- so the owners can wait until about 10 to 12 weeks on the  average before challenging their pups or kits.

This is an option preferred by the breeders, who are desirous of selling their pups even before that age to save some money.

My response is that vaccinating a pregnant animal with a live vaccine does more harm than good.

Foetuses are unprotected against live vaccine viruses because of their immature immune system. And because these viruses can replicate rapidly in the cells of these unborn animals, resulting in their damage, it can result to stillbirths, abortions, fetal abnormalities or even clinical diseases, in some cases.

So, this method fraught with risks and should be discouraged.

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Still On Vaccination (Maternal Immunity)