I have some front-line news to share with you all today. Several cases of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) have been reported right here in New Jersey. This news has caused my friends at the Equine Science Center to make sure all my vaccinations are up-to-date. Now, I’m sure all of you know how much I dislike my annual vaccinations. Don’t worry, though, I always behave myself and stand quietly while the veterinarian is here. I won’t embarrass myself or my friends at the Center. I make sure all of my friends here at the Center, though, are very aware of my complaints. You can’t blame me. I mean who really enjoys a needle stick? I decided it was time I called my investigative skills into action again. I set out to learn all I could about vaccines in hopes I could rid myself of some of these vet visits throughout the year.
First things first. I wanted to know how and why vaccines work. I mean what exactly is a vaccine? For some help in answering these questions, I turned to the professors here at the Center and the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) which is the organization for equine veterinarians in the U.S. The first thing I discovered is how vaccines work. To understand their explanation, I had to do a quick review about my immune system. Our immune systems provide protection from foreign substances (also known as antigens) such as viruses which cause diseases. When a virus or other invader enters the body, specialized cells in the immune system will recognize and destroy the antigen. Detection of antigens relies on antibodies or specialized proteins which attach to specific antigens. An immune response will be much stronger if the body already has a store of antibodies which recognize the antigens associated with that specific invader and disease. This is where vaccines come in. A vaccination provides a small, controlled dose of a specific antigen to the body. The body then produces and stores antibodies against that specific antigen. If you are exposed to the antigen in the future (what would happen if you were around a sick person or in my case a sick horse), the body is able to more quickly recognize the antigen (disease causing agent) and mount an effective immune response (this means killing it)! Whew, that’s a lot of new words and science to keep up with!
So, we’ve established that a vaccine is just a way of exposing the body to potential threats. I also discovered there are different types of vaccines. The two most common types of vaccines are known as modified live and inactivated/killed vaccines. These types of vaccines are exactly what they sound like. A modified live vaccine is derived from the pathogen (I had to look this word up. It means a bacterium, virus, or other organism that causes disease.), but are modified in order to limit the risk of actually causing disease. Inactivated/killed vaccines cannot replicate within the host (eek, that’s me), but still contain antigens the body can recognize.
I always thought that keeping my vaccinations up to date and following the recommendations of my veterinarian meant I would never, ever get sick. My investigation has revealed that this is not always true. Vaccination will minimize disease risk, but is only a part of controlling and preventing infectious diseases. The other part of preventing infectious diseases is implementing and following good biosecurity practices. Keep your eyes open for my upcoming investigation into biosecurity. Vaccination is an important part of preventing disease, however.
My last line of investigation involved looking at which vaccinations I should be receiving. The AAEP divides vaccinations into core and risk-based vaccines. Core vaccines are those vaccinations which every horse should receive and include Eastern and Western Equine Encephalomyelitis (WEE/EEE), rabies, tetanus, and West Nile Virus (WNV). All other vaccines are considered risk-based, which means your veterinarian will determine whether or not your horse needs the vaccination based on factors such as where it lives, how much it travels, and how old it is. Most vaccinations are administered once a year to mature horses, but some should be administered twice a year or even more often. The vaccination schedule that is right for your horse will depend on what vaccinations it receives, where it lives, and how old it is. You’ll want to work with your veterinarian to develop and maintain a vaccination schedule that is appropriate for your horse.
I’ve concluded from my investigation that I need to keep all of those vet visits, especially my fall visit to makes sure I’m still protected against EEE. I guess I’ll just have to man up and deal with all those vaccinations. I have to say it sounds a whole lot better than getting sick! Hopefully, you’ve learned something about vaccinations and how they keep your horse safe. I know I’ve learned some new things and expanded my vocabulary along the way. I’m off to double-check that my friends schedule a visit with my veterinarian, so I make sure I’m staying up to date on all of my vaccinations. You should make sure you do the same with your horse!
Until next time!