Vaccine Clinics... Not So Hot

Pretty abrasive title, eh? Well there’s plenty of reasons I say this. Let’s examine them.


Vaccine clinics were first seen in the 1960s. At this time they were all rabies vaccine clinics sponsored by communities for obvious reasons, mainly public health and welfare. As the decades passed some of these clinics started to offer other vaccines and basic health services. They were well intentioned offering indigent and poor families affordable immunizations for their pets. As time passed the public started to demand better healthcare and preventative medicine for their pets creating a rise in costs due to more and improved services. This led to the misperception of expensive veterinary care, resulting in the “bargain hunter” for pet healthcare.

Most of these people were novice pet owners that thought they were giving their pet all they needed in healthcare with minimal expense. Thus, we had a new market of consumers that unknowingly were waiting to be taken advantage of. And, it didn’t take long for for that to be recognized. By the 1980s a few veterinary hospitals, with good intentions, were offering weekly or monthly clinics. Usually no exams were given, allowing the fee to be the charge for vaccine administration only. Again, the thinking was getting some form of care to those pets that otherwise would not be seen. Then capitalism took over. Some hospitals started to recognize that by offering no exam fee vaccine clinics they started to do higher volumes resulting in a profit margin. Additionally, these clinics attracted the new and novice pet owners creating a new source of patients in an ever growing competitive market.  

Then the corporate pet supply box stores started to open nationwide. They saw the profit in so called “vaccine clinics” and also saw it as a way to lure consumers in. And it worked! It worked so well that many started to offer other health services and some even opened basic healthcare clinics. These services were not low-cost and consumers were often pressured into signing year long health packages.

Fast forward to today and we find the vaccine clinic has morphed into a profiteering monster. There are vans advertising vaccines at low fees parked in Kroger’s parking lots and other central shopping areas. Pet stores, farm supply stores, low-cost veterinary clincis, food markets, animal shelters, and a variety of different shopping places all pumping vaccines into our pets, without examination.          

What Are The Positives?

These clinics tend to draw in people who generally do not offer their pets healthcare due to being inexperienced as pet owners, or are minimalists, or are looking for a “bargain,” or are lower income families who perceive inexpensive services. Of these, only the first reason (inexperience) has any credence. This will become obvious in the list of negatives.

The Real Problems

Legally, a veterinarian is required to be on the premise of vaccine clinics. There is no requirement for any type of examination. So, what are the potential problems with this scenario? There are many.

  1. Administering vaccines to animals in poor health: Sick animals should not be immunized, period. These pets’ immune system may be so stressed that they do not respond properly. There may be no response at all (meaning the vaccination does not work) or they may be predisposed to a vaccine reaction.
  2. Novice pet owners have the perception that vaccinations represent the annual healthcare visit. In fact, the opposite is true. Not having annual or semiannual examinations can have catastrophic consequences. Early disease detection is missed allowing what was a minor problem to evolve into a very serious problem. Examples include: obesity leading to disabling orthopedic disease, small tumors that develop into fatal cancers, parasites that eventually lead to emaciation, debilitation, and life threatening anemias, a few fleas that lead to potentially fatal disease and infestations of the home. The list just goes on and on and on.
  3. Lack of education about vaccine protocols: Many times I’ve seen sick older puppies that owners thought were vaccinated. When questioned about immunizations the answer is “yes, they’ve had their shots.” Reviewing the history reveals that the puppy had one vaccine at 9 to 12 weeks of age. Nobody had discussed the vaccine protocols, that puppies need a series of vaccines with the last coming at about four months of age. The one shot probably did nothing without follow up boosters and they virtually wasted their money on that single injection. They were not informed about rabies, influenza, kennel Cough, Leptospirosis, Lyme and other vaccines that may or may not be needed according to the puppies lifestyle. The same applies to kittens. Young adults come in and are diagnosed with leukemia. On questioning, we find that they were vaccinated as young kittens at a vaccine clinic and no one discussed pre-vaccine testing for leukemia or FIV (Feline AIDS). Money wasted and hearts broken.
  4. Over vaccination: This is the opposite of the previous discussion. Dog and cat owners may be regimented about getting their pets immunized annually. They go to a low-cost vaccine clinic and get their annual shots.” Unfortunately, nobody tells them that the dog’s rabies vaccine only needs boostered every three years and that many other vaccines have two and three year labels. They don’t discuss the dog’s lifestyle to find out if they even need that Lepto, Lyme, or Bordatella vaccine. This applies even more so to cats. Adult cats do not need, and should not be immunized for, leukemia. Their vaccines also have multi-year labels.
  5. Wasted money: I don’t know about you, but I like to know that my money is being spent wisely and not wasted.  As just discussed, without proper guidance you might be throwing your dollars out the proverbial window on vaccines not needed. Then, there’s the package deals. “Buy this package for this, but buy the super deluxe package and you get all these vaccines for a reduced cost on each shot.”  What a deal! But here’s the real deal: we’ve price shopped many vaccine clinics and found that they’re charging fees similar to ours (and about half the time they actually charge more than our prices!). The difference is the dreaded office/exam fees. What the average consumer does not know is that these large corporate pet store/health clinics/ franchise clinic vans are buying their vaccine inventory in large bulk orders and getting huge discounts. Discounts that normal private practices don’t get. Therefore, their profit margin is much larger on each vaccine.  So, you may be saving on no exam/office call, but they’re making much more money per vaccine on your dollar while your pet goes without that physical examination.
  6. Do no harm: Visualize yourself taking your pet to one of those van mobiles for vaccinations. Get two, three, four vaccines and off you go!  Two hours after your home, your pets’ head is swollen up like a ripe melon and it’s gurgling as it tries to breathe. Terrified, you take your pet back to the mobile van clinic and surprise, it’s gone!  Now desperate, you go to a 24/7 specialist/emergency hospital and pay hundreds of dollars for treatment. If your pet is hospitalized, it could cost into the thousands.
  7. Do no harm, part two:  So, you’ve been to that clinic and got all those shots in that super deluxe package. Great savings! Three to six weeks later we see your pet because its very ill with severe anemia. It’s developed an autoimmune disease where it’s own immune system has gotten “mixed up” and is now recognizing it’s blood cells as foreign protein. This could be fatal or best case scenario, it is on immune suppressing drugs for months, to years, to lifetime. This is relatively rare, but it definitely occurs. We see two to six cases a year.  We try to limit vaccines to no more than two “pokes” a visit hoping that less antigen stimuli lowers the chance of a wonky immune response.
  8. Do no harm, part three: As previously stated, we have severely limited the vaccine protocols of cats. This is because of “injection site sarcomas.” This is a cancer that causes tumors to grow under the skin. The name came from tumors developing at vaccine sites. If diagnosed in the early stages, a surgical cure might, and I emphasize might, be possible. However, usually by the time they are found they are advancing and spreading microscopically into the adjacent tissue. Surgery with radiation therapy extends the cats’ life, but is rarely a cure at this point. The leukemia vaccine appears to be the main culprit  in causing these tumors. Again relatively rare, but the chances increase if your cat continues to get annual leukemia boosters, and without professional advice, you might continue to purchase all those packages including leukemia vaccine.

So, there you have it. Run your pet through one of those “take a number and wait” vaccine clinics and save on not having to pay for an examination/office call. Great job, you’ve saved $50 to $75 dollars for the year. Or have you?   

Your pet could have vaccine reactions costing you hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on the severity...

You weren’t instructed on proper protocol resulting in your animal contracting a disease you thought your pet was protected against...

You waste your money on vaccines your pet does not need...

You over vaccinate which has the potential for catastrophic results...

You get no professional advise on what your pet needs in a total wellness package. No advise on diet, dental care, grooming needs, parasite prevention, weight control, behavior recommendations, and senior care, just to name a few. When you miss out on this, you are literally taking away at least two years of life from the end of your pet companion’s life. Plus, you lose out on that client/pet/doctor relationship. And you really need that as your pet ages and needs increased care.

No annual/semi annual exams could lead to:

Major dental procedures requiring extractions: $700 to $1500

Heartworm infection/treatment: $1500-$3000

Intestinal parasite infestation resulting in emaciation and anemia: $500 - $3000

Obesity leading to orthopedic problems and surgeries: $1700-$7000

Flea infestations causing skin problems and house infestations: $200-$1200

Tick bites causing Lyme, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, or Ehrlichia infection: $2000-$4000

And these are just a few examples.

We haven’t even discussed zoonosis! Tick diseases are transmissible to humans. Some parasites are cross transmitted, and the list goes on. I won’t even attempt to guess at the costs of these.

So, let’s rethink this vaccine clinic thing. Do you save money? Nope, just the opposite. Use them for what they were intended for: rabies prevention and some form of pet care for the poor and disadvantaged. And, perhaps a starting point for the novice pet owner, nothing more.

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