If you’re a great client and you ask, I’ll sell you a vaccine to administer at home to your pets––for your convenience––as long as you’re willing to listen to my speal on the subject of proper vaccine storage, handling and administration. But that doesn’t mean I support the extra-veterinary sales of biologicals like vaccines––not by a long shot.

This week on Dolittler has been lousy with talk of counterfeits, recalls and gray market veterinary product sales. We’ve seen what can happen to perfectly good products when they’re handled haphazardly by byzantine, deregulated systems of distribution.

Given that we’re so worried about flea and tick product safety as they navigate the murky waters of the gray markets, it behooves us to think on the “lowly” vaccine and wonder how many of these sensitive biologicals are rendered useless or worse as they’re handled by feed stores and shipped by online merchants of dubious repute.

After all, hardy Frontline and Advantage ship like a dream when you compare them to the temp-sensitive vaccines we work with.

Still, I know lots of you do it. You order the vaccines from Drs. Foster and Smith (excuse me if i don't provide a direct link) and you give your own shots like the pros do. I don’t blame you for wanting your continued access to inexpensive vaccines. (Yes, vaccines are easily ten times cheaper when you buy them online.) But you should at least consider the risks you undertake when you do so:

Counterfeits (a distinct possibility when dispensed by feed stores from multi-use vials), poorly stored and shipped products (do you know where your vaccines have been?) and inappropriate administration are all big issues. (On this latter point: Vaccination is not just a point and shoot flick of the wrist. In fact, for cats, it would be unfair to call me alarmist when I explain that the exact location of a vaccine can even make the difference between life and death.)

By contrast: Should you buy a vaccine from me, I don’t just hand you a bag and a syringe, collect my cash and send you on your merry way. Should you trust me for your pets’ other healthcare needs, you’ll know my vaccines have been carefully selected for your pets’ individual needs, safely sourced and well stored. You get detailed instructions on transportation, home handling and proper administration. And, best of all (from my POV), if I think you’re incapable of doing a good job, I don’t have to sell it to you.

In fact, I really don’t like sending vaccines home at all, even under these circumstances (only the best, most knowledgeable clients get my vote). Consider that should I elect to do so and your pet experiences a reaction, I may well be as liable as the manufacturer. So if you do take a vax home from your vet, don’t be offended if we make you sign on a dotted line. (FYI: I’ve never required this, but veterinary practice legal consultants strongly recommend that I do so.)

Then there’s the fact that when I administer a vaccine (or a member of my staff does), not only does the patient receive the benefits of our experience when it comes to how its best administered (which includes not administering it at all when appropriate) there’s a legal document of its administration––a start-to-finish paper trail documenting where and when the vaccine was made, who shipped it and how it was given.

That’s more than I can say for the woman whose rabies-vaccinated German shepherd bit me when I was a child. Even thirty years ago, receipts from her mail-order source somehow weren’t good enough for my doctors. Imagine that! (That’s why according to more recent laws, canine and feline rabies vaccines are not to be administered except under the direct supervision of a veterinarian.)

So when it comes to supporting feed stores, Drs. Foster and Smith and other online retailers, you should know that veterinarians may have other reasons for urging you to eschew them (beyond gray market sales of flea and tick products and basic loss of extra income).

For my part, I’ll still defend your right to buy these products elsewhere if the manufacturer is willing to sell them and back them up. Just don't fool yourself: It’s buyer beware all the way. I don’t know about you, but when it comes to something as crucial and safety-fraught as a vaccine, I just can’t imagine how the savings could be worth it.