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Cow Tales: Vaccine handling

For the September 17, 2011 edition of Tri-State Livestock News.

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Many ranchers in the Northern Plains will be administering a variety of vaccinations with weaning around the corner. Which vaccine to use is just one piece of the puzzle to have effective immunization and disease-free calves at weaning. The state of health is the result of the interaction of three factors – the calf, its environment, and pathogen of interest. Let’s examine vaccines, vaccine handling and administration as examples of effects arising from the animal.

Vaccines are used to enhance the immune response in both the individual animal and the whole group of animals, also know as “herd immunity.” Herd immunity stems from a critical proportion of animals being resistant to a particular infectious disease so chances of a susceptible individual coming into contact with the disease are negligible. If a certain proportion of the population is immunized, the spread of the disease stops even though not all individuals are resistant to the infection.

Vaccines are used to enhance immunity to viruses, bacteria and bacterial toxins. They can be created from whole organisms or specific parts of the organism that cause disease. Vaccines made from the whole organism are classified as killed or modified live. Killed vaccines are simply that, killed. Live vaccines are attenuated so they do not cause disease but still replicate. The replication presents the organism as a more natural-appearing infection so the immune system responds in a more “natural” matter, hopefully creating immunity to a future natural infection. In general, vaccines that come in a box are modified live and need to be mixed. Vaccines that don’t come in boxes are already mixed and are killed vaccines. Examples of killed products include the 7-way clostridia vaccines such as Alpha 7 and Vision 7. Pyramid 5 and Bovi-shield Gold 5 are examples of modified live respiratory viral vaccines.



In general, all vaccines need to be agitated before use. The mixed vaccines need to be thoroughly reconstituted and the killed vaccines tend to settle out of solution. Producers should gently swirl vaccines to mix. Swirling will reduce the amount of “foam” that forms in mixed vaccines and decrease the amount of toxins released from some killed vaccines. Vigorous shaking, though necessary for some vaccines, will cause some bacteria to break apart releasing compounds from their outer membrane. Some components of their outer shell act like toxins in the body. These toxins, known as endotoxins, reduce the effect of the vaccine and can cause cattle to become sick and even die due to shock.

Ranchers should take time to read the label of the vaccines they administer. The manufacturer will provide the appropriate dose and location to administer the vaccine. Vaccines are typically labeled for placement under the skin or in the muscle, subcutaneously or intramuscularly, respectively. With very few exceptions, all vaccines should be administered in front of the shoulder in the neck. Needles should be changed regularly. Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) guidelines recommend changing the needle every ten animals. Vaccines should be kept at refrigeration temperatures and out of direct sunlight before administration. Sunlight will rapidly decrease the effectiveness of modified live vaccines. Vaccine syringes can be covered with tape or other substance to block the sunlight or be placed in the shade. Only mix the amount of vaccine that can be used within a relatively short period of time.



Vaccines and vaccination are extremely important, but they represent a small portion of the factors leading to health or disease. Vaccines should be kept cool, protected from direct sunlight, mixed as needed by swirling, and administered according to manufacturer recommendations while observing BQA guidelines. Talk to your veterinarian to ensure you are doing everything you can to maximize the effects of your vaccination program.

Many ranchers in the Northern Plains will be administering a variety of vaccinations with weaning around the corner. Which vaccine to use is just one piece of the puzzle to have effective immunization and disease-free calves at weaning. The state of health is the result of the interaction of three factors – the calf, its environment, and pathogen of interest. Let’s examine vaccines, vaccine handling and administration as examples of effects arising from the animal.

Vaccines are used to enhance the immune response in both the individual animal and the whole group of animals, also know as “herd immunity.” Herd immunity stems from a critical proportion of animals being resistant to a particular infectious disease so chances of a susceptible individual coming into contact with the disease are negligible. If a certain proportion of the population is immunized, the spread of the disease stops even though not all individuals are resistant to the infection.

Vaccines are used to enhance immunity to viruses, bacteria and bacterial toxins. They can be created from whole organisms or specific parts of the organism that cause disease. Vaccines made from the whole organism are classified as killed or modified live. Killed vaccines are simply that, killed. Live vaccines are attenuated so they do not cause disease but still replicate. The replication presents the organism as a more natural-appearing infection so the immune system responds in a more “natural” matter, hopefully creating immunity to a future natural infection. In general, vaccines that come in a box are modified live and need to be mixed. Vaccines that don’t come in boxes are already mixed and are killed vaccines. Examples of killed products include the 7-way clostridia vaccines such as Alpha 7 and Vision 7. Pyramid 5 and Bovi-shield Gold 5 are examples of modified live respiratory viral vaccines.

In general, all vaccines need to be agitated before use. The mixed vaccines need to be thoroughly reconstituted and the killed vaccines tend to settle out of solution. Producers should gently swirl vaccines to mix. Swirling will reduce the amount of “foam” that forms in mixed vaccines and decrease the amount of toxins released from some killed vaccines. Vigorous shaking, though necessary for some vaccines, will cause some bacteria to break apart releasing compounds from their outer membrane. Some components of their outer shell act like toxins in the body. These toxins, known as endotoxins, reduce the effect of the vaccine and can cause cattle to become sick and even die due to shock.

Ranchers should take time to read the label of the vaccines they administer. The manufacturer will provide the appropriate dose and location to administer the vaccine. Vaccines are typically labeled for placement under the skin or in the muscle, subcutaneously or intramuscularly, respectively. With very few exceptions, all vaccines should be administered in front of the shoulder in the neck. Needles should be changed regularly. Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) guidelines recommend changing the needle every ten animals. Vaccines should be kept at refrigeration temperatures and out of direct sunlight before administration. Sunlight will rapidly decrease the effectiveness of modified live vaccines. Vaccine syringes can be covered with tape or other substance to block the sunlight or be placed in the shade. Only mix the amount of vaccine that can be used within a relatively short period of time.

Vaccines and vaccination are extremely important, but they represent a small portion of the factors leading to health or disease. Vaccines should be kept cool, protected from direct sunlight, mixed as needed by swirling, and administered according to manufacturer recommendations while observing BQA guidelines. Talk to your veterinarian to ensure you are doing everything you can to maximize the effects of your vaccination program.

kenny barrett jr. is a veterinarian at the belle fourche veterinary clinic in belle fourche, sd and pens “cow tales” monthly. learn more about the clinic on the web at http://www.bfvetclinic.com, or drop them an e-mail at: office@bfvetclinic.com to suggest a topic for the next installment of “cow tales.”


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