How to properly clean and store a vaccine gun and prepare vaccine for injections in livestock |

How to properly clean and store a vaccine gun and prepare vaccine for injections in livestock

One of the highlights in the cattle area during Husker Harvest Days was a presentation on how to properly clean and store a vaccine gun and prepare vaccine for injections.

Drew Gaffney, Beef Quality Assurance Coordinator with the Nebraska Cattlemen, gave the presentation during Husker Harvest Days in Grand Island, NE. Gaffney’s message to the crowd of cattlemen was if the vaccine isn’t prepared and administered correctly in a well-cleaned syringe, producers may as well just shoot the vaccine over the back of the animal for all the good it will do.

Gaffney said a used vaccine gun should be cleaned by filling it with boiling water and the water squirted out three to four times. He urged the group not to clean the inside of the gun with disinfectants or soaps.

“Residue from disinfectants and soaps can stay inside the vaccine gun and will kill modified live vaccines,” he explained. However, the outside of the gun can be cleaned with soap and water.

He also said producers can place paper towels soaked in hot water around the metal portion of the vaccine gun and cook the vaccine gun in the microwave for 10-20 seconds, which is enough time to sanitize the vaccine gun. “Make sure to wrap the metal part in wet paper towels, otherwise it will make the microwave throw sparks,” he added.

After cleaning the vaccine gun, Gaffney said it is a good idea to store it in the freezer where it will remain sterilized until its next use. It will keep mold and other contaminants from growing in the barrel because it is in a contained environment, he explained.

If the plunger in the vaccine gun gets dry, it can be lubricated with glycerin, Gaffney said. If glycerin is not available, vegetable oil can be used. “Neither glycerin or vegetable oil will contaminate or destroy the vaccine,” he said.

Gaffney said used needles from the vaccine gun should be stored in some sort of container and disposed of with a licensed veterinarian. Gaffney uses a cheap plastic pitcher from a discount store to store his used needles, but any type of container can be used.

When administering vaccine, Gaffney said he likes to used colored electrical tape or something like it, to mark the vaccine bottle and the syringe the vaccine is going into. “When you are administering more than one vaccine, it helps keep likes together,” he said. “Particularly, when you have several people helping you.”

Gaffney said producers can purchase Allflex syringes with different color draw knobs, or producers can use different colored paint sticks and marking chalk to mark the vaccine bottle and syringe. Gaffney said producers can also mark the calf the same color so the producer will know if they have vaccinated a certain calf or not.

“A subcutaneous injection in the dewlap is now an approved Nebraska Cattlemen-BQA practice, so long as injection site remains ahead of the point of shoulder,” Gaffney said. He urged producers to give subcutaneous vaccines in the loose skin in the dewlap area, which allows the injector to give the calf its vaccine at branding time without forcing the handler to have to reposition his leg, or risk human injection. When giving an injection in the dewlap area, Gaffney warned producers to stay ahead of the shoulder and tent the skin before giving the injection.

He also warned producers about giving injections in the armpit area.

“The vaccine doesn’t replicate in the armpit area,” Gaffney explained. “There are a lot of lymph nodes and nerves in that area. By giving injections there, you could be causing nerve damage, not to mention the vaccine isn’t doing any good and you may as well be shooting it over the calf’s back.”

Producers giving intramuscular injections should give shots in the neck region ahead of the shoulders, rather than the old method of in the hip. “Medicines like Prostaglandin and Lutalyse will be just as effective giving them in the neck, as they are giving them in the hip,” he said.

No matter what vaccine being used, Gaffney said the syringe should be filled clear up with vaccine so the vaccine gun calibrates correctly, even if only a few doses are administered.

“Once you are finished giving vaccinations, the contaminated needle should be removed and replaced with a new needle before putting the excess vaccine back into the bottle,” he said. “You don’t want to contaminate the bottle of vaccine.”

Gaffney said every vaccine box has an expiration date and lot number, and he recommends that producers tear the label off the box containing that information and store it in a plastic bag.

“It is important to keep track of that information in case there are any problems with the vaccination. If a producer has that information, they can give it to their veterinarian or animal health supplier if there are problems with it,” Gaffney said. “Producers should also write down the date the product was purchased and administered.”

Gaffney also cautioned producers: “Don’t mix more vaccine than what will be used within 45 minutes. After that period of time, some vaccines will start to break down.”

Gaffney tells producers to use what he calls the 45 minute 45 head rule. “Don’t mix up any more than what you can use in 45 minutes or for 45 head of cattle,” he said. “If you are working cattle for several hours at a time, don’t mix up more than 50 doses at a time.”

Gaffney also showed the group how to properly shake a vaccine bottle. Gaffney said the bottle should be gently turned up and down only a few times to prepare it for use.

“If you shake a bottle of vaccine hard, especially a modified live vaccine like Bovi-Shield Gold or 7-Way, it will destroy the vaccine,” he said. Some vaccines actually have a toxoid molecule that will break open and create a poison that could poison the cattle when the vaccine is administered.

Once the syringe is filled, Gaffney showed the crowd how to carefully tap the syringe to let the air bubbles out.

Gaffney can be reached at 308-872-1105 for further questions. The Nebraska Cattlemen website is