Regardless of the type of vaccines you use and against what diseases, here are a few general guidelines that are always a good idea.
By Travis Thayer, DVM, AgriLabs Technical Services
Dairy producers have a lot of different choices to make when it comes to vaccines – what type of vaccines to give, when to give them, and what animals to give them to. Cow and calf vaccination is an important part of any dairy’s disease prevention program. Used effectively, in animals that are able to respond to them, vaccines dramatically reduce diseases and help animals (and farms) to be productive.
However, it is important to remember that no vaccine protects against disease 100% of the time. Vaccines are a great management tool, and should be used as part of a comprehensive disease prevention program that includes excellent nutrition, sanitation practices, and biosecurity.
There are two main types of vaccines:
- modified live vaccines, which, with a couple of exceptions, usually protect against viral infections, and
- killed vaccines, which can guard against either bacterial or viral (or both) infections.
There are different situations where one type of vaccine may be better than another type, and your veterinarian can help you make these choices. However, regardless of the type of vaccines you use, and against what diseases, here are a few general guidelines that are always a good idea:
1. Keep some epinephrine nearby in case of allergic reactions. While vaccine reactions are not very common, any medicine we give to animals has the potential to play a role in allergic reactions. Often, reactions occur very quickly and there is not time to run to the barn to get medicine. Some types of epinephrine require refrigeration, so it is important to keep it in a cooler with an ice pack, but there are brands that can be stored at room temperature. Check with your veterinarian about getting some epinephrine, and about storage and dosage information.
2. Modified live vaccines need to be used as soon as possible after opening. A good rule of thumb is that a bottle should be used within an hour after it is opened. Vaccine should also be protected from light and kept cool until it is used up. Live viruses in the vaccine die quickly once the vaccine is mixed. The more time the bottle is open and mixed before use, the less effective it will be.
3. Use a sterile needle to draw up vaccine. Vaccine can become contaminated quickly, especially in the case of killed vaccines, where the bottle is sometimes stored in the refrigerator between uses. Contaminated needles can deposit bacteria into the bottle, which can expose animals to illness and render the vaccine ineffective.
4. Read the label -- even if you have read it before! For one thing, vaccine labels can change from time to time. This might be that the vaccine has a new claim, or that recommended dosage has changed, or new information creates a need to have additional warnings on the label, etc.
5. Gentle shaking, please! Especially in the case of modified live vaccines, too much vigorous shaking could potentially damage parts of the vaccine and render it ineffective. Shake the vaccine by gently inverting several times to ensure the vaccine looks homogenous and everything is suspended, then it should be ready for use. With killed bacterins (bacterial vaccines) in an oil base, a bit more shaking may be necessary, but don’t overdo it.
6. Be familiar with the diseases you are vaccinating against. If you are going to spend the time, money and labor on a vaccine, it is beneficial to know about the disease it protects against and have a defined prevention program for it. As discussed earlier, vaccines are an important part of a well-designed disease prevention program, but they are only a tool and do not serve as replacements for good management and nutritional programs. It is important to understand the limitations of vaccines and to take the management steps necessary to ensure that vaccines are as effective as possible. Your veterinarian is the best resource for general disease and management information, since he or she is familiar with the challenges on your farm.
7. If you appear to be having problems with a vaccine, ask for help! Call your vet if you continue to see apparent disease despite vaccination. There may be something else going on with the cows or they may have a different disease altogether. Your veterinarian may contact technical service veterinarians from the vaccine manufacturer for diagnostic and technical support to help solve the problem.
After obtaining a B.S. in Microbiology and a DVM Degree at UC Davis, Dr. Thayer practiced dairy production medicine in California’s Central Valley. He joined Agrilab’s technical services group in June 2005.