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Vaccine Handling

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Producers whose calves experienced an outbreak of shipping fever (bovine respiratory disease) at weaning time often call to discuss what went wrong. They say, "I gave my calves those shots the vet (or the Noble Research Institute) recommended, but they got sick anyway." There is much more to achieving a protective immune response from a vaccine administration than just poking a needle in a calf. Three things are required for your calves to have a chance at protection from respiratory viruses. First, you need a good animal; for example, one that is healthy, unstressed, on a good plane of nutrition, and old enough for his immune system to be functional. Second, you need a good vaccine, one that contains the antigens for the viruses you are trying to protect against and that is effective in clinical trials. Third and this point is often overlooked you need good vaccine handling and administration.

I recently had the opportunity to present a short talk at our quarterly Livestock School concerning proper handling and storage of vaccines. As I gathered information from several sources, I was amazed to see how many ways a good vaccination program can be ruined by careless handling or storage of the vaccine. Most vaccines need to be stored refrigerated or at room temperature. Remember, a freezer is not a refrigerator, and the dashboard of a pickup is not at room temperature! Vaccines must be kept cool and out of the sun while you are using them because UV light can inactivate some of them. We use a small ice chest at the chute. If you use vaccines that are shipped freeze-dried, reconstitute only what you can use in about thirty minutes, since they will become inactive soon after they are mixed. Throw away reconstituted vaccine that you do not use within one hour of mixing.

Equipment contamination by dirt, bacteria, or chemicals may be one of the most common causes of vaccine failure. Change needles as often as you think about it, at least every fifteen head. Always use a fresh needle to draw additional vaccine into the syringe. When you set the syringe down between each vaccination, use a clean, empty tray as a container. It is also important to label reusable syringes so that you always use the same product in them. Throw disposable syringes away. Clean your equipment with hot water only, because residues from detergents or alcohol can contaminate vaccines. Boiling your equipment is the best way to disinfect it.

Finally, always use the subcutaneous (under the skin) injection route in the neck to ensure that you don't damage the meat. And always read the vaccine label for specific storage and administration instructions.

If you would like to discuss your vaccination program, talk to your veterinarian or call one of the livestock specialists at the Noble Research Institute.