Livestock vaccination

Vaccines can dramatically reduce losses when used correctly to prevent disease in animals.

There are different types of vaccines: live vaccines give long immunity after a single dose, while; inactivated vaccines need booster doses to maintain immunity. Anti-toxins are not vaccines - they provide immediate but short-term protection against a disease.

Selecting the right vaccine

It is important to know which diseases animals should be vaccinated against. There are some common diseases that animals should be routinely protected against such as tetanus in horses or botulism in cattle. In some circumstances, disease should be diagnosed by a private veterinarian who will advise whether vaccination is recommended. Vaccine use should be part of a whole herd or flock health management program, incorporating biosecurity and disease prevention measures.

Some diseases may have several strains of causal organisms and some vaccines cover several disease complexes, so it is important to buy the correct vaccine for the situation. This is particularly relevant where more than one type of vaccine is available (e.g. five-in-one or seven-in-one vaccine for cattle). Seven-in-one vaccine is a five-in-one vaccine that has been combined with two strains of leptospirosis vaccine. Leptospirosis is a contagious bacterial disease that affects young calves and breeding females, causing stillbirths and abortion in late pregnancy. It is more expensive than the five-in-one vaccine so its use should be targeted to reduce costs.

It is also important to check that a vaccine is registered for the stock being vaccinated (e.g. there is a three-in-one and a six-in-one vaccine registered for sheep and lambs only, as well as two similar products which are registered for goats and kids in addition to sheep and lambs).

Some vaccines registered for the same disease but manufactured by different companies have different dosage regimes and booster recommendations (e.g. botulism vaccines for cattle and infectious bronchitis and Newcastle disease vaccines for poultry).

Buy only what you need

Vaccines are expensive and it is important to buy only as much as you need. Many vaccines are administered with a repeating syringe and you will need enough doses to vaccinate all animals, allow for some waste and accidents.

Many poultry vaccines come in 1000-dose lots, which are inconvenient for small-scale producers. However, keeping opened containers or reconstituted vaccines is not recommended. This practice may cause the vaccine to fail to achieve protection and it could also cause illness due to the growth of contaminants in reconstituted vaccines.

Storing vaccines

As vaccines are biological products they will slowly lose their potency, even when stored under ideal conditions. The manufacturer has determined the expiry date for each batch of vaccine and provided it is stored correctly, it will retain its full potency up to the date shown.

Each vaccine has specific storage conditions. The majority of vaccines must be stored in a refrigerator where they are kept cold but not subject to freezing and thawing. Freezing may reduce the potency of some vaccines and may cause local reactions at the injection site.

Follow label instructions

Vaccines must pass rigorous examination of their efficacy and safety by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority before they can be sold. They are produced under the most stringent conditions and if they are not handled and administered correctly after leaving the production facility, their effectiveness can be reduced or non-existent.

The label on the vaccine carries important information about using the vaccine correctly: dosage; injection site; recommended vaccination program; and storage instructions. Users of veterinary chemicals are required by law to follow the label instructions unless they are using the chemical according to an approved permit or as directed in written instructions from a veterinarian. Vaccines are expensive and the label instructions should be followed to make the most of your investment.

Use sterile and safe equipment

Vaccines are usually administered by a syringe and needle although some are administered in the water supply or intranasally. Many vaccines are packaged in multi-dose containers for use with automatic syringes, which must be calibrated to deliver the right dose.

Needles should be sharp and as short as possible when vaccinating subcutaneously. Long needles may break or deposit the vaccine into the muscle instead of under the skin.

It is important that infection is not introduced when vaccinating animals. Equipment can be sterilised between use in a pressure cooker for 15 minutes, or by boiling in an open pan for 40 minutes. Chemicals, such as disinfectants or methylated spirits, should not be used as they may make the vaccine ineffective. After syringes and needles have been sterilised they should be kept in a covered container to protect them from dust.

Administering vaccines

In general, vaccines take 10-14 days to give protection. Vaccination should be part of a herd or flock health program. For vaccines to be most effective consider their use carefully in relation to the type of stock, season, previous property history and disease incidence e.g. young animals should be protected against the common and predictable diseases before management events such as castration, shearing, weaning and movement to new properties.

To get the most out of your vaccines protect them from heat or sunlight by keeping them in an Esky until required. Keep vaccines and equipment away from dirt and dust, which can contaminate equipment and introduce infection. Use a small table to help keep vaccines and equipment clean and off the ground.

Do not mix different vaccines together. Combined vaccines require a great deal of care in balancing the components. However, if more than one vaccine is required use separate syringes and administer them at different sites, at least 15 cm apart and preferably on different sides of the animal's body.

If conducting tick fever vaccinations, do not give other vaccinations at the same time. If it is unavoidable, use a separate syringe for each treatment and administer them on opposite sides of the animal's body. Ideally, other inoculations should be performed either two weeks before or four weeks after tick fever vaccination, particularly in adult animals, which are more likely to react to the tick fever vaccine.

Avoid carcass damage by administering the vaccine according to label instructions and use the least commercially valuable site on the animal, for example high on the neck behind the ear.

When vaccinating a herd, ensure a full dose of vaccine is given to every animal. Check syringes carefully to ensure that the correct dose is being delivered. Give the required booster injection at the correct time to all animals that require it.

Keep people safe

Some animal vaccines can cause a serious reaction if accidently injected into people. Therefore, the person administering the vaccine should concentrate on the safe use of the syringe and needle and not attempt other tasks such as moving or restraining the animal.

Further information