The producer/veterinarian relationship is an important piece of the herd health puzzle. One way your veterinarian can contribute to your operation’s success is by putting together the pieces of an effective vaccination program to help prevent respiratory and reproductive diseases. With nearly 125 different respiratory and reproductive disease vaccines available, the ever-growing vaccine marketplace can make purchase decisions difficult. But your veterinarian can cut the confusion with a tailored vaccination program that takes into account your individual herd health history, production goals, management capabilities and performance measurements.

Vaccination program steps
• Disease identification: The first step in developing an effective vaccination program is to identify prevalent diseases in your geographic area, as well as specific diseases on your individual dairy. Disease agents most devastating to dairy operations include: bovine virus diarrhea virus (BVDV) Types 1 and 2, bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV), infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR) virus, Salmonella and Leptospira. By identifying disease challenges, your veterinarian can determine appropriate vaccination protocols and timing. There often are efficiencies by tackling multiple diseases through a combination vaccine, as well.

• Goals: Well-defined goals are vital to the improvement of any operation. Knowing your specific goals for disease incidence, milk production and reproduction, as well as your level of risk aversion, can help your veterinarian develop individualized vaccination protocols.

• Timing: Vaccine administration should be timed to establish protection before animals are most susceptible to disease. Generally, vaccination programs begin with a sound colostrum management program, providing vital maternal antibodies after calving and continuing throughout the animal’s life. Your veterinarian can help identify the best times for vaccine administration – when the animal’s nutrition is optimal, stress levels are low, ambient temperature doesn’t exceed thresholds (greater than 85°F) and the animal is primed for a positive immunological response. For continued immunity, don’t forget to schedule necessary vaccine boosters according to label indications.

• Administration: Your veterinarian can help you train employees on proper vaccine use, including best practices for intramuscular, subcutaneous or intranasal administration, and how to choose proper needle size and length. Follow Beef Quality Assurance protocols, as well, to minimize injection-site lesions. Again, follow all label indications.


• Handling: Vaccines are sensitive to heat, freezing and extreme changes in temperature. Once freeze-dried vaccinations are rehydrated, poor handling may inactivate them. For example, keep vaccines cool and do not put them in direct sunlight. Discuss proper storage with your veterinarian to ensure vaccine potency for optimum disease protection. Be sure to also clean or dispose of needles and syringes following vaccine administration.

• Flexibility: Herd health needs change, as do day-to-day operating schedules. Work with your veterinarian to adjust routine vaccination protocols to reflect the current needs of your operation, including new disease hurdles or incoming cattle. Also, review vaccine protocols with your veterinarian on an annual basis to assess your program and make necessary changes.

• Good management: Vaccinations are tools that offer added protection against diseases, but they are not a substitute for good management. To reduce your herd’s contact with and susceptibility to harmful pathogens, maintain good environmental and animal hygiene, and control stress by limiting pen movement and keeping cows cool in hot weather. Support the cows’ immune system by providing proper nutrition with adequate access to water and bunk space.

Vaccines 101
While developing a vaccination program, it’s helpful to arm yourself with basic vaccine knowledge. One of the most important things to realize is that all vaccines are not alike. In 2002, the USDA implemented stringent labeling guidelines for all animal health vaccines. As part of the requirements, vaccines are tested for efficacy and safety and the resulting data must fully support label indications and accurately reflect the expected performance of the product. Now you can fairly compare vaccines using label claims verified by a third-party resource – the USDA.

There are five USDA label claims, which are ranked in order of protection. When working with your veterinarian to select a vaccine, check the label for these efficacy claims:

1. Prevention of infection: This label claim indicates the vaccine prevents all colonization or replication of the challenge organism.

2. Prevention of disease: A vaccine with this label claim is highly effective in preventing clinical disease.

3. Aids in disease prevention: These vaccines aid in disease prevention by a clinically significant amount, which may be less than required to support a claim of disease prevention.

4. Aids in disease control: Vaccines with this label claim aid in the control of disease severity, duration or onset of disease.

5. Other claims: Products in this category have beneficial effects other than direct disease control, such as control of infectiousness through the reduction of pathogen shedding.

Beyond understanding USDA label claims, consult your veterinarian for duration of immunity (DOI) specifications. The USDA may not require DOI data for animal health vaccine labels (outside of rabies vaccines). Therefore, be aware that a label that reads “annual vaccination” may not denote disease protection for 12 months. Your veterinarian can offer insight into DOI protection for your specific vaccines, as well as when to schedule necessary boosters.

Collaborating with your veterinarian can result in a structured, practical vaccination program tailored to your operation’s needs. Once a program is in place, producers should continually monitor progress and identify areas of improvement, including procedural drift within the operation, changing herd health needs, and cost and labor impacts – all areas where your veterinarian can provide assistance to help ensure the health and productivity of your herd. PD

Gary Neubauer