However, we do have control over how we handle and store vaccines, says Russ Daly, DVM (extension veterinarian/associate professor, South Dakota State University).

Thomas heather
Freelance Writer
Heather Smith Thomas is a freelance writer based in Idaho.

“Those products are a good investment but still expensive. The last thing we want to do is put forth the expense, time and effort of vaccinating cattle and then compromise our success with improper storage and handling,” he says.

Purchase vaccine from a reputable supplier so you know it has been stored and handled correctly before it comes into your hands. “Buy vaccine from someone you trust who has a reliable method for storage/refrigeration.

Today, vaccine is often shipped with temperature indicators in the shipping boxes; the receiver will know immediately if there has been a problem during shipping (too warm or too cold) before the package gets to the veterinary clinic or farm supply store,” he says.

Dr. Bethany J. Funnell, clinical assistant professor at Purdue University, says that when she was in Minnesota, the distributor had college students working part-time in their packing and shipping department. “There were a few times we received vaccine packages in which the ice packs were no longer cold and vaccine was warm. I rejected those. I won’t use a vaccine that has gone above refrigerator temperature,” she says.


“Also take notice of expiration date,” says Daly. “Sometimes vaccine might have been in stock a while. Most reputable places keep a good handle on inventory and rotate stock, but you’d hate to get home and find you’d need to use it in the next few days.

“You’ll often see signs posted in veterinary clinics stating they don’t take returns on unused vaccines. This is a good thing because you don’t want to buy something somebody else brought back. You wouldn’t know how it was stored or treated before it was returned,” explains Daly.

Refrigerate it on the way home in a cooler or box with a cold-pack, to keep it at proper storage temperature. “In cold weather, protect it from freezing. Killed vaccines that have been frozen may be dangerous to use. Freezing can alter the adjuvants and sometimes cause formation of chemicals that can make animals sick,” says Daly.


“Recent projects have examined temperatures in ranch refrigerators and discovered that many were not ideal for keeping vaccine at proper temperature. High-low monitoring thermometers (that show how high and how low the temperature has been in the refrigerator) are readily available and give you an idea of whether the refrigerator has been staying in the right temperature zone,” Daly says.

“The old fridge that was in Grandma’s house often gets moved to the barn, but it might be a costly frugality to keep using it if the vaccine is no longer viable.” Most vaccines, whether killed or modified live, require refrigeration. The range of safe temperature will be on the label.

Funnell stresses the fact that modified live virus (MLV) vaccines are alive. “They need to get into the host animal while still alive so they can survive and replicate. That’s how they establish immunity in the host; they don’t cause the actual disease, but they still infect the body enough to trigger an immune response – to produce antibodies against this invader,” Funnell explains.

“Thus it is very important that MLV vaccines be given the best opportunity to stay alive until injected into the animal. Keep vaccines in the refrigerator and maintain them within the proper temperature range.

“If it’s a refrigerator that people go into a lot, opening the door often, put vaccine in a back corner where temperature won’t be fluctuating as much as in the door.

The bottom of the refrigerator usually stays cooler, so a back bottom corner works well for vaccine as long as the temperature doesn’t get so low that it might start to freeze. Warm air rises, so if you open the door, the bottom of the refrigerator will likely have less temperature fluctuation,” she says.

Handling vaccine at the chute

MLV vaccines must be reconstituted just before use and used up within one or two hours at most. “A 50-dose vial that sits several hours after you mix it may not be effective by the time you finish using it,” says Daly.

“Some viability may remain but may be too low to stimulate robust immune response; you won’t be getting what the vaccine company has assured us – through government licensing – they had in the bottle originally. Studies have not been performed to determine how long the virus is viable, but we do know potency begins to diminish after an hour or so,” he says. Take time to mix up vials as you go.

Whether vaccine is viable for a couple hours or loses effectiveness sooner will also depend on how you handle it – whether it’s sitting in the sun or kept cool in the shade. These are live organisms, and in order to preserve them, we must keep them at proper temperature (mid-30s to mid-40s Fahrenheit).

Cooler helps keep vaccines warm

In cold weather, put something warm in the insulated cooler to keep vaccines from freezing. “If you can start with everything warm, syringes won’t chill as quickly and freeze up,” says Daly.

“Move your cooler or container into a heated pickup cab or shed before you put vaccine in it or keep a space heater running near the chute. Having the area warm before you begin may delay freezing long enough to finish the job. Once things get frozen, it’s a battle to keep them thawed,” he says. Put a thermometer in your cooler so you’d know when it starts to get too cold (or too warm, on a hot day).

“I came from Minnesota before coming to Indiana, and there were often weather-related challenges from extreme heat in summer (vaccines getting too warm) to extreme cold in winter (vaccines/needles freezing up),” says Funnell.

“To prevent this problem we used a Styrofoam cooler and put holes in the lid – with adequate diameter to insert the barrel of our multi-dose pistol-grip syringes. During summer, we put cold packs inside the cooler. Syringes can be stuck into the holes, needle first, whenever they were not in use. This helps keep the barrel of the syringe and its contents cool,” she says.

“This would also protect vaccine in those syringes from sunlight. UV light kills many microbes and is often used as a means of sterilizing some surfaces. Many viruses are sensitive to UV light; you can easily kill them with sunlight. Protecting MLV viruses from sunlight is crucial,” she explains.

“When vaccinating in cold weather, we’d use that same Styrofoam cooler but put warm packs or a heating pad inside. It wouldn’t warm up the vaccine itself because it was so cold outside that every time you opened the cooler it was like refrigeration, but the heat inside would help maintain proper vaccine temperature (and integrity of the vaccine) and keep needles from freezing,” she says.

“If a needle is starting to freeze, put it into the animal and wait a few seconds before trying to inject the vaccine. The body heat of the animal will thaw it enough that you can administer the injection. If this happens, you need a source of warmth inside your cooler to keep needles thawed between uses,” she says.


It’s also important to have syringes clean before you start. Rinse with hot water after use. Don’t use disinfectants because any residue would kill live virus vaccines and make them ineffective. “Sometimes using the same syringes for other products, like antibiotics, can also inactivate MLV vaccines,” says Daly.

Mark or label syringes or color code the markings so you never get syringes mixed up when refilling them. If both syringes are empty at the same time, and you get distracted, you may grab the wrong one.

“Make sure you have enough needles on hand that you can always use a new one for refilling the syringe,” says Funnell. “We had a case in which calves were vaccinated in the rain, and the producers introduced the dirty needle back into the vial to refill the syringes.

This contaminated the entire contents, and about 70 percent of the calves ended up with large, nasty abscesses at the injection site. You could end up with a big mess if you don’t follow that simple rule,” says Funnell. end mark

PHOTO 1: A cooler can help keep vaccines warm on a cold day. Photo courtesy of Lynn Jaynes. 

PHOTO 2: Michael Thomas refilling a syringe (pink bottle). Photo courtesy of Heather Thomas.