It’s time to work cattle. You’ve gotten the vaccines and all you have to do is load syringes and you’re good to go, right? Actually, there are several important steps to take to ensure you are giving the vaccine the best opportunity to work. Vaccines are temperature and light sensitive, so it’s vital they’re handled properly.

Newberry jessica
Senior Technical Services Veterinarian Livestock Health / Virbac

Vaccine storage

Vaccines need to be kept between 35ºF and 45ºF, or according to label directions, during both transport and storage. This means you should take a cooler with you when you go pick up your vaccines from your veterinarian. If you have your vaccines delivered, unpack them immediately and place into a refrigerator. If the vaccines are warm or the ice packs completely melted, the vaccines should not be used and appropriately discarded. Ordering vaccines earlier in the week will help ensure they are delivered in a timely manner and not sit in a warehouse over the weekend, thus running the risk of getting warm.

When placing vaccines in the refrigerator, it is important to keep a few things in mind. The first thing is that refrigerators do not cool evenly throughout. Ideally, vaccines would be stored on the bottom shelf toward the back. Items stored in the door of a refrigerator are very prone to temperature fluctuations, so avoid placing vaccines there. Then, not all refrigerators truly maintain the proper temperature. A study conducted by the University of Arkansas showed that only 27% of refrigerators used to store animal health products on farms maintained the proper temperatures. Ideally, the refrigerator should be housed in a temperature-controlled environment to reduce the workload of the refrigerator when it is either hot or cold. Because of this, a high-low monitoring thermometer should be used in any refrigerator storing vaccines. These thermometers record high and low temperatures inside the refrigerator and are readily available for purchase. Vaccines that have been allowed to get either too warm or freeze will have reduced efficacy. Freezing is especially detrimental to killed or inactivated vaccines, as this changes the structure of the portion of the vaccine that stimulates the animal’s immune system, known as the adjuvant.


When transporting vaccines, it is important to maintain the 35ºF to 45ºF temperature range. Placing the vaccines in an insulated cooler with ice packs or refrigerated packs will assist with this. Place a layer of insulation, such as packing paper or bubble wrap, between the ice packs and the vaccine containers to keep them from freezing or becoming wet. Place a thermometer in the cooler to help you monitor the temperature. Ideally, you should charge the cooler ahead of time by placing ice packs in the cooler a few hours beforehand and then replacing them with fresh ice packs when you add vaccine.

Using the vaccines

Opening and closing a cooler will allow for greater temperature fluctuations. Using one cooler to store vaccines and another to work out of will help ensure the proper temperature is maintained throughout the day. It is also important to keep the vaccine cool once it is drawn up into the syringe. This can be accomplished by utilizing a cooler made specifically to hold syringes or making something similar yourself.


It is important to use clean syringes when vaccinating. Although it is tempting to use disinfectants, these may inactivate modified-live vaccines. Therefore, syringes should be cleaned with hot or boiling water. Seal lubricant can also interact with vaccines. Let the vaccine itself act as the lubricant. Always have extra seals on hand and replace them as needed.

Have more needles on hand than you think you will need. A new sterile needle should be used for mixing and withdrawing vaccines. If a mixing needle is used, ensure it is sterile by boiling it in water or having it autoclaved. Reentering a vaccine vial with a dirty needle can contaminate the vaccine and may lead to decreased efficacy or vaccine reactions.

Modified-live vaccines need to be reconstituted just before using. Once mixed, the vaccine must be kept in the 35ºF to 45ºF temperature range and used within one to two hours. Mixing only the amount of vaccine you think you can use in 30 minutes is ideal and will prevent you from discarding vaccines if things don’t go exactly as planned and you are delayed.

Once you have the vaccines drawn up, label the syringes to prevent mistakenly giving the wrong vaccine. Colored syringe knobs are available, although colored duct tape works just as well.

UV light is detrimental to vaccines, even in small amounts. Think about this when you lay syringes down to perform another task. Either keep them covered or put them back in the cooler. The syringe holders in vaccine coolers also work well for this purpose.

Things to remember

  1. Check the expiration date. Discard expired vaccines, as they will not effectively immunize your cattle. Placing vaccines with the shortest expiration date in the front of the line will help you use those first.
  2. Read the label. Ensure the cattle you are vaccinating are the appropriate age and type. A withdrawal period may also be indicated, meaning animals receiving that vaccine cannot be harvested for human consumption for a specific amount of time. In addition, different vaccines have different volumes to be injected. Check your syringe settings and write the dose size on the syringe to avoid confusion.
  3. Follow Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) guidelines to ensure you are giving the vaccines in the appropriate area. Keep records of which products are given at each site as well as recording vaccine name and lot numbers.

Following these simple steps will not only help you ensure you give the right vaccine to the right animal at the right dose, but it will also allow the vaccine to work as intended. Giving mishandled vaccines to your cattle will not provide the disease protection you expect. For more information, consult your veterinarian.