Beware of these common vaccine mistakes

Julia Herman, DVM, MS Beef Cattle Specialist Veterinarian, NCBA, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff | August 4, 2023

The perception of downtime during the winter eludes most of those in the cattle industry. The cows are incubating next year’s crop of calves, stockers are growing, and feedyard calves are bulking up. Winter responsibilities range from feeding to fixing equipment to spending time with family. A huge thank you to all our cattle producers and agricultural workers who continue to work through the seasons and continue to keep cattle care top of mind. As planning for next year continues, this may be a good time to review the herd health and vaccination protocols for your operation. 

Best management guidelines such as vaccination have been highlighted through the Beef Checkoff-funded Beef Quality Assurance program for decades. BQA recommends each operation having a written strategic vaccination plan which includes knowing the vaccination history of cattle on the farm and new additions to the herd. Record keeping is integral to knowing what pathogens animals have been exposed to and planning for booster shots. Below are some common mistakes to avoid when developing and implementing your herd vaccination protocols.   

Mistake #1: Not reviewing your cattle vaccination protocols every year with your herd veterinarian. 

Because a valid Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship (VCPR) is required to be renewed annually, a yearly consultation with your veterinarian is recommended where multiple facets of the operation are evaluated, goals for the next year are set, and potential interventions are considered. An established VCPR allows the veterinarian to diagnose and treat animals, prescribe medications, and issue Certificates of Veterinary Inspection (CVIs) or health certificates. Veterinarians are trained to evaluate individual animals within a herd system and provide integrative management plans to prevent diseases or problems from occurring in the future. Vaccination protocols can be complex between calves and adult cattle and the disease risks to your herd may change from year to year. Utilize your herd veterinarian to figure out the correct vaccine types (i.e., Modified-Live-Vaccines (MLV) or Killed Vaccines), correct pathogens (i.e., respiratory, reproductive, or other), and timing to best protect all ages of your cattle herd. 

Mistake #2: Not reading the product label, even if you’ve used the product before. 

Many animal health products have similarly designed boxes, so it is essential to read the label of each product to ensure you have the correct product for the pathogens you are concerned about. Also, this is a quick reminder to you and your team on the correct dose and route of administration for each product. Remember, most vaccines require two doses, as specified on the product label and have either a 21 or 60 day withdrawal time which should be in the vaccination records. Pharmaceutical companies change names and designs periodically, so eyeballing the product box by color is not a good strategy. Read the label. Every. Time. 

Mistake #3: Not protecting vaccines from extreme temperatures

It is important to store all vaccines out of sunlight and at their labeled temperatures. Extreme temperatures can alter the vaccine to either limit its effectiveness, inactivate it entirely, or cause it to be dangerous to give. For instance, MLV vaccines can be inactivated with high temperatures while clostridial vaccines, if frozen, can release excess toxins and therefore should not be used. During the winter, it can be problematic if vaccines freeze in the needle or in the hose of a multidose syringe. There are several vaccine coolers on the market with insulation and holders for syringes to protect from weather and sunlight. If using a multidose syringe with a hose, placing the vaccine bottle in your breast pocket and placing the hose down your sleeve can prevent the vaccine from freezing in the tube. Hand warmers can be used inside coolers to prevent reconstituted vaccines from freezing (as long as the packet is not in direct contact with the vaccine bottle). Another tip is to have two separate coolers available, one for unmixed vaccines and one for the reconstituted vaccines being currently used. Coolers can be used in the summer with ice packs to keep vaccines at the recommended 35-45ºF and out of sunlight. Ultraviolet lights should not be used to keep vaccines warm as it can inactivate the vaccines. When cleaning the syringes used for vaccines, it is important to only use hot water or boil the instruments in water. Any detergent or disinfectant can leave a residue in the syringe and inactivate future products used. 

Mistake #4: Only relying on vaccines in your herd health plan. 

Vaccines are only one tool used as a preventive technique to keep cattle healthy. However, there are many other factors such as providing good nutrition, using low-stress handling techniques, and applying good biosecurity protocols which are integral to how animal’s immune systems develop and respond to those vaccines. It is the responsibility of cattle producers to reduce cattle stress by minimizing the effects of stressors as much as possible, which benefits the welfare and productivity of the animals. BQA’s approach relies on total quality management and how it relates to health, welfare, nutrition, and environment to support the cattle herd. Relying only on vaccines while ignoring other husbandry aspects will not prove beneficial in the long run. 

Mistake #5: Letting your BQA certification lapse. 

BQA empowers cattle producers and employees to make a difference every day on the farm or ranch. In doing so, consumers have confidence in the beef products they purchase and the standards of care used to raise those animals. Maintaining your BQA certification demonstrates a commitment to quality and responsible animal care. The program serves as an educational resource for anyone in the cattle and beef industry for many topics. On vaccination specifically, guidelines on mixing and drawing up vaccines, product handling and storage, and choosing correct syringe and needle sizes are easily accessed. These guidelines are reviewed constantly and are updated using current scientific recommendations. is your destination for resources such as the BQA Manual or Field Guide, renewing your BQA certification online or through in person workshops, or further learning with the BQA Advanced Education Modules.

This article was originally published in the January 2022 issue of NCBA National Cattlemen newsletter.