Dairy farming

Are you taking good care of your vaccines?

Vaccines help protect against disease, keeping livestock healthy and productive. But to do this, they need to be working! Sounds obvious, but if not handled or administered correctly we can either destroy the vaccine or reduce the chance of it being able to work effectively.

Vaccination is an investment in your herd’s health; to ensure we maximise on that investment we need to take good care of our vaccines.

Vaccine Storage

Most vaccines need to be stored in the fridge, at +2oC to +8oC until needed. Live vaccines are particularly sensitive to elevated temeratures, which can detsroy the live antigens, where inactivated vaccines are typically more sensitive to freezing, which can destroy the adjuvant. 

One particularly enlightening study1 conducted between January and August 2014, monitored the temperatures every 30 minutes inside the fridges used to store vaccines on 19 farms. All the fridges were outside the required temperature range on at least 1 occasion. The minimum fridge temperature recorded was minus 12oC, putting the vaccines into deep freeze!

A number of the fridge temperatures exceeded 8oC through the summer months from May through to August; the milder external temperatures were clearly affecting the ability of these fridges to maintain a low enough temperature. They were therefore effectively cupboards, cleverly disguised as fridges lulling their owners into the false sense of security that that their vaccines were safe!

Once you appreciate the importance of keeping vaccines in the fridge and at the correct temperature, and then compare the value of items in your kitchen fridge with those in your farm medicines fridge, you may well be dashing to switch their contents.

Essentially if you are investing in vaccines you want them to work, so before you purchase your vaccine make sure that your medicines fridge is in good working order. 

Handling Vaccines On-Farm 

How we handle and use vaccines is equally as important as how we store them. This includes: 

  • Maintain the cold chain – as well as needing to store vaccines on the farm in a working fridge, we also need to maintain the cold chain prior to arrival on the farm. If you collect your vaccine from your supplier this means transporting it in suitable packaging to maintain the required temperature on your journey home, not stopping off at the mart for breakfast on the way and putting it into the fridge as soon as you get home. 
  • Use the vaccine exactly according to the product insert - you’ll find this inside the vaccine box - check the dose, route, expiry and storage requirements.
  • Where possible avoid concurrent treatments or unlicensed vaccinations - but this should be discussed with your vet since these decisions will be based around a risk-benefit assessment for your individual farm. 
  • Ensure automatic injection equipment is calibrated correctly.
  • Clean syringes and needles should be used – this goes for all medicines but is particularly important when administering vaccines. Chemically sterilised syringes should not be used with live vaccines.
  • Live vaccines should be administered to the animal as soon as mixed - live vaccines usually come as 2 vials, one vial containing a freeze-dried pellet containing the live antigen, and the other vial containing liquid for mixing. The liquid may or may not contain active components. The vaccine should be given immediately or within 2 hours of mixing to avoid deterioration of the live antigen(s). 
  • Sick animals should not be vaccinated - many vaccine programmes are given on a herd/group level so if you are unsure whether or not to vaccinate certain animals ask your vet. Some vaccines, for example against IBR, are licensed to be used in the face of a disease outbreak, again this will be under veterinary direction, so decisions on whether or not certain animals should be vaccinated should be discussed.
  • Mark animals once vaccinated so none are missed or vaccinated twice!
  • Discard part used vials of vaccine at the end of the day - this applies to all vaccines, including inactivated and ready-to-use vaccines because of the risk of introducing contamination into the vaccine bottles.
  • RECORD animal ID, the date and vaccine used in your medicine book

Vaccines are incredible medicines; they improve herd health and welfare and reduce reliance on antibiotics. They are a positive investment in your herd’s health, so ensure you maximise on that investment by taking good care of your vaccines.  

1. Williams P, (2016) 29th WBC Dublin 

Further information can be obtained from your vet or the product SPC or from Zoetis UK Ltd, 5th Floor, 6 St. Andrew Street, London, EC4A 3AE • www.zoetis.co.uk Customer support 0845 300 8034 • CustomerSupportUK@zoetis.com • Use medicines responsibly (www.noah.co.uk/responsible)• Produced June 2019 • MM-05729