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Gaps in vaccination programs can be costly

Animal Health: Forgetting to vaccinate or missing booster shots can increase risk of disease

Whether it is cows, horses, sheep, dogs, bison or any other class of livestock, develop a proper vaccination program and follow through.

We as veterinarians and producers should constantly review our vaccination protocols to check for lapses in either booster shot administration, missing certain antigens in our vaccines, or keeping current with new or emerging diseases to which vaccines are now available.

Cattle transported to other areas where other diseases may be more prevalent have often been the cause of outbreaks to diseases such as redwater or anthrax. With more pressure to use fewer antimicrobials, there is a greater need to properly vaccinate to maximize protection against disease challenges.

Vaccination will never be able to prevent everything, but it definitely can get the majority of the population immunized to reduce outbreaks. Pharmaceutical companies are all developing more-comprehensive vaccines to keep most vaccine shots down to two or three at the most. More intranasal vaccines are being developed, which can eliminate needling. There are even oral vaccines offering producers a vast repertoire of choices. This can sometimes make it difficult and confusing to choose which product. And depending on our management level groups of cattle can get missed. Every time you process cattle you need to consider if you are missing any vaccines.

At the clinic, veterinarians need to be consistent in vaccine suggestions, otherwise further confusion ensues. Your herd veterinarian knows your herd best so depending on history and disease challenges, recommendations may vary slightly from herd to herd. I use the approach that the core vaccines are pretty much the same across Canada. However, other more specific vaccines or time intervals for vaccines will vary depending on when the disease challenge appears in your area.

Core vaccines

The core vaccines recognized by most veterinarians and producers are the five-way viral vaccines (IBR, PI3, BRSV, and BVD types one and two). These are given to the calves, often along with at least Mannheimia and often Pasteurella as the pneumonia-preventing vaccine. These often come together in one shot. These vaccines are often given at two to three months and again at or ideally before weaning.

Viral and bacterial intranasal vaccines are normally given if producers have pneumonic issues (some condition related to lungs and breathing) in calves up to two or three months. The intranasal vaccines are also finding a place on entry to the feedlot where quick immunity is paramount. Later in the feedlot finishing period many veterinarians recommend boostering with IBR, specifically at reimplant time. This helps prevent the severe pneumonias and tracheitis that IBR can cause late in the finishing period. These are examples of where a vaccine protection gap is most commonly noted. The five-way viral component is given as a followup yearly to the mature cattle and heifers ideally before breeding to prevent the reproductive diseases. In some dairy and beef herds, especially in the east if pneumonia has been a problem in mature cattle, then mannheimia and pasteurella vaccines can be added to the mix.

Histophilus is the other agent causing pneumonia, arthritis and heart and brain issues, so that vaccine is often combined with the clostridial vaccines in one needle. Some veterinarians have removed it because they weren’t seeing any cases or felt were still seeing brain issues. The fact is the vaccine has worked well for decades and we don’t see cases because we do vaccinate. There are many individual causes of brain disease so one must get a proper diagnosis before jumping to conclusions.

Brain disease is one disease that starts with stress so preconditioning programs are the one way to significantly prevent cases. Vaccination upon entry to the feedlot is often too late for cases initiated at weaning. This is where reliance on the cow-calf producer for giving the priming shots for histophilus, BVD and others can avert big problems in the feedlot.

Clostridial disease is another that still occurs in outbreak form in unvaccinated cattle or in cases where multivalent vaccines were used that don’t cover tetanus, clostridium hemolyticum (redwater) or sordelli. I always suggest using as broad a multivalent vaccine as available and ensure boostering in areas where there is a high prevalence of disease.

With scour vaccines, one must carefully follow which vaccine is given as the timing before calving is critical. With some, protection wanes after about 90 days so later-calving cows may need a booster. I especially think it is imperative that larger herds get vaccinated. If we can prevent that first case of scours from developing we avoid contamination of the calving grounds and an outbreak.

Don’t forget the bulls

Lets not forget the bulls in all our vaccination programs, especially the clostridial products. Clostridials and foot rot vaccinations are the most common given to bulls. Others may be given in certain situations. A vaccination history section is usually included with cattle insurance and it may exclude paying if the animal wasn’t treated and it died from vaccination-preventable diseases — makes sense doesn’t it, if there is a cheap disease-prevention tool for our valuable cattle.

Also remember to vaccinate new purchases or inquire into their vaccination history. Especially check if the animal is being transported in from another geographic area.

Remember the other species on your farms and ranches. The good working dogs and barn cats all have preventable diseases. This includes distemper, parvo and rabies among others for dogs and distemper and rabies for cats. And vaccines are available for influenza, rhino, and tetanus as well as a few neurological diseases for horses. Your herd veterinarian can best advise what vaccines for all these other species on your farm.

Again no vaccines are 100 per cent effective, but clostridials are close and with other vaccines herd immunity is considered good when we get 80 per cent protection. Always ask about new developments or ways to increase immunity in the herd. Pharma companies are always adding new vaccine antigens to make your life easier. Good vaccination strategies will go along way to minimize these preventable diseases on our cow-calf and feedlot operations.

About the author


Roy Lewis is an Alberta-based veterinarian specializing in large-animal practice. He is also a part-time technical services vet for Merck Animal Health.



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