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Common errors in handling vaccines

In order to achieve the maximum benefit out of vaccines or antibiotics this fall they must be handled properly right up to the time they are administered. You as producers pay good money for these products and the pharmaceutical companies want to ensure you get the maximum benefit. Vaccine failures are not desirable in anyone’s eyes.

The most common way products are damaged is with poor temperature control. In the heat of the moment (this could be considered a pun) with handling cattle you must put someone in charge of handling the products to be administered. Their job is to ensure safe, efficient administration of a quality product. We often are processing in inclement weather, either freezing in winter or under very hot conditions with lots of sunlight in summer. It is far more harmful to freeze product than have it get a bit warm. Keep in mind as soon as the product is administered it is in an environment of 39 C (body temp). If you freeze vaccines they are toast and should be discarded.

I have most producers use an insulated container. You can put in warm water bottles in winter or ice packs in summer to keep the product at the right temp. If the weather is really bad the full syringe can even be placed in the container between uses. This also protects the product from UV light, which can also be detrimental to some products. Heat lamps or in-car heaters are also used to keep product warm.

Be ever cognizant of maintaining the ideal temperature. Five to 15 C is what you want to aim for. Getting product too close to these heat-producing devices can fry product and that is a no-no as well. This is likewise very true when picking product up from the veterinary clinic. I encourage producers to bring the insulated containers with them or we send them home with ice packs in the summer. Don’t make the mistake of throwing vaccine up on the dash; the strong heaters in vehicles or the warmth of the sun has cooked a lot of vaccine over the years, I am sure.

Rehydrate as needed

Only rehydrate the amount of vaccine you will use directly (within the next hour). This is especially true of the modified live vaccines, which are in common use these days. Once rehydrated their absolute maximum shelf life is a few hours. It is better to rehydrate and use them right away (within one to two hours). The modified vaccines are also very fragile so do not disinfect the needle with things like alcohol between uses. This will render the vaccine inactive and destroy its effectiveness.

Always label the syringe as to what product it contains. As an example, formalin is present in the blackleg vaccine, and if you accidentally pull up a full syringe of modified live vaccine in the same syringe, the small amount of formalin left will destroy all the vaccine in the syringe. Label the syringe to avoid this mistake and place the vaccines apart from each other so these mistakes don’t happen.

Double and triple check the volume to be given. It is not uncommon for automatic guns to get bumped and the setting accidentally changed. Overdosing wastes valuable product and underdosing will not give you the desired effect. Make sure if using automatic guns they are dispensing properly. The newer models are very accurate and don’t allow air to get into the syringe. I always make a mental note that vaccine is running out when they should be. A 50-dose bottle of vaccine should run out after 50 head. If it doesn’t run out or runs out too early, take a minute to check things out. Often the setting may have been improperly set. Companies usually have just a little bit extra product as a buffer (one or two per cent).

When administering multiple products, make sure they are at least 10 cm (hand width) apart as contact may inactivate them. Either give the product on opposite sides of the neck or make a conscious effort to place them apart. Try and consistently give products in the same place, therefore, if you have any types of local reactions at least you know what product is giving the problem.

Last but not least, follow label directions as to dosage and type of administration (subcutaneous or intramuscular). Try and use the neck area when administering either way. Have the cattle properly restrained to avoid broken needles or vaccine being discharged into the air. Use the one-handed subcutaneous technique to avoid injury to the applicator. If you believe a product was not given properly, repeat the vaccination. This will not harm the animal and it is far better than way underdosing. This occurs in situations where vaccine is injected intradermally (between the skin layers), discharged into the hair, the automatic gun is not discharged fully or the needle is pushed through the skin and out again so the vaccine is discharged into the air.

Check the vaccine’s expiry date. These are all very common errors right at the time of vaccinating and need to be avoided. Avoiding or recognizing these common errors will help you convey maximum immunity benefit to your herd. The products have been engineered to work and it is up to all of us to be diligent with their handling and administration. If we administer them properly and handle them carefully our cattle should derive maximum protection. Lastly, select the proper needle size and length (subcutaneous vaccines can be given with a three-quarter-inch needle), change needles frequently and don’t vaccinate through manure or dirt.

If you follow all the above recommendations you and your livestock will derive the maximum benefit from the vaccines you used good money to purchase. There are many causes as you can see for “supposed” vaccine failure.

About the author


Roy Lewis practised large-animal veterinary medicine for more than 30 years and now works part time as a technical services veterinarian for Merck Animal Health.



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