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Avoid lapses in your vaccination program

Health: A good vaccination strategy goes a long way toward minimizing preventable diseases

Avoid lapses in your vaccination program

As veterinarians and cattle producers we need to constantly review our vaccination protocols to check for lapses in scheduled booster shots or missing antigens in our vaccines in response to new or emerging diseases.

Cattle transported to new areas where different diseases are prevalent are often the cause of outbreaks such as redwater disease or anthrax, to name just two.

Add to that the growing pressure to raise cattle with fewer antimicrobials and all producers face a greater need to vaccinate their herds as fully as possible to garner the greatest immunity against disease challenges.

Vaccination will never prevent everything but it definitely can raise the immunity of a population to reduce the chance of outbreaks.

Pharmaceutical companies are developing more comprehensive vaccines to reduce the number of treatments down to two or three at most, and more intranasal vaccines are being developed which further reduce the number of injections needed. There are even oral vaccines on the market, so producers have a vast repertoire of choices.

This can sometimes add to the confusion when selecting the right product for each group of cattle and at times some of them can be missed. Every time you process cattle you need to ask yourself: Are there any vaccines I am missing?

Veterinarians need to be equally consistent with their vaccine recommendations to lessen the chance of confusion when you set up to start treating. Your veterinarian knows your herd best based on its past history and disease challenges.

Recommendations may vary slightly from herd to herd. Most will start with core vaccines given pretty much across Canada, then build on that with specific vaccines for anticipated challenges based on a herd’s history or disease history within a specific area.

In my experience the core vaccines recognized by most veterinarians and producers are the five-way viral vaccines covering IBR, PI3, BRSV, and BVD types one and two. These are given to the calves often along with at least mannheimia and often pasteurella to prevent pneumonia. These often come together in one shot, generally given at two to three months of age and again at or, ideally, before weaning.

In cases where calves run into pneumonia issues earlier than two to three months old, this is where viral and bacterial intranasal vaccines are commonly prescribed.

Intranasal vaccines are also finding a place during entry to the feedlot where quick immunity is paramount. Later in the feedlot finishing period many veterinarians recommend boostering with IBR vaccine specifically at re-implant time. This helps prevent the severe pneumonias and tracheitis IBR can cause late in the finishing period. These are examples of situations where a respiratory 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 reproductive diseases.

In some dairy and beef herds, especially in Eastern Canada, when pneumonia has been a problem in the mature cattle, mannheimia and pasteurella are added to the mix.

Histophilus is the other agent causing pneumonia, arthritis, heart and brain issues so it is often combined with the clostridial vaccines in one needle.

Some veterinarians have removed the histophilus because they weren’t seeing any cases in their practice, or they felt they were still seeing brain issues after vaccination. 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. This is one disease that starts with stress so preconditioning programs are one way to significantly prevent the disease. Vaccination upon entry to the feedlot is often too late for cases initiated at weaning. This is a situation where feeders must rely on the cow-calf producer to give the priming shots for histophilus, BVD and others to avert big problems in the feedlot.

Clostridial diseases still occur in outbreak form in unvaccinated cattle or those given multivalent vaccines lacking tetanus, clostridium hemolyticum (redwater) or sordelli. I always suggest using as broad a multivalent vaccine as available and be sure to give a booster shot in areas where there is a high prevalence. We see some clostridial outbreaks in calves vaccinated at turnout but the immunity wanes come late fall leaving calves susceptible on pastures with a high incidence of spores. Most producers do their cows yearly as well, especially in areas where redwater is prevalent, as immunity is short-lived with that particular disease. In a redwater area, vaccinating at turnout to the pasture is the ideal time.

Remember, tetanus is never present when histophilus is in the vaccine so if banding calves or in other instances where tetanus is a possibility, cattle must be boostered at least two weeks before the event. Vaccination at banding may still yield tetanus cases if no previous tetanus shot was given. I have seen that happen many times across Canada.

When giving a scours vaccine be sure to note the calving dates for the cows. With some products protection wanes after about 90 days, so later-calving cows may need to be given a booster shot. I think it is imperative, especially for larger herds, to vaccinate for scours. If we can prevent that first case from developing we avoid contamination of the calving grounds and an outbreak.

In all our vaccination programs let’s not forget the bulls. Especially the clostridials, and if most vaccines get down to a yearly application, why not administer them at semen checking time. Clostridials and footrot vaccinations are the common ones given to bulls, but others may be given in certain situations. Many great breeding bulls are brought down every year by preventable diseases because they were forgotten about at vaccination time. Cattle insurance policies generally include a vaccination history and may refuse paying out on death due to a vaccine-preventable disease. Makes sense, doesn’t it? If there is cheap protection on a valuable animal one needs to undertake it.

Remember also to vaccinate new purchases, or inquire into their vaccination history, especially if they are transported in from a different geographic area.

Finally, don’t forget the other species on your farms and ranches. Good working dogs and barn cats are all susceptible to preventable diseases such as distemper, parvo and rabies for dogs, distemper and rabies for cats, and influenza, rhino, and tetanus plus a few neurological diseases for horses. Again your herd veterinarian can best advise what vaccines to use on these helper animals.

Different vaccinations for leptospirosis, vibriosis, anthrax and rabies may be required in different parts of the country. And some herds may need to be protected against pinkeye, footrot or corona virus depending on their level of risk. We are fortunate in Canada to be free of diseases such as brucellosis or foot and mouth. Vaccines are available for these, but fortunately they are unnecessary here.

I repeat — no vaccines are 100 per cent. But clostridials are close and when combined with other vaccines a herd’s immunity is considered complete when we reach the level of 80 per cent protection.

Many factors can confound that immunity but as long as we look after the their nutrition, minimize the parasites and stress, and store, handle and administer our vaccines properly our blanket of immunity should hold.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aim to improve it. Always ask about new developments or ways to increase immunity in your herd. Pharmaceutical companies are always adding new vaccine antigens to make your life easier.

Add that to a good vaccination strategy and you will go a long way toward minimizing the cost of these preventable diseases on your cow-calf or feedlot operation.

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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