Vaccination of the Beef Herd Key Points


Source: Beef Cattle Research Council

Key Points

  • Vaccines train the animal’s immune system to recognize disease-causing viruses, bacteria, and parasites (infectious pathogens) so that it can respond quickly when the animal is exposed to the real thing. Vaccines need to be given prior to disease exposure so that the immune system has time to develop these protective mechanisms.
  • Vaccines should be distinguished from other therapeutic drugs such as antimicrobials.  Vaccines are primarily used to prevent a specific disease from occurring by creating immunity. Antimicrobials and most other therapeutic drugs are used to treat or control a specific disease condition using chemical means rather than through the animal’s immune system.
  • Vaccines can be divided into categories based on whether they are killed or modified live and by their route of administration (injectable vs intranasal).
  • The immune system is extremely complex, but there are two basic components called humoral immunity (concerning antibodies) and cellular mediated immunity (which is associated with other cellular protection mechanisms). Vaccines can stimulate both types of immunity.
  • Vaccines are a key component of our herd health programs but rarely provide perfect protection. Their efficacy can be diminished due to inadequate nutrition, poor biosecurity, and poor environmental management.
  • Read the label on any vaccine you are about to use in your cattle. The dose, withdrawal times, expiration date, timing, route of administration and safety information are all there. This is important for all vaccines but especially so for some modified live vaccines that can cause abortion if administered inappropriately.
  • Work with your veterinarian to design a vaccination protocol that is appropriate for your herd.  Issues such as exposure to other herds and geographic differences in disease risk will make every herd somewhat unique. Vaccines that protect against infectious bovine rhinotracheitis, bovine viral diarrhea, and clostridial diseases should definitely be a part of every herds’ vaccination protocol. However, the timing of administration and the other vaccines that need to be used will be highly dependent on each herd’s management and disease risks.


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