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Many factors to consider when selecting a vaccine

Published on 04 February 2010

Building immunity and preventing disease are integral parts of achieving dairy wellness on your operation.

Incorporating demonstrated vaccines into a well-designed vaccination protocol helps enhance the cow’s immune system response to disease, thus keeping cows healthy. This in turn helps deliver optimal growth and production while minimizing costs associated with disease.



“Implementing a vaccination protocol is part of an overall strategy meant to lead directly to healthy cows and financially profitable dairies,” says Douglas Braun, DVM, senior veterinarian for Pfizer Animal Health. “When building a protocol, it’s always best to work with your herd veterinarian to identify the diseases that most threaten your particular dairy. Risk and risk management are fundamentally different based on region of the country as well as variation in dairy management styles.”

When looking at the many vaccines on the market, and sorting through the many competitive products and facts, Braun recommends that both veterinarians and producers turn toward an unbiased source to help make the purchase decision – the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The decision about which type of label claim a vaccine will be granted is based on an evaluation by the Center for Veterinary Biologicals, which is part of the Animal and Plant Inspection Service of the USDA. The USDA may grant one of five possible label claims. They include:

  1. Prevention of infection: Prevents all colonization or replication of challenge organism.
  2. Prevention of disease: Highly effective in preventing clinical disease.
  3. Aid in disease prevention: Aids in preventing disease by a clinically significant amount.
  4. Aid in disease control: Aids in reduction of disease severity, duration or onset.
  5. Other claims: Products with beneficial effects other than direct disease control.

The best way to find out what label indication applies to a particular vaccine is to read the label closely. The approved label for a given vaccine helps us understand the expected performance of the product. Most vaccines on the market have the “aid in disease prevention” claim. Rarely, however, will a vaccine satisfy the requirements to receive the more robust “prevention of infection” or “prevention of disease” label indications. Always read the label closely before making a decision about which product best fits the needs of your dairy herd.

Beyond looking for the label claim when choosing a vaccine, Braun recommends getting more information about the vaccine’s duration of immunity (DOI). Vaccines have traditionally been labeled for repeat dosing within 12 months, or administration of a booster within a certain time period, without any clear evidence supporting the expectation that the vaccine was actually effective for that given length of time. Today, however, more manufacturers are providing the USDA with challenge data to help support their DOI claim.


“In the past, there was generally little information to verify that the vaccine actually protected cows for 12 months,” Braun explains. “We’re now starting to see claims reading ‘12 month duration of immunity has been demonstrated’ rather than just ‘revaccinate annually.’ As veterinarians and producers build their youngstock risk management strategies and incorporate those strategies into maintaining herd immunity in the mature population, having assurance the vaccine is providing protective immunity for at least the stated DOI is reassuring.”

In addition to USDA label claims and the DOI data, producers should ask manufacturers for challenge trial data. This data – gathered when trials are conducted looking at the efficacy of a product – can tell a producer how a vaccine should work on their farm.

“These challenge trials help us understand what we can expect in real life from a vaccine,” Braun says. “I would encourage producers and veterinarians to ask for challenge trial information from the manufacturers. Ask for everything that is out there. It is helpful in making decisions on what products will be most useful.”

Work together with your herd veterinarian to develop a vaccination protocol that builds the herd immunity you are looking to achieve. Tactical implementation of the vaccination protocol needs to consider many factors. Age, housing, grouping and stage of gestation are all critical to the success of building herd immunity and make it clear why using the teamwork approach is so important to achieve the desired outcome. “Herd immunity comes from implementing a well-thought-out plan, not just sticking the calves or cows with a needle and a vaccine,” says Braun.

Braun recommends producers review their herd immunity strategy, vaccination protocol and the label claims on any products they are currently using with their veterinarian to be sure they are protecting their herds from diseases of concern. PD

Excerpts from Pfizer Animal Health news release