by: Taylor Gwynn, Graduate Assistant and Soren Rodning, Extension Veterinarian
Auburn University Department of Animal Sciences

A herd vaccination program is only as good as the techniques used in each step of vaccine storage, handling, and administration. According to the USDA National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS), about 70 percent of beef operations administer vaccines to cows and calves at least once a year. While a herd vaccination program costs substantially less than many other financial inputs for the herd, at approximately $3.00 per dose, it adds up and is not a small investment. With many dollars invested in vaccines and herd health programs every year; it is important to make sure your vaccines are stored, handled, and administered correctly to maximize vaccine efficacy

Vaccine performance declines if the expiration date has passed, if the storage temperature is too hot or too cold, or in some cases if the vaccines have been exposed to light. All of the information you need to meet proper storage, handling, and administration requirements is found on FDA-approved vaccine labels, but below are some general guidelines to always keep in mind.

Keep vaccines refrigerated

Vaccines should be refrigerated at 35 to 45F, unless stated otherwise on the label. If vaccines are not stored within this temperature range (either too hot OR too cold), efficacy of the vaccine will be reduced. Killed vaccines are especially susceptible to freezing temperatures. Modified live virus (MLV) vaccines are typically more stable, but can be inactivated if they are repeatedly cycled above or below the required temperature range.

IMPORTANT: Just because your vaccine is in a refrigerator does not mean that it is properly refrigerated. Researchers from the Universities of Arkansas and Idaho analyzed the consistency of temperatures for different types, ages, and locations of refrigerators over a 48-hour period. They found that only 27 percent and 34 percent of refrigerators were within the acceptable temperature range 95 percent of the time, respectfully. This is not surprising considering the fact that many barn refrigerators are often retired house refrigerators, moved due to the fact that they were not working as well as needed.

Refrigerator location can also effect temperature. Whether your refrigerator is in a barn, a shed, a garage, a kitchen, etc. will affect its performance as ambient temperatures change. Temperature ranges within a 24-hour period can also be highly variable for individual refrigerators.

The variations encountered based on type, age, and location of refrigerators are important to consider when attempting to adjust refrigerator temperatures. Thermostats can also be quite variable from one refrigerator to another; so keeping a thermometer inside the refrigerator is helpful to monitor the temperature and guide adjustments as needed. Simple indoor- outdoor thermometers work well to achieve this goal. The outdoor unit can be placed in the refrigerator while the display can be hung with a magnet on the door. This allows temperature monitoring without opening the door. Choosing a thermometer that records the high and the low temperature over a 24-hour period is also a very helpful feature.

Handling vaccines outside of the refrigerator

Proper vaccine handling once removed from the refrigerator is important as well. Improper temperature, sunlight, and UV light will inactivate vaccines, so keep vaccines and syringes in a cooler with ice packs as needed based on ambient temperature. It may take up to an hour for the cooler to reach 45F, so plan ahead prior to processing cattle. Maintain a cooler temperature of 35 to 45F. Extra ice packs might be needed if working cattle all day or during warm days.

Only mix enough MLV vaccine for 30-45 minutes

Don't mix more modified live virus (MLV) vaccine than can be used in 30-45 minutes. Mixing activates MLV vaccines. Once activated, MLV vaccines begin losing efficacy after about an hour; and you never know when you might encounter an unexpected delay in processing cattle (broken chute, broken panel, uncooperative cattle, etc.). Use a clean transfer needle to mix MLV vaccines and draw up new doses into a syringe with a brand-new needle every time to prevent contaminating the vaccine bottle. After mixing, maintain the MLV vaccine between 35 and 45 F in a cooler while working cattle.

Check vaccine label for dosage, route of administration, and withdrawal times

FDA-approved vaccine labels will contain the information you need regarding dose, route of administration, and withdrawal times. Some vaccine lines have many products with similar names, so it is a good habit to always double check the product label for this information.

Taking care of the details ahead of time and while working the herd makes processing cattle much more enjoyable for everyone involved, and much more effective for the herd. Always administer vaccinations in front of the shoulder; in the neck region, according to Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) guidelines. Be sure to use the proper needle gauge and length; generally speaking, this will be an IS-gauge needle for vaccines, SIS-inches long for subcutaneous injections and I-inch long for intramuscular injections. Proper needle sizes and injection sites are not only safer for the animal and handler; but are also better for meat quality and wholesomeness.

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