Are you handling vaccines correctly?

Between the laborious efforts to round up cattle for vaccinating and arguments that ensue about who was supposed to shut the gate or do the ear tagging, cattle processing is quite an ordeal—especially when vaccines are not handled properly and cattle do not receive the full benefits of immunization.

Dr. Rosslyn Biggs, DVM, and director of continuing education and beef cattle Extension specialist at Oklahoma State University, spoke recently at the Chisholm Trail Beef Improvement Conference about proper vaccine handling.

“I’ll be honest with you. I don’t think we generally do a really good job all the way through the vaccine process,” Biggs said. “I think there are small steps we can take that don’t cost us any money that can make sure we have a better vaccine at the end of the day and that we have properly immunize the calf.”

Proper record keeping is the foundation of properly utilizing vaccines. Producers need to know what vaccines a calf has received and when they need boosters.

“The thing about vaccines, is you need to keep records of what you’re using,” Biggs explained. “We’ve got all kinds of herd management software and apps that can take care of that for you, but a No. 2 pencil and notebook paper works well too.”

One point Biggs drives home is to always read pharmaceutical labels before administering vaccines.

“I encourage you to take a little time to know what you’re buying in advance and then read the label and follow the instructions,” she said. “You should know which agents are in your vaccine and whether it is killed or modified-live. Follow the instructions so the vaccine can do its job.”

Biggs says some of the other specifics on the label include if the vaccine requires a booster, when to give it and whether the vaccine is administered subcutaneously or intramuscularly. She also said producers should be checking pharmaceutical boxes for expiration dates when they purchase vaccines. She said giving expired vaccines is always a gamble.

Protect your vaccine so it can protect your cattle

Biggs said purchasing the appropriate-sized pharmaceutical bottle is one key to allowing the medication to properly immunize the animal.

“Even though from a cost-per-dose perspective, in many cases it is more cost-effective to buy the big bottle, if we’re buying the giant bottle of vaccine, but can’t get that many cows through the chute in an hour, we shouldn’t buy that big bottle,” she explained. “Just go through that little bit of hassle to buy smaller bottles and reconstitute more frequently and make sure your vaccine is in good condition.”

Another vaccination recommendation is to protect vaccine bottles from ultraviolet light, which can inactivate drugs. Biggs says damage from ultraviolet light is the reason pharmaceuticals are packaged inside a box and come in amber-colored bottles. When preparing to administer vaccines, be sure to rock vaccine bottles back and forth rather than shake them.

Biggs recommends purchasing vaccines from a veterinarian or distributor because vaccines are more likely to be handled correctly before purchase.

“The thing that concerns me a bit about buying from a retail store is questioning if that vaccine has been cared for,” Biggs explained. “Make sure you are confident the vaccine you are getting is in good shape. Has it been sitting on the dock when it’s 100 plus degrees in August, has anyone checked the refrigerator to make sure it’s working and are the vaccines out of date?”

Biggs said vaccines should be stored at a temperature range of 35 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit. She said using a refrigerator thermometer ensures your refrigerator is cooling vaccines properly and that it will enter the animal at optimal effectiveness. Biggs advises producers to hold off purchasing vaccines that they do not intend to use within six months. Buying too far in advance runs risk of refrigeration malfunction, leading to inactive vaccines.

When it comes to storing vaccines, Biggs does not recommend keeping food and vaccines in the same place because the refrigerator will open more often if it contains food, allowing the temperature inside to fall below the ideal range. She also said to avoid storing vaccines on the top shelf, which sometimes freezes, and avoid crisper drawers.

The person who administers a vaccine plays a vital role in its effectiveness

Processing barns are never a sterile environment and the risk is contamination is high, so do not reconstitute vaccines too early and always use them quickly.

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“We want to utilize modified-live vaccines within an hour of reconstituting and use killed vaccines immediately,” Biggs said.

It is important to keep vaccines within their optimum temperature range once they are in use during processing; Biggs recommends a vaccine cooler. She says an old ice chest and a cordless drill makes a perfect homemade solution.

Biggs noted three types of syringes: disposable, multidose and continuous flow. She cautioned against using continuous flow for vaccinating because keeping medicine shielded from ultraviolet light is difficult. Instead, she recommends using continuous flow for deworming.

When using a transfer needle, or a needle used to transfer medicine from one bottle to another, make sure to keep the needle consistent with the type of vaccine in use. Biggs says it is always good to have a backup plan in case a multidose syringe breaks. She says disposable syringes and needles are a good option, especially from a sterile standpoint.

“It is crucial to stay consistent with which syringes you use for which vaccines because if you mix modified live and killed vaccines, we’re decreasing the efficacy, if not totally wiping out our vaccine,” she added.

Improper care of needles has far-reaching implications, such as abscesses, bruises, disease spread and injection site blemishes, which hurt a producer’s bottom line. Always change needles if the needle is bent, burred, dull or has any kind of contamination.

“Anytime we’re entering a vaccine bottle, we need to be sure we’re using a sterile needle,” she said. “Most people aren’t changing multi-injection needles with every cow, but there are situations where you need to. If you’re processing cattle and you’ve got an anaplasmosis problem for instance.”

Cleanliness is next to cost effectiveness

Although soap and water sound like the best cleaning routine for multi-use syringes and needles, Biggs says soap is taboo when it comes to sterilizing this equipment.

“You have to protect multidose syringes from disinfectants because they will zap your vaccines,” Biggs said.

Instead, she recommends placing them in 170 to 180 degree water and flushing water through equipment three to five times. Transfer needles should be cleaned in boiling water.

Biggs reminds producers not to expect the sinks they use on a daily basis to be soap-free or bacteria-free. She says filling a sinks up with boiling water and dropping syringes in it could contaminate equipment.

“If you have plastic parts that can withstand microwaves, wrap those in wet paper towels and microwave them,” she said. “You can also steam certain parts.”

Processing cattle can be intense when the hydraulic chute is blaring, calves are bawling and the dinner bell is ringing, but with diligent vaccine handling, cattle will receive the full inoculation value of an injection.

“If we’re not handling that vaccine properly all the way through, it’s just as if you didn’t do it at all,” Biggs said. “You’ve got a big investment in your operation and certainly in the vaccine and you want to make sure if you are giving those immunizations that you’re doing a good job.”

Lacey Newlin can be reached at 580-748-1892 or [email protected].