Vet warns user errors cause many vaccines to lose effectiveness

Scientists, vets, and vaccine manufacturers must all improve communication with sheep and cattle farmers to help the livestock industry improve disease control – particularly with the need to reduce antibiotic use.

That was the key message coming out of a Moredun Sheep and Cattle Health and Welfare Day held last month.

The event was organised in Shropshire by Harper Adams University and attended by over 90 vets, farmers and other industry professionals and saw particular attention placed on the importance of following vaccine administration instructions.

The day offered an opportunity to engage with practical demonstrations and videos covering control of diseases such as sheep scab, liver fluke, Toxoplasma and Neospora abortion, and Cryptosporidiosis in calves.

Also Read: Report shows food-producing animals account a quarter of UK antibiotics

Event organiser Kate Phillips from Harper Adams said: “[Moredun] scientists have developed some brilliant animations to explain the features of some of our most problematic endemic diseases.

“However, consistent and effective communication with farmers more widely, regarding best practice disease management approaches – and the value of proven vaccines, for example – remains a significant challenge.”

Social scientist and vet Dr. Philip Robinson from Harper Adams University highlighted the crucial importance of understanding farmers’ perspectives on disease control, in order to communicate more effectively.

George Bernard Shaw once said that the single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

“Wherever livestock are farmed, there are people looking after them – often with different views on what is sound disease management practice.

“To get the ‘best practice’ message across we have to find more effective ways of communicating if we are to change what is quite often entrenched behaviour on some issues,” he said.

How often are the instructions followed?

Stephanie Small, a veterinary adviser with MSD Animal Health, explained the challenge of communicating the factors determining the success of a vaccination.

“There are a number of animal and environmental factors that influence the quality of immune response stimulated by a vaccine,” she said.

“This may explain the low market penetration rates for some very useful vaccines, which should be much higher.

Factors such as age, physiological status, stress, and even the weather, can all affect the animal’s ability to respond to a vaccine.

“For vaccines to work well they must be stored and administered as intended. The product datasheet clearly sets out in detail how a vaccine should be kept before use – in a well-maintained, fully-functioning fridge, for example – and how it should be administered to the animal correctly. But how often are these instructions read carefully and then followed to the letter?

“Frequently, the industry assumes vaccines are being used properly, but quite often they are not.

“Mistakes are not being made through bloody-mindedness; invariably it’s simply because of a lack of understanding of the myriad of other factors that will affect vaccine efficacy – something more effective and practical communication would address.”