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Safe and Effective Vaccination

31 January 2023

Vaccines are a vital part of disease control and reducing antibiotic usage on farms. At this time of year many routine vaccinations are likely to be taking place including booster of Heptavac P Plus (four to six weeks before lambing) and protection from rotavirus, coronavirus and E coli (three to twelve weeks before calving).

A recent study (Hall et al., 2022) found significant variations in the ways farmers in the study stored and administered vaccines. While almost all stored vaccines in a fridge, 41.7% didn’t check fridge temperature. The locations which the farmers indicated they injected when  giving subcutaneous, intramuscular and intradermal vaccinations also varied significantly and were sometimes incorrect.

It is important that vaccines are administered correctly, as complications can arise when they are injected into the wrong place, or when good hygiene practices aren’t observed. SRUC Veterinary Services see animals in the post-mortem room every year with complications arising from injections given incorrectly or unhygienically. For example;

  • Spinal cord injury can occur following accidental injection into the neck muscle instead of more superficially under the skin. Expanding injection site reactions from vaccines with mineral oil adjuvants, or abscess formation at the injection site can compress the spinal cord in the days, weeks or months following vaccination.  Alternatively, trauma or bacterial infection can result from injection of the vaccine directly into the spinal column.
  • Bacterial infection with abscess formation or Clostridial disease (malignant oedema/gas gangrene) can occur secondary to poor needle hygiene during vaccine administration.
  • Failure to adhere to manufacturers recommendations with respect to administration, storage, or product disposal leading to reduction in vaccine efficacy or serious adverse reactions (including fatalities) following administration.

These complications impact the welfare of affected animals but also represent a significant economic loss. Depending on the vaccine and complication involved, these losses include deaths, reduced growth rates, reduced lifetime productivity and excess carcase trimming at slaughter.  These losses will reduce efficiency and increase the carbon footprint of the farm. With a number of routine vaccinations likely to take place in the coming weeks and months it is important before starting any treatments to make sure you have the correct needle and syringe type and have checked the expiry date and read the manufactures guidelines on directions for how the product should be used. If you aren’t confident seek advice from your vet.

For more information on injecting stock see;


Hall, LE, Reilly, B, Blackie, N. Surveying UK sheep farmers’ vaccination techniques and the impact of vaccination training. Vet Rec. 2022;e1798.

External Materials

Sheep Injection

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