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University of Minnesota Extension

Cattle vaccine basics

Quick facts:

  • The goal of vaccination is to provide protection from disease through immune system memory.
  • There are two main types of vaccine: modified live vaccine (MLV) and killed vaccines.
  • The “core” vaccinations are determined by the impact of the diseases, the likelihood of exposure, and the risk of unprotected exposure.

Why do we give vaccines?

Vaccines are given to mitigate risk. Vaccines provide added insurance for cattle producers to protect their herds from many different diseases. The factors that warrant vaccination are:

  • The likelihood of disease exposure is high, or the risk of unprotected exposure to a disease is high.
  • The vaccine is effective.
  • The cost of the vaccine is justified.

Goal of vaccination

The purpose of vaccinating is to protect the herd from harmful diseases for health, economic and welfare reasons. To provide protection, the immune system must develop memory. With each vaccination and booster, the goal is to provide the protection needed by triggering the immune system to recognize the disease.

Vaccines do not provide absolute protection

Most vaccines do not prevent infection; instead, they prevent or aid in the prevention of clinical disease. Important to note, vaccines are not absolute protection. The immune system can be overwhelmed even if a vaccine is in place. If cattle become immune-compromised or exposed to an extremely high number of pathogens (disease-causing organisms), the vaccine may fail to protect from clinical disease.


What are the common diseases the cattle industry vaccinates for?

Both beef and dairy operations have the same fundamental diseases that are a concern. The diseases are usually categorized by the system they affect.


What should you vaccinate for and what products should you use?

Ideally, each system would include coverage for at least the core diseases. No “cookie-cutter” protocol will fit every cattle system.

To produce an effective protocol that matches your system’s risks and logistics, consult with your veterinarian.

There are many different products available, and ultimately the choice of what to use will come down to efficacy, price, and personal preference. Knowing what products will fit your system best is also a question to ask your veterinarian.

Joe Armstrong, DVM, Extension educator

Reviewed in 2023

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