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Mucosal vaccines may be more effective in some instances in beef cattle

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Armed with an understanding of how and when to utilize systemic and nasal vaccines, producers can maximize the efficacy of their vaccine regimes.  

Nathan Erickson of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine has focused his career research on beef cattle production health and vaccine program optimization. 

Tailoring to the herd

Erickson stresses the importance of understanding the herd’s unique needs and formulating a vaccine program from there.  

“When we think about vaccine management, we have to tailor the plan to the needs of the specific herds and disease concerns for the area,” says Erickson. “Blanket generic practices are just not optimal for every herd. They all have unique needs.” 

“If the herd is annually effected by the same illness at the same time, make sure to vaccinate in a timely manner to minimize issues,” says Erickson. “Vaccinations allow us to be proactive instead of reactive in these scenarios.” 

Maternal immunity

“The first thing producers need to understand is where a calf’s immunity is derived from and how it effects the efficacy of certain types of vaccines,” says Erickson. “A calf’s first immunity is derived from colostrum. A lack of or low-quality colostrum can disrupt the passive transfer of maternal immunity to the calf.” 

A variety of factors can affect the quality of a cow’s colostrum, says Erickson. Heifers generally have lower quality colostrum, and nutrition or lack thereof can also affect the immune status of the dam and ultimately the immune status of her neonatal calf. High maternal immunity however can cause diminished responses to the antibodies presented in systemic vaccines, he explains. 

“The efficacy of systemic and mucosal vaccines is dependent on the immunity of the cow. A well-vaccinated cow will produce higher-quality colostrum, stocked with antibodies to provide her newborn calf with the immunity it needs to fight off various respiratory diseases,” says Erickson, “A systemic vaccine – one that is injected – is not typically as effective for neonatal calves in this scenario as the antibodies passed on in the milk will interfere with the vaccine and cause a diminished response.” 

Using mucosal vaccinations

In the scenario of calves born to cows with higher immunity mucosal vaccines are a more viable option, says Erickson.  

“A mucosal vaccine is applied in the nasal cavity. It is able to bypass the maternal antibodies because effects the immune tissue directly in the surface layers of the nasal cavity,” says Erickson.  

For calves born to lower-immunity heifers or those that had to be pulled or bottle fed, systemic vaccines can be more effective than with high immunity calves due to the lack of vaccine interfering antibodies, says Erickson.  

“The main priority with high-risk calves should be to get them colostrum as soon as possible, and then we can concern ourselves with proper vaccinations,” he adds. 

Aside from very young calves with high maternal immunity, there are other scenarios in which mucosal vaccinations can be effective.  

“It is important to consider mucosal vaccines prior to high risk periods,” says Erickson. “Pre-turnout maternal cows and calves around three months of age as their maternal antibodies begin to wane around that time are also good candidates for these types of vaccinations.” 


To achieve maximum efficacy using mucosal vaccinations, Erickson recommends following established manufacturer protocols as well as certain in-field practices.  

Mucosal vaccines require the use a device known as a cannula in order to deliver the vaccine from the syringe and into the nasal cavity. Erickson recommends following the manufacturer’s protocol of changing the cannula every 10 uses for weaned calves and to use a new cannula for each calf when vaccinating neonatal aged calves.  

“Disposing of the cannula accordingly minimizes the risk of spreading harmful diseases among calves,” says Erickson. “Younger calves are especially susceptible to catching illnesses from shared devices such as cannulas and needles.” 

Erickson also stresses the importance of paying attention to the head position of the calf when administering mucosal vaccinations.  

“If possible, we want the calf’s head to be slightly elevated to maximize the amount of contact the vaccine has with the tissue and minimize the amount of dripping through the nose,”says Erickson. 

It is also important to keep in mind the timelines of different types of vaccines. While mucosal vaccines work much quicker than the systemic variety, they have a significantly lower time frame of coverage, he explains. 

“In most cases, a calf given a mucosal vaccine in the neonatal period will need a booster around branding time,” says Erickson. “Some studies also suggest neonatal mucosal vaccinations can act as a primer to systemic vaccinations administered at weaning and result in boosted responses.” 

On Dec. 11, Erickson was featured as a webinar speaker for the Beef Cattle Research Council where he described how to effectively utilize mucosal vaccines.  

Callie Hanson is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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