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Vaccine technology helps calves resist pneumonia

Lance Fox Published on 31 December 2011

Pneumonia causes the second-highest number of cases of illness and death in young dairy calves, taking a back seat only to scours. Animals that do survive cases of calfhood pneumonia are likely to face a lifetime of diminished performance in the milking string.

Research shows that replacement heifers experiencing pneumonia in the first 3 months of life are more likely to:



• Experience significantly increased mortality
• Have reduced average daily gain
• Calve later than unaffected herdmates
• Produce less milk in at least their first lactation

Success depends on strong immunity
Bolstering calves’ immune systems is key to pneumonia resistance. Immunity is based on a number of factors and the most important is colostrum. An excellent colostrum feeding program is the cornerstone of healthy calf rearing.

But colostrum can’t do it alone. Since up to one-third of the energy calves take in goes to supporting immunity, it is important to “feed” the immune system. Adequate nutrition is essential for calves to build strong immune systems and grow well.

As an industry, we tend to measure calf performance in terms of weight gain and stature growth, but that progress can’t happen if the immune system is compromised.

An additional level of protection
Intranasal technology helps provide a number of advantages compared with injectable respiratory vaccines. Intranasal vaccination benefits calves by:


• Helping provide immunity beyond that provided by maternal colostrum. Essentially, the vaccine can help pick up where the immunity provided by colostrum leaves off.

• Stimulating the immune system for a different set of antibodies. Maternal colostrum helps provide passive immunoglobulin protection in the form of immunoglobulin-G (IgG). The intranasal vaccine stimulates mucosal immunity and helps develop immunoglobulin-A (IgA), which helps provide calves with protection from pneumonia caused by the three viral pathogens.

Injectable vaccines, on the other hand, stimulate IgG. Unfortunately, the IgGs from colostrum may override the IgG generated by an injectable vaccine. The intranasal vaccine can help get a running start by stimulating IgA before colostrum-induced IgG wears off.

• Promoting beef quality assurance (BQA) by reducing the number of intramuscular injections dairy animals receive throughout their lifetimes.

An effective pneumonia protection program involves much more than vaccination. For example, there may be cases during severely inclement weather when a high-quality feed additive may be necessary for additional protection as well.

When a feed additive is used, it is important to select a product backed by a large volume of data and a long-standing history of efficacy in helping to control and prevent pneumonia.


Follow the Five C’s
Finally, dairy producers can go a long way toward pneumonia prevention by committing to memory and adhering to the Five C’s of successful calf rearing developed by Sheila McGuirk, DVM, Ph.D., veterinary medicine professor, University of Wisconsin. The Five C’s refer to colostrum, calories, comfort, cleanliness and consistency.

To do well, calves need to be comfortable, clean and dry with adequate resting space at all times. They need feeding and care delivered as a part of a consistent routine, along with excellent nutrition, good air quality and fresh, clean water.

Relying solely on vaccination is neither appropriate nor effective. The best way to maximize investment in a vaccine is to consistently take care of all of the other factors that otherwise would contribute to the disease. The vaccine should complement calf management, not replace it.  PD

References omitted due to space but are available upon request. 



Lance Fox, DVM
Senior Veterinarian
Pfizer Animal Health Cattle Technical Services