The biggest reasons for disease breaks in livestock often have little to do with the vaccine itself, but more to do with how that vaccine is handled and administered, says Dale Moore, director of Veterinary Medical Extension at Washington State University.

Vaccines are sensitive to heat and freezing and have special requirements for storage before use, she says. Always check the expiration dates on vaccine products, follow label directions, and be sure to keep vaccines refrigerated at proper temperature until use.

Safety & storage

Chris Chase, Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, South Dakota State University, says ultraviolet light can impair vaccines’ effectiveness, particularly modified-live virus (MLV) products. Vaccines need to be kept cold and dark from the time of purchase through transport to your place, and until use. “MLV vaccines are fragile and need to be handled carefully,” Chase says.

Matt Miesner, a Kansas State University assistant professor in clinical ag practices, says it’s also important to know how the vaccine was stored before you obtained it. That means always purchasing from reputable sources, he says.

When ordering vaccine by mail, Shannon Williams, Lemhi County Extension agent in Salmon, ID, recommends placing orders on Monday. “Then it won’t be sitting somewhere along the way over the weekend. Check the box as soon as it arrives and put it in your refrigerator immediately,” she says.

If you buy vaccines locally, take an insulated cooler for transport home, and use multiple ice packs.

“Even if you’re only going five miles, take a cooler, because delays can always happen,” she says, adding that multiple ice packs are best. “I’ve seen some coolers in which a single ice pack will not keep vaccine quite cold enough.

“When you buy from a retailer, ask if they have a thermometer in their vaccine refrigerator, and ask if they monitor and record temperature on a regular basis. Producers can help educate retailers about the importance of checking fridge temperature to make sure it’s maintained at 35-45° F,” she says.

Chase advises producers to always check expiration dates before purchase. “You want to make sure a vaccine won’t expire by the time you plan to use it. Avoid buying something that will expire in just a few months.”


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If you use an old refrigerator in your barn or shop to store vaccines, make sure it works efficiently. Keep a thermometer in it – and check it regularly.

“Outdoor temperatures can affect the refrigerator if it’s not in a well-insulated building,” Williams says. Older units may freeze items near the cooling unit, while vaccines stored in the door may get too warm if the door doesn’t seal properly.

“Keep a log of your refrigerator temperature to monitor if there are fluctuations that might be dangerous for vaccine. This could alert you if the refrigerator is starting to fail,” she says.