You've read the ads, product literature and sought your veterinarian's recommendation. You buy the latest vaccine at a considerable increase in cost, yet your disease rate doesn't change. What went wrong?

Dee Griffin, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln veterinarian, says overall performance of vaccines rests on feeders' and producers' shoulders.

'Before incorporating the latest vaccine, look at the whole picture,' Griffin says. 'Consider these four criteria.'

*Does it fit the national Beef Qu ality Assurance (BQA) effort with subcutaneous administration and related tactics?

*Seek the vaccine history from the previous owner/manager. Try using the IRM/BQA herd health information transfer form. Most problems that occur in the first 30 days of feeding must be addressed before arrival. If it can't be fixed then, the best thing to do is prop up the immune system with modified live vaccines on arrival.

*Is the vaccine really needed? You can spend lots of money on diseases that aren't in your yard.

*If it is needed, is there third-party data to support product effectiveness?

'Even if the perfect vaccine is introduced tomorrow and it's not used properly, it won't work,' says Louis Perino, DVM and professor at West Texas A&M University. 'Vaccines must be used in a biologically logical method. When we reduce repiratory disease, we increase the overall health of the animal and reduce antibiotic use.'

No Miracle Cures Despite claims, few products produce miracle cures for any malady. That said, there are reasons some near-perfect products fail, Griffin says.

'The wrong diagnosis can be made,' he says. 'The majority of diseases affecting incoming feeder cattle share common symptoms during early stages of the disease such as sub-clinical acidosis that may mimic pneumonia. Vaccines can't fix a feed intake problem.

'Wrong timing is a killer. Prevention (vaccination) won't prevent disease if it has a head start. This happens often with sets of put-together, stressed cattle. A disease may be long out of the barn before the vaccine can close the door.'

Griffin adds disease complexity creates problems, too. Respiratory disease in particular is more involved than the few components available in vaccines. They help to give the calves' immune systems some ammunition to hold off the overt clinical disease.

Simple animal husbandry approaches are effective at moderating disease. Griffin says clean, dry, comfortable pens and proper feed management help high-stress calves make it through tough times.

'Little mistakes add up quickly, especially if you're not prepared to handle new cattle,' Griffin says. 'Working new cattle in the heat is a good example. Stressed calves shouldn't be handled after 10 a.m. when the low temperature for the day will remain above 70 degrees.'

Adjust To New Guidelines 'I'm excited about recent improvements that allow production of higher quality products and still provide disease prevention,' Perino says. 'Cytotoxin-based Pasteurella vaccines are a good example of how a vaccine targets the same tools bugs use to cause disease.'

However, management changes may go along with new vaccines.

If you're the least bit unsure about product use guidelines, ask someone. Besides your veterinarian, Griffin suggests using technical services personnel many companies provide.

'Many companies offer good products and we should use their technical staffs,' he says. 'Don't do business with companies who don't provide technical services folks with solid experience and education.'

Griffin adds these personnel and your veterinarian can make recommendations for change, if any are needed. Generally, he says the new vaccine technology is worth any management changes.

'Sick cattle require injectable medicine, creating the potential of residue and injection site damage,' Griffin says. 'They also experience inconsistent performance and lose money. Texas and Nebraska data shows sick cattle cost substantially more than money spent on treatment, or burial.'

'Better disease prevention equals safer food, more humane care and better profitability,' Perino says.

Improvement will continue because it has to. The relationship between the host and pathogens is dynamic. New pathogens are always emerging in different niches, and Perino says, no vaccine has yet reached its pinnacle.