As a veterinarian, I am frequently asked “What is the best vaccine?” Other common questions on the topic include “What is the best-valued vaccine?” and “Should I change my current program?” The catalyst for many of these questions is often a visit by a pharmaceutical representative, a new-product launch or availability issues with a product currently being used.

Since I do not derive any of my income from product sales, I consider myself an unbiased resource. To help clients choose the right vaccine for their farm, I look at the following key areas:

1. Label claims. What a company can claim on the label is regulated by the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. Vaccines go through a lengthy and expensive testing process for safety and efficacy. In addition, the product label must clearly inform users how to use the vaccine, including the potential benefits and risks.

The FDA sets minimum standards that vaccines must meet, and over time these standards may increase in number or become more stringent. For example, the newer respiratory vaccines have a specific label claim (that older vaccines do not contain) regarding the safety in fetuses. This does not mean that the older vaccines are not as safe as the new ones; rather, we can conclude that the new vaccines have been proven to be safe for the specified condition. Pharmaceutical companies with older vaccines may go back to the FDA to get this label claim, but the product would have to go through more testing. Because of the time and cost involved, some companies do not pursue the new label claim.

Be careful not to over-analyze label claims. And be sure that you understand what the vaccine has been approved for so you can make comparisons on a level playing field.

2. Research. Examine the data available to you, and always consider the source of the data. It is important to know who conducted the study, who the researcher works for, who funded the study, where the results were presented, whether or not the research was published in a peer-reviewed publication and if the data correctly summarize the results of the study.  Your veterinarian is a great resource to help you sort through and weigh the data.

3. Product availability. Is the product readily available? This may sound obvious, but our practice works with large dairy and swine operations. We have experienced shortages in vaccine supply during new-product launches and manufacturing complications. The importance of a steady supply is to avoid confusion in your operation regarding which vaccine to use. If a change is made, it is essential to update your protocols and inform employees.

4. Cost. While important, cost should not be the primary factor used to select vaccines. There are two important lessons here. First, there is wide variation in vaccine cost. My clients are often surprised by the potential savings, especially in times of low milk prices. And, second, price does not always dictate quality. Just because a vaccine is more expensive does not necessarily mean it is of better quality than a lower-cost alternative.

5. Clinical impressions and experience. If you plan to try a new vaccine, ask someone who has used it how it worked for them. Ask which animals they use the vaccine on, when it is administered, how long they have used it and if they have seen any changes or adverse reactions. Your veterinarian is a great resource for this type of information, since he or she has had the opportunity to see various products and programs in action on a variety of farms. Producers are another good resource. Always beware of any biases that people may have and take those into consideration,

Angela M. Daniels is a practicing veterinarian with Circle H Animal Health in Dalhart, Texas.