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Types of vaccines

There are two main types of vaccines:
1. Killed vaccines
2. Live, or modified attenuated (weakened) live vaccines.

Killed vaccines

Killed vaccines cannot cause disease and contain the right protein (antigen) to get a protective immune response. In most cases, two doses (usually at least 3–4 weeks apart) are needed for these vaccines to be effective.

The first dose is referred to as the primary or sensitising dose and produces a low antibody response over 7–21 days. The second or booster dose, produces a more rapid, stronger and longer lasting antibody response so the animal has lots of antibodies in their blood stream ready to neutralise the infection or toxin, hence preventing disease.

For vaccines that require two doses, the timing between doses is important. Most of the information on the vaccine pack comes from the companies that develop them, and their goal is to identify the best protocol to get protection as soon as possible. Recommendations on vaccine packs usually refer to the minimum time between doses.

If animals have received the first dose some time in their life, and almost certainly in the last six months, a second dose will still act as a booster and result in a strong, prolonged antibody response. However, the animal is not fully immune in the period between the first and second doses, and so animals are at risk of succumbing to a disease if only one dose is given.

Once the booster dose has been given, antibodies will reach their maximum levels within several days, and animals will be immune to the disease (in general).

Over time, the antibody levels in the blood fall, and at some point, for most diseases, these vaccine-induced antibodies fall below the protective level (see Figure 1). Therefore, while some antibodies are still present, there are not enough to immediately stop disease, and some animals may then become ill.

For this reason, most vaccines require additional, usually, annual boosters. Clostridial vaccines are good examples of vaccines that require two initial doses, and then a follow-up annual booster vaccination to maintain the highest level of immunity. However, for some diseases, antibody levels stay high for much longer periods, and immunity is considered lifelong. Repeat vaccination later in life is not required. The protective immunity to some diseases is mainly through a cellular immune response, rather than antibodies. Examples of where this occurs include Leptospira hardjo and bovine Johne’s disease.

Adjuvants are chemicals often used to modify or enhance the effects of a vaccine to stimulate a greater and often prolonged antibody response. Some adjuvants are irritants and can cause a visible lump under the skin, so it is important to ensure the recommended vaccination sites are always adopted. The presence of a lump however, provides some reassurance that the animal has actually been vaccinated successfully. For example, it is always reassuring to see the lump on the side of the neck of a bull that has supposedly been vaccinated against vibriosis.

Live, or modified attenuated live vaccines

Live, or modified attenuated live vaccines are developed from a weakened virus, protozoon or bacterium, allowing it to replicate in the body and generate an immune response. Due to this process of pathogen replication promoting a protective response, many live or attenuated live vaccines do not require booster shots e.g., tick fever vaccine. While attenuated live vaccines do not usually cause disease, if disease is caused, it is usually significantly milder than a strain caught through animal-to-animal transmission.