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Vaccines as Alternatives to Antibiotics for Food Producing Animals. Part 1: Challenges and Needs

Note: This article from the journal Veterinary Research Giant-chicken provides a rare glimpse (pardon the meat pun) into what vaccine discussions can look like when the target recipients aren't children.  Would love to hear David Kirby's take on this, since his book Animal Factory took on the topic of factor farms. Thanks to our John Stone for sharing this article and culling these key quotes:

“Modified live vaccines against this viral disease have various drawbacks, including severe side-effects and the potential for undetected, subclinical infections in vaccinated animals that may result in viral shedding and can also lead to recombination between field and vaccine strains."

“the pathogen may be evolving quickly and the vaccine may not be updated to confer protection against current strains [e.g., infectious bronchitis virus, porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV)”

“Eliciting protective immune responses in young animals tends to be particularly challenging because the immune system is still developing, and because maternal antibodies can interfere with the development of protective immunity. Vaccination against diseases that require protective immunity in young animals can therefore be particularly challenging “

Veterinary Research 2018 49:64


  • Received: 20 October 2017
  • Accepted: 22 December 2017
  • Published: 31 July

ABSTRACT: Vaccines and other alternative products can help minimize the need for antibiotics by preventing and controlling infectious diseases in animal populations, and are central to the future success of animal agriculture. To assess scientific advancements related to alternatives to antibiotics and provide actionable strategies to support their development, the United States Department of Agriculture, with support from the World Organisation for Animal Health, organized the second International Symposium on Alternatives to Antibiotics.

It focused on six key areas: vaccines; microbial-derived products; non-nutritive phytochemicals; immune-related products; chemicals, enzymes, and innovative drugs; and regulatory pathways to enable the development and licensure of alternatives to antibiotics.

This article, part of a two-part series, synthesizes and expands on the expert panel discussions regarding opportunities, challenges and needs for the development of vaccines that may reduce the need for use of antibiotics in animals; new approaches and potential solutions will be discussed in part 2 of this series. Vaccines are widely used to prevent infections in food animals.

Various studies have demonstrated that their animal agricultural use can lead to significant reductions in antibiotic consumption, making them promising alternatives to antibiotics. To be widely used in food producing animals, vaccines have to be safe, effective, easy to use, and cost-effective. Many current vaccines fall short in one or more of these respects. Scientific advancements may allow many of these limitations to be overcome, but progress is funding-dependent. Research will have to be prioritized to ensure scarce public resources are dedicated to areas of potentially greatest impact first, and private investments into vaccine development constantly compete with other investment opportunities. Although vaccines have the potential to improve animal health, safeguard agricultural productivity, and reduce antibiotic consumption and resulting resistance risks, targeted research and development investments and concerted efforts by all affected are needed to realize that potential.

Open Access

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.


Grace Green

Ha, Benedetta! I wondered what that thing was that came out of my goat's hair while I was milking her, then ran back in never to be found again!


Grace Green;

Gosh that pouring medicine down their backs for lice.
If you have the vet come to vaccinate, he will, also bring the worm medicine, and he will bring the lice medicine that you pour down their backs too. He will do it all, except of course catch them up.

Lice, When the hair grows long in the fall and winter, lice love it. By late winter, some times; lice gets really bad and the cows can even lose all of their hair in spots. It also seems to be only the lactating cows, and never the calves or bull. I often wonder if having to make milk for a baby calf just takes something out of them and dampens their ability to fight off lice. It is not a pretty sight to see actual naked skin in cold weather, and worrisome that they might get frost bit in those naked areas. When warm weather returns though, the hair sheds along with the lice. Some years it is not bad at all and some years it is really bad. Why, I don't know, maybe it is the years they don't have calves in the winter?

Grace Green

Benedetta, that's really interesting, and sounds a little bit different from over here in the UK. It does seem to come down to costs, when every year/month/week counts. We had a terrible scandal in the UK about the insecticide you had to pour down the animal's back, or dip the sheep in it. Many people think it caused farmers to be poisoned with something like M.E., but it was all covered up. Some also think it could have caused the "spongey brain" diseases. One vet told me he had got a tiny bit of the stuff on his thumb and soon had the worst headache he'd ever known. So what must it do to the animals? They don't complain about pain.



It all depends on the region of the United States, of what kind of vaccines are needed for the cattle.
For my area, what we lose the most are young cattle to is a type of tetanus called black leg. If they are going to catch it, it is when they are about a year old, when the calf begins to eat a lot of grass to put on a lot of weight and muscle bulk. If during this time of putting on all that bulk happens during the spring, or fall, or during a time of little rain fall (dirt is more exposed) they might get tetanus. We always kept our calves up to a year instead of the usually six months, but all are still on their mother's milk, and never vaccinated. I think it helps a lot that they are still on their mother's milk, though it might be rather hard on the cow and saps her energy, it does make the cows slower about breeding back. By not vaccinating we have only lost one big bull calf, and a heifer we were going to keep to tetanus black leg.

When we take our crop of calves to the market, we always told them that they were not vaccinated. We did not have to have a certificate of we did or did not do, but we sign a paper stating that we did not vaccinate. Sometimes I wonder if when the vet comes by on those days that the stock market is accepting cattle. and will nilly vaccinates everything in sight for a lot of other things and well it is all pretty much on the honor system. Most of the calves that at one year old and really big are still bought by other farmers to be put on pasture and feed to get them past that bulk stage, feed lots for some; I suppose.

Leptospirosis is another one they vaccinate against in breeding cows since it is carried back and forth from deer to cattle and causes the cows to abort, but without vaccinating; they will get over it anyway, there is just not a calf for that year and that is a lose to the farmer.

Not all vaccines for the same thing are alike. I stopped off at the vet and asked for a vaccine last winter for a calf we are keeping to make a heifer out of. The vet gave me two big vials, one was for worms. We have a young man that is renting land from my father to put his cattle on, and part of the deal is helping my son with his small herd, and both have formed a friendship. . This young man goes to the farm store and buys his black leg vaccine. The drawn vial from the vet's office was really large, and did not look at all what the farm store's vials looked like. When it came time to vaccinate, my son and this young man ended up throwing the vet's vials in the trash and going to the farm store together to buy the usual stuff. This young man is using another vet from a different county cause he says our county's vet has a tendency to kill all his cows. He is so funny, such a hard worker, but like all of the young men around here, anymore; highly anxious. There is that under current of damage in every one at that age, left over from their childhood vaccines.

The two of them got their heifers vaccinated, and let them both out with the rest of the cattle to put on all that weight during a rather wet summer.

So apparently, all vaccines for the same disease are not exactly alike, or the amount?

My dog is getting better, after four rounds of fever/antibiotics, following a rabies vaccine. I sure hope she grows some more fur and hair; or I am going to have to knit it a coat for her this winter. This is the same vet. He gives a rabies vaccines that is now required every year, and if a dog comes in; it is getting it. This is also the same vet that says the MMR gave his beautiful daughter chrons disease. And told me the same thing that an anti vaxxer would say; that a lot of these things they vaccinate for is easy childhood diseases that they will get over, and the other stuff antibiotics will take care of, with out the damage that vaccines cause. It is a complicated world.

They will never be able to vaccinate their way out of not using antibiotics in animals; cause they need more antibiotics after they are heavily vaccinated for the most part.


Linda, pediatricians will never earn the right to be off-leash when their medical training is so sloppy, grounded in pharma dogma; not good science or good health.

Jeannette Bishop

Whenever I feel up to or in need of eating meat, it's hard to want to consider eating anything raised constantly on antibiotics, or vaccinated (where do they administer those vaccines?)...

...but the discussion in this publication is enlightening.


Curious to know if other countries vaccinate their livestock. Italian friend says Italian pigs raised for food are not vaccinated. Wondering if the practice is analogous to the US human vaccination schedule compared to the rest of the world.

Pediatricians should spend a few long years in veterinary school before being unleashed onto the public, if they have to be unleashed onto the public.

Great article.


Prince Charles is successfully using homeopathy on his cattle to minimise the use of antibiotics, that would rule out the placebo effect as the animals haven't got a clue what he's up to.

Unfortunately if it can't be patented then industry will say it can't possibly work.

Grace Green

Organic farmers have already found that the need for antibiotics OR vaccines is greatly reduced, perhaps even removed, by keeping the animals in natural, healthy conditions. Primarily this means lower stocking levels so that they are not overcrowded and have room to live their natural lives and eat natural food. If they were all raised in this way that would mean less meat to eat, but of course, if their were fewer humans that wouldn't be a problem, and perhaps we too would be healthier from less overcrowding. Here I am back on my old hobby horse!


By the time an animal shows signs of illness that are apparent to us humans, it is so bad off that it is either going to die, or might be saved with antibiotics. I don't see farmers giving up the gift of antibiotics even when the government and the veterinaries organizations pushes for more what- cleaning procedures?

But practices of cleaning procedures have been going on for a long while, and I know my grandfather and uncles followed them all like a religion. Are the younger farmers doing this?

My Grandpa, would not allow anyone to step into his hen houses without first stepping in a pan of lysol. He sure made his farm hands started picking up their pop bottle caps where they took their breaks from grading and candling eggs, after a cow got sick from eating them.

Fast forward to present day; and the series that high lights hoarders has no problem finding the mentally ill that hoards, but are instead overwhelmed by people calling in with candidates for their show. When they film these hoarders homes and apartments, it becomes obvious that is more than hoarding, that is the issue, but actually it is issues of cleanliness.

If you get this behavior in people that owns and runs dairy farms, beef farms, hogs, eggs along with veggie farms; the first thing you know we can't even safely buy heads of lettuce, not shredded lettuce, but "actually heads" of lettuce with out getting sick. Oh, wait; that has already happened.

bob moffit

"ABSTRACT: ……. To assess scientific advancements related to alternatives to antibiotics and provide actionable strategies to support their development, the United States Department of Agriculture, with support from the World Organisation for Animal Health, organized the second International Symposium on Alternatives to Antibiotics."

Just curious .. how many "international symposiums on alternatives to vaccines" .. have been "organized" by HHS during the 32 years the HHS has been responsible for "assessing" the vaccine industry's promotion and manufacturing of "safe and efficient vaccines"?

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