Use of vaccines in sheep and cattle

Vaccinations form a key part of a herd or flock health plan. There are different classifications of vaccines which may be used on farm and many factors which impact how well they protect livestock from disease.

Back to: Vaccine uptake report for cattle and sheep

Responsible use of medicines 

The sheep and beef sectors are committed to monitoring the sales of vaccines within their targets.

Cattle target

  • Aiming for a fall in respiratory disease cases and a year-on-year increase in uptake of vaccinations. It is difficult to distinguish the use of respiratory vaccinations in dairy and beef cattle from product sales data; therefore, this target relates to all bovine animals 

Sheep targets

  • To improve the management and control of lameness by increasing uptake of the Five Point Plan. Part of this includes vaccination against footrot, where necessary, therefore the uptake of footrot vaccine is being monitored

  • To promote the responsible control of enzootic abortion by vaccination rather than by treatment with antibiotics; the uptake of enzootic abortion vaccine is being monitored


Vaccines prepare animals (or people) to fight infections by pathogenic bacteria, viruses or parasites by imitating an infection and stimulating an individual’s immune system to develop adaptive immunity.

Vaccination programmes are an important part of a herd or flock health control strategy, but are not a substitute for good management practices, such as appropriate attention to biosecurity and animal husbandry.

Vaccine use in the UK

In the UK, more than 40 vaccines are authorised for use to control or prevent disease in cattle and about 20 products are authorised for use in sheep. 

The figures used to monitor vaccine uptake are the number of doses of vaccines authorised for use in cattle and sheep sold in the UK each year. These are based on wholesaler data collated by Kynetec and provided by MSD Animal Health. 

The figures, whilst very useful, do not measure the effectiveness of the vaccines. The level of protection could be lower due to: 

  • Incorrect storage conditions 
  • Incorrect dosage, route or site of administration 
  • Poor timing of vaccination relative to risk period 
  • Poor timing of follow-up booster vaccinations 

For example, in one survey, only 48% of respondents stated that they administered the second dose in the primary course within the recommended timeframe and 14% of respondents stated that they vaccinated earlier than the youngest recommended age (Cresswell E. 2014). 

Another study found that 45.5% of respondents stored their vaccines in a fridge specific to veterinary medicines. Only 6.4% of these respondents checked fridge temperatures daily to make sure their vaccines remained stable and effective (Hall, L.E. 2022). 

Further information on effective vaccination of cattle may be found in this video:  Vaccinating Cattle Safely and Effectively - brought to you by DairyCo

Vaccine classifications

The two main classifications of vaccine are live and dead vaccines. After being injected, live attenuated vaccines grow and replicate in the animal and produce an immune response. Generally, modified live viral vaccines provoke a satisfactory immune response with a single dose.

Dead or inactivated vaccines consist of killed or inactivated forms of the pathogen or their toxins. The immune response to inactivated vaccines is initially not as strong as for live vaccines because the pathogen or toxin does not replicate in the animal. To ensure sufficient memory, a primary course of two doses of the vaccine is usually required, with a short interval between these doses.

The full response to a vaccine does not occur immediately; it often takes a couple of weeks after administering the initial course.