Vaccination for the Smaller Pig Population - Part 2

by 5m Editor
17 February 2011, at 12:00am

In the second of this two-part series, pig veterinarian, Mark White, advises on vaccine handling and application for a small pig herd as a Health Bulletin from NADIS.

Storage and Use

All vaccines used in pigs have a finite shelf life and, as biological products, are susceptible to degeneration. Storage is normally required under refrigeration – without freezing – and in the dark. Never use products that are out of date or have not been stored correctly. Keep the refrigerator under lock and key and keep vaccines away from children.

One issue particularly relevant to the smaller producer is part-used bottles. Most products are produced for use in larger populations and bottles will often contain 25 to 50 doses per bottle and most will contain the recommendation of ‘if not used within 24 hours opened bottles should be discarded’. This is highly wasteful and advice should be sought from the supplying veterinary surgeon as to how to deal with such requirements safely and economically.


Each specific vaccine has a specific dose rate and administration protocol that must be followed if the vaccine is to be effective. The range of vaccines used in the herd will affect protocols but for the most important vaccines for the smaller producer, the following guidelines are applicable.

Figure 1. Typical neonatal E. coli diarrhoea

Figure 2. Diamond lesions on the back of growing pigs are typical of Erysipelas

Figure 3. PMWS in a weaner can be effectively prevented by vaccination

Figure 4. PCV vaccines are now available for both sows and young piglets
  1. E.coli/Clostridial disease – combined vaccines exist (e.g. Porcilis 6C, Intervet Schering Plough; Gletvax6, Pfizer) designed to be administered to the gilt/sow prior to farrowing with protection passed on to the piglets via colostrum. Two 5-ml doses are required as a primary course with a four-week interval between the two doses, the second dose given up to two weeks prior to farrowing. In subsequent parities, a single booster dose is required two weeks prior to farrowing. (NB. Sheep can be a reservoir for clostridial infection.)

  2. Erysipelas – Breeding animals should always be vaccinated for Erysipelas with a two dose primary course, e.g. in the gilt, with booster doses given every parity (i.e. at five- to six-monthly intervals). Maximum benefit can be derived by giving sow vaccine in late pregnancy up to two weeks before farrowing. Do not forget the boars.

    Growing pigs, where necessary, can be vaccinated from six weeks of age. In high-risk situations a two-dose course (with a four-week interval) is necessary.

    Erysipelas vaccine is also available in combination with Parvovirus vaccine for use in breeding animals. This combination can be used as one of the two primary doses for young gilts pre-mating and if necessary as the booster dose annually. (NB. Turkeys and sheep are also susceptible to Erysipelas.)

  3. PCVAD – Disease caused by Circovirus Type II can cause devastating losses in any size population and is controllable by vaccination. Two possible protocols are available:
    1. Sow vaccine (Circovac, Merial). Similarly to E.coli/Clostridial vaccines, this is administered to breeding animals prior to farrowing to protect the young piglets via colostrum. Two doses with an interval of three to four weeks are needed, with the second dose two weeks prior to farrowing. (Gilts may also be vaccinated prior to service.) Single booster doses are required at least two weeks prior to each subsequent farrowing.

      It should be noted that this vaccine comes in two parts, which must be reconstituted and used within three hours.

    2. Piglet vaccine (Circoflex, Boehringer; Porcilis PCV, Intervet Schering Plough) This is a single-dose vaccine given to young piglets from two to three weeks of age (depending on the product) that protects growing pigs for four to five months (i.e. to slaughter weight). In high-challenge situations, two doses of one product (Porcilis PCV) are indicated but this is unlikely to be necessary in small populations.

      Some vaccines are available as specific combinations (e.g. Erysipelas/Parvovirus) but it can be seen from the above that in some cases uncombined vaccines may be required at similar times. As a general rule, never mix vaccines (unless specifically recommended) and do not apply simultaneously. This can be challenging if young piglets require several different vaccines and advice should be sought from the veterinary surgeon.

Needles and Syringes

Needles and syringes used must be clean and free from disinfectant or alcohol. A new disposable needle and syringe should preferably be used each time a bottle is used.

Most vaccines are given by intramuscular injection and the following needle sizes are recommended:

  1. Young piglets up to five weeks of age:
    21G × 15mm
  2. Gilts:
    18G × 25mm
  3. Sows and boars:
    18G × 40mm

In rare cases, wider gauge needles may be necessary for ‘thicker’ vaccines.)

In general, always inject pigs in the neck.

Adverse Reactions

Occasionally, pigs will suffer an adverse reaction to a vaccine. This can be the result of:

  1. Cold shock – especially in young piglets if given straight out of the fridge. Always warm to body temperature before administration.

  2. Accidental injection into an artery or vein. (In both cases, the reaction is instant and normally temporary, with recovery in 10 to15 minutes).

  3. Allergic reaction. Very rarely this will occur after multiple vaccinations, within one hour of application. These reactions can sometimes be fatal.

  4. Abortion. With modern vaccines licensed for use in pregnant animals, e.g. E. coli, Erysipelas, PCV, abortion is rare. Previous contamination of a part-used bottle is often to blame.

  5. Others. Rarely, young piglets will react to the other chemicals included in vaccines (adjuvants) and may vomit and collapse. Death is a rare consequence.

In addition to these systemic reactions, local injection site reaction can occur to the products (especially oil-based vaccines) or to contamination. Temporary lameness or stiff necks may occur following intramuscular injection.

In addition to reactions in pigs, operators must be aware of the dangers of self-injection. The oil-rich vaccines of the past have largely been replaced with modern adjuvants but there is still a risk of tissue damage if self-injected. Where such accidents occur, urgent medical attention should be sought (preferably Hospital Accident and Emergency) and you should take the data sheet (SPC) of the product with you.

Disposal of Bottles etc

All pharmaceutical products, needles and syringes must be safely disposed of. On no account should they be discarded in ordinary domestic waste. The most practical solution is to purchase a ‘sharps bin’ from your veterinary surgeon who will dispose of it by incineration when full.


There is a requirement to record all medicines used in food-producing animals including date given, identity of animal, product, batch number and expiry date. All vaccines currently available in the UK have zero meat withdrawal periods.

Further information

Further detailed information of vaccines and their use in pigs can be found in:

  1. RUMA – Responsible Use of vaccines and Medication in Pigs available at click here
  2. Intervet Schering Plough. ‘The correct use and storage of veterinary medicines on the pig farm’.

Further Reading

- You can view the previous article from NADIS on the basic principles of vaccination by clicking here.

February 2011