Importance Behind Veterinarian Administered Vaccines
Dr. Caity Cosentino

Properly administered vaccinations can prevent diseases in your horse
that are detrimental to their health and even sometimes deadly. Vaccines
are designed to reduce the risk for infection by working with the body’s
own natural immune system. When your horse is exposed to a harmful virus
or bacteria, the invading organism attacks the horse’s cells and
multiplies. This is what causes infection and the signs off illness that
you see. Horses have similar types of blood cells to humans. They have
red blood cells which are responsible for carrying oxygen around the
body and to organs and white blood cells which main duties include
fighting infection. There are multiple types of white blood cells in the
body, but there are 3 main types that are responsible for the horse’s
immune defense:

Macrophages, which ingest the invading germs as well as dead and dying
cells and leave behind parts of the cells, antigens.
B-Lymphocytes, which will respond to the antigens left behind, releasing
antibodies that will attack the invading germs and
T-Lymphocytes, which attack and destroy the cells in the body that have
been invaded by the bacteria or virus.

After the horse has been infected, the body produces memory T-cells that
will recognize the germ in the future and allow the body to respond
quicker if the horse becomes infected again. The B-cells will also be
ready to produce antibodies for that specific antigen. This way, the
horse’s immune system may be able to fight the invader before any signs
of illness are seen. Vaccines are designed to imitate a specific type of
infection that will trigger the body’s immune response without causing
the actual disease. The goal is to produce memory cells and antibodies
that will respond to and fight the invading infectious agent. This
process will take several days or weeks to be completed, leaving a
window where the horse is still vulnerable to infection.

Vaccines that are commercially available are regulated by the federal
government. They have rigid safety standards and standards for stability
and efficacy. When handled properly, there are few reasons for failure.
Lack of adherence to the directions on the label can cause a lack of
vaccine efficacy as well as an increased risk of local vaccine
reactions. Because the vaccines are designed to stimulate the immune
system, there is always a slight risk for reaction, even with a properly
administered vaccine. Reactions are usually mild and include transient
low grade fever or swelling at the injection site.

There are several factors that can cause a horse to have a decreased
ability to respond to the vaccine. Malnutrition and parasitism, high
stress levels, geriatric horses and those with Cushing’s disease may not
get the full benefit of the vaccines given. Even if this is the case,
vaccines will often lessen the severity of the disease and the length of
the illness if it is contracted. It is important to have a whole health
plan with your veterinarian so that your horse can be provided with the
best protection possible.

Vaccine companies will often stand behind their products and guarantee
both effectiveness and safety if the product was purchased and given by
a licensed veterinarian. Often the companies will reimburse medical
expenses related to vaccine failure, or severe vaccine reaction, as long
as the vaccine in question was administered by a veterinarian. Vaccines
purchased and given by owners and other individuals do not carry the
same protection as the proper handling of the product cannot be
guaranteed. For this reason alone, it is a good idea to have your
veterinarian administer all required and recommended vaccines. Different
vaccines also have different protocols, some require boosters, some are
required annually or more frequently, and foals are contending with left
over maternal antibodies, so have a completely different protocol to
adult horses being vaccinated.

Vaccines should be tailored specifically to each individual horse’s
needs. Geographic location and exposure risks are all taken into account
by your veterinarian when developing a vaccine protocol for your horse.
This helps to ensure that your horse is protected as much as possible,
without be over vaccinated with things he or she may not need.
Vaccination is an integral part to any good preventative health care
plan, and it’s safest and most effective when done with your

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