National Farm and Facility Level Biosecurity User Guide for the Equine Sector
Annex 10: Additional guidance on vaccination

Vaccination is the primary means for increasing resistance to specific infectious pathogens. Safe and effective vaccines have been developed for a number of equine diseases and when used appropriately can prevent or minimize the severity and duration of disease. Discuss a vaccination program with your veterinarian to tailor it to the specific risks and requirements of your horse(s). With your veterinarian, review the disease risks, identify which diseases to vaccinate against and determine a schedule to maximize the benefits during periods of greatest risk.

Determining which diseases to vaccinate against should be based on:

  • risk of disease. For example:
    • likelihood of exposure (consider feeding and horse management practices);
    • geographic location;
    • frequency of travel and contact with horses from different premises.
  • consequences of disease;
  • potential for adverse vaccine reactions; and
  • vaccine efficacy and anticipated benefits.

Additional factors influencing vaccination include the horse's age, health status, vaccination history, travel history, and previous responses to vaccines.

Trying to develop a one-size-fits-all vaccination protocol for all horses is impractical and runs counter to the objectives of maximizing disease resistance. The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) has developed a series of guidelines and protocols for vaccination. They categorize vaccines as either "Core" or "risk-Based".

Core and risk based vaccines
Core vaccines Risk-based vaccines
  • "Those that protect from diseases that are endemic (common) to a region, those with potential public health significance, required by law, virulent/highly infectious, and/or those posing a risk of severe disease.
  • Core vaccines have clearly demonstrated efficacy and safety, and thus exhibit a high enough level of patient benefit and low enough level of risk to justify their use in the majority of patients." Table Note 30
  • There are geographic differences in disease risks across Canada and core vaccination requirements may differ. Discuss with your veterinarian the core vaccines that are most appropriate for your horse.
  • In most areas of Canada, the following are considered core vaccines Table Note 31:
    • Tetanus (lockjaw)
    • Rabies: When considering whether to vaccinate for rabies, it is important to keep in mind that rabies is a fatal neurologic disease and of public health significance.
    • Eastern and western equine encephalomyelitis (sleeping sickness)
    • West Nile virus
  • Those that are recommended "after the performance of a risk-benefit analysis. The use of risk-based vaccinations may vary regionally, from population to population within an area, or between individual horses within a given population." Table Note 32
  • Risk based vaccines include:
    • Equine influenza (equine flu)
    • Equine herpesvirus (rhinopneumonitis)
    • Strangles (distemper)
    • Potomac horse fever
    • Botulism
    • Equine viral arteritis
    • Rotaviral diarrhea
    • Anthrax

While vaccination is a critical component of maintaining horse health, vaccination does not provide a complete guarantee against disease occurring. Many factors affect the outcome following disease exposure (refer to the disease triad). Good biosecurity, animal husbandry and management practices are necessary to maximize the benefits of vaccination.

For a vaccine to be effective it must be stored and administered according to label directions. Some vaccines require more than one does given at specific intervals in order to be effective. Your veterinarian is the best resource for vaccine recommendations specific to your horse.

Storing and handling vaccines

  • read and follow the manufacturer's label directions for storage;
  • ensure vaccines requiring refrigeration are stored at the proper temperature; vaccines should not be allowed to freeze. Avoid storing in the door, bins or drawers of the refrigerator as the temperatures often fluctuate in these locations;
  • monitor the temperature of refrigerators storing vaccines with a digital thermometer;
  • protect vaccines from sunlight exposure; sunlight can breakdown components of the vaccine; and
  • monitor expiry dates and rotate older vaccines into use ahead of newer products.

Administering vaccines

  • read and follow the manufacturer's label directions for administering;
  • for vaccines that require reconstituting, mix with the proper liquid (diluent) at the correct volume and temperature;
  • do not mix vaccines with other vaccines or medications in the same syringe or applicator;
  • only reconstitute the amount of vaccine that will be used immediately; do not store reconstituted vaccine. Reconstituted vaccines are often not stable and will not be effective if stored;
  • use a new needle and syringe for each animal;
  • administer vaccine by the proper route (for example, intramuscular, subcutaneous, intranasal) using correct technique;
  • do not reduce or split the dose of vaccine between animals;
  • properly dispose of needles, syringes and used vaccine containers;
  • maintain a vaccination record including date, vaccine name, manufacturer, serial and batch number, route of administration and location administered; and
  • record any adverse reactions to the vaccine and report these to your veterinarian.
Date modified: