Inside Our Food

Animal Vaccination (Meat Safety) | How it works

Animals are exposed to diseases just like you and me. And just like us, they can be protected by vaccines. For example, a human disease that was eradicated through vaccination is smallpox. For animals, Rinderpest (the cattle plague) was a disease that was completely eradicated through vaccines.

For centuries, Rinderpest was an aggressive, lethal disease that killed nearly every cow it infected. One by one, cattle were dying, and for a long time, farmers were helpless. Once the vaccine was developed against Rinderpest, the world was declared Rinderpest-free in 2011. Now, it can only be found in labs, safely stored away, to produce vaccines in case of a new breakout. Luckily, there has been no need for this measure still to this day.1,2

But how are animals vaccinated?

Unlike us, animals luckily don’t have to wait in a waiting room full of sick people to be treated. The doctor usually comes to them. But that is basically where the differences end—well, the ingredients are also different, but other than that it’s the same.

Some standard guidelines for animal vaccination sound similar to what humans usually experience at the doctor’s when they get vaccinated.

The area of where you will be injected is cleaned, and it’s the same with animals. Their coat is cleaned and rid of any dirt. A clean, sterile needle is taken from a vacuum package and attached to a new syringe. For every animal a new needle should be used, otherwise the animal might react to something on a used needle, rather than the actual vaccine. 3,4

Farmers can actually vaccinate their animals themselves, and there are three ways to inject the animal with the vaccine. Method 1 and 2 are transdermal injections:  3,4,5

  1. Subcutaneous: The vaccine is injected into the fat tissue under the skin of the animal. There are specific instructions for farmers on how to do it, so don’t worry, they are not just winging it.
  2. Intramuscular: As the name states, it means the vaccine is injected into the muscle.
  3. Intravenous injections require the vaccine to be administered directly into the vein. In this case, the farmers actually need training beforehand.

It is really important that farmers read the instructions enclosed with the vaccine and use the right needle. Vaccinating an animal is not like building an Ikea cupboard, where you can just ignore instructions. Usually, that doesn’t turn out too well either, does it?

The right size of the needle is also important so the tissue and nerves surrounding the injection site are not damaged. Subcutaneous injections are done with ~1- 2,5cm needles. Intramuscular injections use ~4cm needles.3,5 These needle sizes might sound a bit brutal, but don’t worry because there are also needle-free injection devices (NFID). This is the best option for everyone, especially animals scared of needles (like me). 6

These NFID are either spring-powered or compressed gas-powered. Uhm, the gas-powered system sounds equally as scary, BUT at least no needles are involved. Instead the vaccine pierces the skin as a compressed stream of liquid.6

An advantage of NFID are that they can deliver the vaccine extremely fast to the skin and the underlying tissue and muscle. The second advantage is that, probably because of its direct delivery, the immune response is enhanced, and a lower antigen dose can be used. 6

Vaccines protect animals and humans

Vaccinating animals does not only protect the animals from pain and suffering, but it also protects humans who consume meat from transmittable diseases. And because of that, vaccines are not only rigorously tested to ensure they are safe to use on animals, but also if it’s still present post-death. The residues are also tested to make sure they are safe, especially if the meat is produced for and consumed by humans. 7

All vaccines used in the European market are authorised by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) only after they have undergone extensive testing, with their safety rigorously proven. Even after their approval, vaccines are continuously monitored for any negative reactions in animals and humans to maintain their usage safety. 7

What do you think of the way animals are vaccinated and the needleless way of vaccinating? Let us know in the comment below!

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