VISION® vaccines lead the way in clostridial protection

By Dr. Scott Nordstrom

Blackleg is an acute, highly fatal disease caused by an anaerobic, soilborne bacterium called Clostridium chauvoei. Thankfully, there are vaccines (usually 7- or 8-way vaccines) that are highly effective at preventing this deadly disease.

It may be easy to take vaccine innovation for granted, but clostridial vaccines were one of the first made for animal health. In the late 1800s, Cutter Laboratories introduced their first blackleg product. It was formulated as a powder that was rehydrated with water and absorbed into a piece of string, which was then deposited under the hide of the animal. 

A machine depositing vaccines into vials.

Over the decades, various vaccines were introduced to protect against clostridial disease. However, in the 1980s, the industry reached a turning point in clostridial vaccine development. All products were similar in nature at the time and shared a commonality that sparked concern: they were causing injection site lesions in cattle, negatively affecting meat quality.

Reformulating and refining

To address this issue, the National Cattlemen’s Association (now NCBA) brought animal health companies together to discuss the vaccine-caused meat quality issue. The room was filled with research, production, marketing and technical service veterinarians.

Rick Kennedy, who was the product manager for vaccines at the time, recalls the discussions that occurred. “They showed us the meat quality problem, and they had narrowed it down to clostridial vaccines that were adjuvanted,” explained Kennedy. “They said, ‘You need to change this.’ Our vaccine team set out to determine the best go-forward.”

Kennedy worked with the research and production teams to reformulate their clostridial vaccine to be efficacious, nonreactive and conveniently dosed.

“Our team made the decision to make the best blackleg vaccine on the market, get the reactivity out of it, maybe even increase the immune response,” Kennedy said.

The team continued to reformulate and refine and ended up with a much less reactive vaccine that was efficacious, fulfilled all NCBA requirements and received immediate support.

“This was the first time in 75 years that there had been any kind of research or improvement in clostridial vaccines,” added Kennedy.

They named the new vaccine VISION® and it was the first 2-mL subQ vaccine on the market.

Proving safety and efficacy

“My biggest competitor for selling the new vaccine turned out to be my own sales force,” Kennedy recalled. “Why? Because they’re going to sell my 55-cents-a-dose product into an 8-cent market.”

Kennedy worked with Dr. Doug Armstrong and veterinarians to understand what made VISION unique, asking, “Why is VISION better? Is it more efficacious? Is it less reactive?”

A key component of the new formulation included the proprietary SPUR adjuvant, which boosts vaccine performance while causing fewer reactions and reducing stress on cattle post-vaccination.1-3 This leads to better feed conversion and increased weaning weights when compared to conventional clostridial vaccines.4-7

A third-party trial conducted by Dr. John Ellis compared VISION to the previous product.

“It proved that the VISION-vaccinated calves in the spring weighed 14 pounds more in the fall,”4 explains Kennedy. “You take this 14 pounds times 100, 200, 1,000 head of calves born that year – it’s a lot of weight. And that’s what the beef business is about, is selling beef.”

Today, Merck Animal Health manufactures and offers more than a half dozen BOVILIS® VISION vaccines, including combinations that protect against pinkeye and H. somni. BOVILIS VISION is one of the most studied vaccines on performance in the market when it comes to clostridial vaccines.

Moving the industry forward

As a veterinarian in product development, my goal is to provide tools that are effective and address industry needs. We ask both producers and veterinarians what vaccines need to be developed or how we can improve our products.

Understanding immunology is important to address evolving changes and challenges in the livestock industry, and technology is allowing us to assess the effectiveness of vaccines and the impact on the metabolic function of animals.

The ultimate goal is to provide an ideal immune response without a large metabolic cost.

Merck Animal Health has a history of finding a better way forward. Today, we offer one of the most complete vaccine portfolios. And we’re committed to continuing to find new discoveries that will successfully advance cattle health. To learn more, visit

© 2023 Merck & Co., Inc., Rahway, NJ, USA and its affiliates. All rights reserved.


  1. FTR 92-3 Vision 8 Injection Site Blemish Study.
  2. FTR 96-2 Analysis of Post-Vaccinal Injection Sites Using Ultrasound.
  3. FTR 96-4 Evaluation of Injection Site Blemishes Using Ultrasonography Following Administration of Two Commercial Multivalent Clostridial Vaccines.
  4. Technical Services Field Trial Report 93-9. 1993. Weaning weight comparison of Vision 7 and Ultrabac 7 in a Wyoming beef herd.
  5. Technical Services Field Trial Report 93-14. 1993. Vision Weaning Weight Trials.
  6. Veterinary Services Field Trial Report 93-15. 1993. Weight comparison at weaning in 5 beef herds comparing Vision (2 mL) to 5 mL 7-way administered at spring branding.
  7. Veterinary Services Field Trial Report 96-5. 1996. Weight comparison of calves vaccinated with Vision 8 vaccine or a 5 mL 8-way clostridial vaccine.

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About the author

Scott Nordstrom, D.V.M.,

Scott Nordstrom

Director of New Product Development,
Merck Animal Health