Intranasal vaccine leads the way in early protection

By Dr. Chris Schneider

Dairy calves are born with a developing, but not yet fully functioning immune system that can take six months, or more, to fully develop. What we do to help them build immunity within the first weeks and months of life has a big impact on their lifetime milk production.

During a calf’s first few months, there are two distinct periods of high stress – at birth and during the transition to group housing – that can compromise their immune system. An effective vaccination protocol can help calves through times of stress and help them be more resistant to harmful pathogens encountered throughout life.

We used to assume vaccinating calves at an early age was ineffective as the maternal antibodies would neutralize antigens introduced by the vaccine (known as maternal antibody interference). But thanks to research done by Dr. Philip Griebel, professor and research chair in neonatal mucosal immunology at the University of Saskatchewan School of Public Health, we now know the mucosal immune system, which is part of the upper respiratory tract, in newborn calves is functional and excluded from the effects of colostrum immunity that would interfere with vaccination.1

Colostrum management in dairy cattle

As a result, it is possible to avoid interference with maternal antibodies by using quality intranasal vaccines. This will begin to create protective immunity within three to four days after vaccination.2 Intranasal vaccines also stimulate nonspecific immunity at the mucosal surfaces, which help provide protection against pathogens not found in the vaccine.3 This provides more assurance calves will be capable of handling exposure to infectious agents.

This is why Merck Animal Health has invested in bringing intranasal vaccines to market, including the latest BOVILIS® NASALGEN® 3-PMH. Because it’s delivered directly to the mucosal surfaces in the nose, the vaccine avoids interference from maternal antibodies.

BOVILIS NASALGEN 3-PMH also has impressive duration of immunity (DOI) results:

  • IBR: Industry-leading 195 days
  • BRSV: 78 days
  • PI3: 95 days 
  • M. haemolytica: 122 days
  • P. multocida: 125 days

BOVILIS NASALGEN 3-PMH offers optimal flexibility for dairy producers and veterinarians. Producers should consult with their veterinarian on the best time to vaccinate neonatal dairy calves. The vaccine is safe for use on calves as young as 1 week of age, and can be administered again during the transition to group housing when calves are often under stress. 

BOVILIS NASALGEN 3-PMH can be administered to cows just before freshening. Typically these outbreaks occur during the transition period when the immune system is naturally depressed.


1. Osman R, Malmuthuge N, Gonzalez-Cano P, Griebel P. (2018) Development and Function of the Mucosal Immune System in the Upper Respiratory Tract of Neonatal Calves. Annual Review of Animal Biosciences, Volume.
2. Kesl, L., Saltsman, R., Burdett, B., Nordstrom, S., Xue, W. Determination of the Number of Days from Vaccination to Challenge Required for Protection from Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR) Virus Challenge Following Vaccination with Onset 5 IN and Vista 5 SQ in 13–30 Day Old Colostrum Deprived Calves. Publication pending World Buiatrics 2022. 
3. Midla, L., Griebel, P., Edmonds, M., Van Engen N., Townsend, H., Renter, D., Streeter, M., Hutcheson, J. Nasalgen vs. Inforce: Immune Response to Vaccination in Neonatal Colostrum Fed Holstein Calves. Publication pending in JAVMA 2021.     

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About the author

Chris Schneider

Dr. Chris Schneider

D.V.M., M.S.,
Livestock Technical Services,
Merck Animal Health