Serving Franklin County, WA

Are mRNA vaccines used in cattle?

It’s been a pretty nice season to go to the fairs around the region—in most cases not too hot and not too cool. Always nice to be able to connect with both our adult and youth producers. The fairs are certainly an American tradition and it’s great to see that people are out supporting them.

When I talk with producers, I’m always happy when topics of conversation come up that lend themselves to an article. A recent conversation highlighted that concerns about mRNA vaccines and their use in cattle are circulating among the industry and on social media. I figured that maybe a little investigation was in order to try to make some sense of the topic. As many of you know, I’m a cow nutritionist, not a veterinarian, but I have great interest in the management of all cattle throughout the production cycle and that includes our health protocols. Extension folks, like me, when presented with a question have to go out and find the information and report back to our producers and stakeholders. I write this so all of us have a better understanding of what this means in the real world. If you would like to know the science behind the topic of mRNA vaccines, I will leave that to my veterinarian and biotechnology colleagues. For this article, Dr. Craig McConnel from WSU Veterinary Medicine Extension joins me in authorship to make sure we are on track with the best and most current animal health information.

I got to thinking where the topic of mRNA vaccine use in cattle might be coming from. Most of us were introduced to this mRNA terminology relevant to the technologies that were in use in some of the Covid-19 vaccines. In my humble opinion, the whole Covid-19 experience spawned a lot of unrealistic expectations in the general populous around the efficacy of vaccines in general, and it was amazing how fast they were brought to market.

Let’s lay to rest the rumors:

A press release from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) dated April 5, 2023, states, “Today, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) released a statement in regard to false information circulating on social media about the use of mRNA vaccines in cattle”

“There are no current mRNA vaccines licensed for use in beef cattle in the United States. Cattle farmers and ranchers do vaccinate cattle to treat and prevent many diseases, but presently none of these vaccines include mRNA technology.”

•In cattle, responsible use of vaccines is essential especially in the case of the Bovine Respiratory Disease Complex (BRD) which is estimated to cost the North American cattle industry nearly $1 billion annually (Tizard, 2021, Vaccines for Veterinarians).

•Currently, modified-live virus vaccines (MLV) are available for cattle which use an altered form of the virus to stimulate an immune response. With MLV vaccines the virus replicates in the animal to cause the immune response but does not lead to disease.

•Killed vaccines for cattle contain no live virus or bacteria, but rather elicit an immune response through the presence of the dead organism. There are also some vaccines which have a combination of MLV and killed vaccines.

•mRNA is a newer technology in which the vaccine contains genetic material (mRNA; messenger RNA) which is essentially a code to tell the cells in the body how to make a protein. The immune system sees the protein and makes an immune response against it.

Vaccines are an essential part of our animal management toolkit and are an important part of health, well-being, and helping our cattle perform at maximum productivity and profitability. All vaccines undergo thorough testing and evaluation to ensure efficacy and safety (both for the animal and the food they produce) and to determine withdrawal times. Good vaccines reduce the need for antimicrobials (antibiotics) and therefore play a role in antimicrobial stewardship.

There you have it; the myth has been busted: No mRNA vaccines are being used in cattle in the United States at this time.

— Don Llewellyn is the WSU Lincoln County Extension Director in Davenport. He can be emailed at [email protected]. Contact Craig McConnel with your animal health questions, [email protected]


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