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Vaccination Programs for Chickens

Vaccination programs for backyard and fancy chickens

General principles
Poultry kept free range in small numbers in backyards usually avoid many of the dangers that are faced every day by poultry raised under intensive conditions on large commercial poultry farms. However, as soon as householders or poultry fanciers enlarge their farms, the dangers of intensification need to be considered.
Intensification and wild birds bring a higher concentration of infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses, protozoa and fungi. These organisms can spread from bird to bird more easily in such an environment. Organisms can also undergo change to produce new strains against which new medications and vaccines have to be used.

The maintenance of the health of small numbers of backyard or fancy fowls also requires the application of the basic principles that make up the disease control programs of the intensive farming system. The principles of disease control in an intensive production environment are largely based on prevention of disease using isolation, quarantine, single aged farms and comprehensive disinfection and vaccination programs.

The same simple measures should be in place to prevent infectious disease from entering a small farm as for a large farm. A change of clothes, a disinfectant footbath and no backtracking of infection from old to young stock are fundamental requirements. Small farms should also be encouraged to adhere to the principles of separation of age groups and should also develop appropriate disinfection and vaccination programs.

Getting the best chick quality
Farmers should request that the chicks and pullets they purchase from reputable suppliers undergo a full vaccination program to meet their farming circumstances. A general rule is that all chicks should be vaccinated against Marek's disease at day-old. Starter pullets should have also been vaccinated against Marek's disease at day-old as well as against fowl pox. The need for other vaccinations will depend upon the diseases already present on the farm, the proximity to other neighbouring farms and the diseases prevalent in that general poultry raising area. In some cases, poultry officers of the state Department of Agriculture may advise on appropriate vaccination programs for certain areas of the state. Alternatively, a poultry veterinarian could be consulted as to the most appropriate program for your region.
Chick quality may also be dependent on the supplying breeding farm undertaking a thorough vaccination program. For some diseases chicks receive temporary protective maternal antibodies from their mothers via the yolk as it is absorbed into the chicken during embryonic development.
Good quality stock should be sought from specialist breeders of layers birds, fancy breeds and bantams. In all cases, direct purchase from the breeder is recommended so that details of the vaccination programs used by the breeders and that used on the day-old chick or pullet can be made available.

Developing a vaccination program
Preventive vaccination is an essential part of the disease control program. Each bird owner should assess the risk of infectious agents gaining entry to the farm. There may already be infectious agents on the farm either carried by wild birds, older birds or remaining dormant in the environment. Such disease agents as Marek's disease virus, and fowl pox virus can live in a poultry shed for many months or years and reinfect chickens placed in that environment. Some disease agents can spread through the air over several kilometres. Examples are infectious bronchitis (IB) virus, Newcastle disease (ND) virus and fowl pox virus which can be spread by biting mosquitoes. Rats and mice can spread fowl cholera from nearby farms.
In addition, some disease agents are egg borne and may be introduced when the farmer purchases day old chicks or pullets from another farmer or can be passed from generation to generation within a flock. Examples are avian mycoplasmosis (CRD), avian leucosis, avian encephalomyelitis and salmonellosis. Inquiries as to the disease status of the parent flocks should be made to the breeding farm. Older pullets could already be carrying infectious coryza, infectious laryngotracheitis (ILT) and Marek's disease (MD) unless they have been correctly vaccinated.

Diseases summary and Pfizer poultry vaccines
Pfizer Australia supplies instruction leaflets with boxes of vaccine. When bird owners purchase vaccine from our distributors, they must be supplied with a copy of the instruction leaflet, regardless of dosage number purchased. The leaflets contain information on the recommended vaccination program and how to apply and store the vaccine.

Fowl pox is a serious problem for free-range stock because the virus is spread by biting mosquitoes particularly in the warmer months of the year. Weeping scabs and wart-like lesions develop on the non-feathered parts of the head, neck and legs. In many cases those individual pox lesions run together and can be severe enough to completely close the birds’ eyes, and can lead to starvation unless treated. The virus can also affect the inside of the mouth.

• Slow spread with incubation of 4 to 10 days
• Disease spread by direct contact bird to bird or with infected water, equipment 
and mosquitoes 
• Immunity develops and persists for a variable time after recovery
• In multi-age flocks the younger groups of birds tend to be more severely affected
• Because of the isolation of many backyard flocks and lack of regular exposure to
 infection, explosive outbreaks involving all ages can occur if infection is introduced.

Method of Vaccination:
Some day-old chickens may be supplied vaccinated from the hatchery. These should be revaccinated at 8-12 weeks of age.
Young chickens are usually vaccinated at 1-2 weeks of age and again at 8-12 weeks of age. It is good insurance to revaccinate annually before summer.
Pfizer Australia recommends the wing stab method for chickens. The vaccine is reconstituted as directed and the special vaccination needle is dipped in the vaccine. An assistant holds the wing of the bird stretched away from its body and the needle is stabbed through the thin double layer of skin in the wing web. This causes minimal pain and ensures that the vaccine is introduced into the skin at the stab site.
A proportion of chickens should be examined one week later to see that there has been a “take” that appears as a small dry scab at the point of needle puncture.

Vaccine Pack, Storage and Handling:
Poulvac® Fowl Pox Vaccine (M Strain, Live Virus, SPF) is available in 1,000 dose vials as a freeze dried product that should be stored in the freezer (at -5oC or colder). The vaccine should be reconstituted with Poulvac® Fowl Pox Diluent and kept cool during vaccination. Refreezing of the vaccine is not recommended because of the variable effect that freezing and thawing can have on the vaccine virus.
Diluent and vaccinating needle need to be purchased separately.

This is a common disease of chickens caused by a herpesvirus and is characterised by paralysis of the legs and/or wings and/or the formation of tumours throughout many organs of the body. The majority of losses occurs in pullets up to laying age but may occur throughout the life of the flock. Mortalities may be as high as 40%.

Infection can take place immediately after hatching so vaccination must take place at one day of age. Chickens hatched under hens can acquire the disease agent from the hen or surroundings very early in their life; so again, chicks should be vaccinated as soon after hatching as possible (preferably at one day of age). Virus is further spread by aerosol and faeces.
Method of Vaccination:
The vaccine must be reconstituted with the Poulvac® Sterile Diluent as described in the instruction leaflet with the vaccine. It should preferably be used within one hour. Inject under the skin on the back of the neck. Usually a fold of neck skin is pinched up between the thumb and forefinger of one hand and the injection made under the skin in a direction away from the head. Avoid injection into the muscles of the neck.
Vaccine Pack, Storage and Handling:
Poulvac® HVT CF Vaccine (Serotype 3, Live Marek’s Disease Virus) is available in 1,000 dose vials. Poulvac® Sterile Diluent is available separately in 1,000 doses (200 mL) vial. The freeze-dried vaccine should be stored in the refrigerator between 2° and 8°C.  (DO NOT FREEZE)   The diluent should be stored at room temperature. Refreezing of diluted vaccine will greatly reduce the vaccine virus content and subsequent use will lead to poor or no immunity.

ILT is an acute virus infection of the upper respiratory tract of chickens and some game fowl and is observed as severe gasping and blood in the trachea. It is caused by a herpesvirus. It tends to occur in waves every few years, particularly in areas where farmers have ceased vaccination allowing flock immunity to wane. It is more commonly seen in the hotter months affecting heavier breeds and especially male chickens. ILT can cause a high mortality (up to 70%) and the relevant Department of Agriculture should be advised and consulted if an outbreak of ILT is suspected.

• A carrier state can develop in some birds after recovery from infection.
• Wild birds or the purchasing of infected adult fowls can introduce the disease into a clean flock if a carrier bird is among the new birds. The advice on sources of stock at the beginning of this bulletin should be followed if problems with ILT are to be minimised.
• Incubation is 5 – 12 days with slow spread trough flock.

Method of Vaccination:
Vaccination is normally carried out at 7-10 days with the A20 Strain and again at 8-12 weeks of age with the SA2 strain or A20 strain. The SA2 vaccine may be used from 7 days of age, but is best suited for chickens over 4 weeks of age, for pullets and for the second vaccination of potential laying stock.
Eye drop vaccination is recommended for small flocks. For eye drop administration the vaccine is reconstituted with Poulvac® Eyedrop Diluent. The reconstituted vaccine is poured into the diluent bottle that is then fitted with a teat and becomes the dropper bottle. The vaccine is dropped onto the surface of the eye. The chicken should be held in such a way as to make sure the drop does not roll off the surface of the eye as it is applied. If farmers wish to vaccinate through the drinking water, they should read the instruction leaflet with the vaccine. Diluent bottle with fitted teat become the dropper bottle
ILT vaccination should not be undertaken simultaneously with infectious bronchitis (IB) vaccination. If ILT is to be used, it is better to vaccinate first against IB and then with ILT at least one week later.

Vaccine Pack, Storage and handling:
Pfizer Australia manufactures two strains of ILT live vaccine, as follows:
Poulvac® Laryngo A20 and Poulvac® Laryngo SA2
Poulvac® Eyedrop Diluent is required for eye drop administration. The vaccine should be stored in the freezer at -5C or colder. The diluent should be stored at room temperature. Vaccine must be used within two hours of dilution. 
This is a viral disease of birds that causes an upper respiratory tract infection and sometimes concurrent kidney infection and/or a drop in egg production. It is highly infectious and will rapidly spread to all the flock once it gains entry to the farm. Affected chicks will show a gasping respiration followed by whitish droppings and severe depression. The chicks become dehydrated and die, particularly in cold weather conditions.

• Highly contagious virus disease with 1 to 3 days incubation
• Disease spread by direct contact bird to bird and by visitors or equipment
• Affected chickens should be provided with additional heat during brooding and electrolytes through the drinking water to replace lost fluids from kidney damage.
• Secondary bacterial infections may follow and may require antibiotic medication.
• In adult birds, drops in egg production often occur as the only sign of infection. 
• Recovery is slow and some birds go off the lay or lay misshapen eggs.
• If parents have been properly vaccinated, maternal immunity in some cases may protect chicks for the first 10 to 14 days of life.
Method of Vaccination:
An eye drop technique similar to that described above for ILT is recommended for small flocks. Large flocks can be vaccinated through the drinking water (see instruction leaflet for this method of administration).
Immunity following vaccination is not prolonged and birds should be revaccinated as follows:
1st Vaccination Day-old or 5-7 days
2nd Vaccination 30 days
3rd Vaccination 10-12 weeks
Optional vaccination:    Every 8 weeks during production.

Do not vaccinate with ILT and IB simultaneously. Keep these vaccinations at least 1 week apart. Provide good environmental conditions for one week after the 1st vaccination.

Vaccine Pack, Storage and Handling:
Note that Pfizer Australia manufactures two infectious bronchitis vaccines, as follows:
Poulvac® Infectious Bronchitis Vaccine (Vic S Strain, Live Virus, SPF) and
Poulvac® Infectious Bronchitis Vaccine Armidale A3 Strain - Live Virus
The Vic S strain provides the broadest protection against most types of IB infections in the field. However, it can cause a mild respiratory reaction in some strains of young chickens. Bird owners should use the Armidale A3 strain for the first vaccination and follow with the Vic S strain for subsequent vaccinations.
Poulvac® Eyedrop Diluent is required for eye drop administration of IB vaccines. Both vaccines are presented as live freeze-dried products. They should be stored in the freezer at  -5oC or colder. Diluent is stored at room temperature. Diluted vaccine should be used immediately after reconstitution.

Also known as epidemic tremor, avian encephalomyelitis is a disease of chickens, turkeys, pheasants and quail. It is caused by avian encephalomyelitis virus (AEV). The disease affects chickens up to the age of 6 weeks. In susceptible laying hens infection causes a fall in production.

• Chickens up to 6 weeks of age are the susceptible group.
• Transmission by eggs (vertical) and direct bird to bird contact (horizontal). Spread is very fast.
• A high proportion of the flock is usually affected with up to 20% mortality detected.
• Affected birds are reluctant to move and a proportion exhibit fine tremors of the head and neck. Many become paralysed and lie on their sides.
• Chickens over 8 weeks of age seldom show signs and become immune to infection.
• Birds in lay may lose production after infection with AE. The egg drop may range from 5-
50% and extend over 2-3 weeks.
• Occasionally a few birds will develop cataracts and become blind.
• Hatchability of the embryos (eggs) from these chickens is also affected. The eggs that do hatch spread the disease to susceptible chicks.
• Vaccination is administered in order to prevent egg transmission of the virus to next
• Maternal antibodies from vaccinated hens will be transferred to the next generation of chicks and provide protection for the first few weeks of the chicks’ life.
Method of Vaccination:
The eye drop technique is recommended for small flocks. Large flocks can be vaccinated through the drinking water (see instruction leaflet for this method of administration).
Vaccination is recommended between 12 and 16 weeks of age.

Vaccine Pack Storage and Handling:
Poulvac® AE I is a live virus and it is available in 500 dose vials. The vaccine is a liquid containing glycerol and should be stored in the freezer (at -5oC or colder). As it is a liquid and not a freeze-dried product it does not require a diluent. It may not appear solid when stored at appropriate temperature due to the glycerol content. After removal from the freezer, place the vaccine in a cool box with ice until ready and thawed for use. Thawed vaccine must be kept cool during vaccination and used within two hours of thawing.

Newcastle disease is a highly contagious viral disease that is known to affect domestic poultry and wild birds in most parts of the world. The disease is characterised by high mortality and coughing, gasping, diarrhoea and nervous signs. Egg production is affected and reduced in laying bird.

• Incubation is 2 to 15 days with various speed of spread trough flock, but often is very fast spread.
• Spread is from infected birds with direct contact or from contaminated equipment, droppings, water, feed and visitors.

Method of vaccination:
The 1st vaccination is with live Poulvac® Newcastle Disease Vaccine “V4 strain” SPF (Living) vaccine and can be administered from day old by eye drop method or after 4 days of age by drinking water. Diluted vaccine must be used immediately after mixing. The second vaccination is 3 weeks later by eye drop or drinking water method.
The killed (inactivated) vaccine is administered by intramuscular injection. This vaccine should be used as per label instructions.

SPECIAL NOTE: Vaccination of all commercial flocks is now compulsory in most states. Permits to vaccinate must be obtained through the relevant state Department of Agriculture. Vaccination of non-commercial flocks is on a voluntary basis. Please consult your state Department of Agriculture adviser regarding the definition of commercial flock and requirements for vaccination and vaccination protocols in your state.

Vaccine pack, Storage and handling:
Poulvac® Newcastle Disease Vaccine “V4 strain” SPF (Living). This vaccine should be stored in the freezer at -5oC or colder.
A killed vaccine, Poulvac® Newcastle iK Vaccine (Inactivated), is available in 1,000 dose vials. It should be stored in the refrigerator between 2o and 8o C. (DO NOT FREEZE)

Diseases and Pfizer poultry vaccines

Buy day-old chickens or started pullets from a reputable breeder or grower who can guarantee vaccination against IB, Marek’s disease and fowl pox. Day old chicken purchasers should complete the vaccination program commenced in the hatchery. Breeders of Poultry should establish and follow the vaccination program recommended below.

All live vaccines should be used immediately after reconstitution with the appropriate diluent. Most live viral vaccines will only hold their full potency for about 2 hours. Be aware of the storage and use of vaccine. 
Dispose of recyclable packaging components (indicated by recycle symbol) by appropriate means.
Discarded needles / sharps should immediately be placed in a designated and appropriately labelled “sharps” container.
Discarded vials should immediately be placed in a designated and appropriately labelled “biologicals” container. If this option is not available, bury the vial below 500 mm in a disposal pit specifically marked and set up for this purpose clear of waterways, desirable vegetation and roots.
NEVER use disinfectant of any kind near vaccination equipment.
Use disposable syringes capable of precise measuring the small dose required for vaccination and disposable needles where possible.
Reusable equipment should be sterilised by boiling. Always rinse equipment with sterile distilled water after cleaning. 
Be totally clean but do not use disinfectants on the skin before vaccinating against fowl pox or Marek’s disease.

Vaccination depends upon the healthy response of the immune system. That requires a totally healthy bird.
Housing hygiene, nutrition and disease control are all-important aspects of a caring and sensible husbandry that will maximise vaccination protection.

One Day-old    Marek's disease; Live Newcastle disease††
1st week      IB A3;
2 weeks          Fowl pox; ILT A20†
3 weeks          Live Newcastle disease††
4 weeks 
5 weeks          IB Vic S
8 weeks      Fowl pox
9-10 weeks     ILT SA2 or ILT A20
11-12 weeks   IB Vic S
14-16 weeks   Live Newcastle disease†† (Replacement birds)
Production      IB Vic S (Every 8 weeks)

† Note: Do not vaccinate with IB and ILT vaccines simultaneously.  Ideally there should be at least a 1-week gap between vaccinations - a minimum gap of 7 days.
††  Newcastle disease vaccination program complies with industry Standard Operating Procedures for vaccination against Newcastle disease (SOP’s) for long-lived birds housed on the floor. A panel comprised of industry and government representatives devised these procedures. To obtain a copy of these SOP’s please contact your state Department of Agriculture.

If you require further information please contact the Pfizer Animal Health Technical Services Department.

Pfizer  Australia Pty Limited
ABN  50 008 422 348
Animal Health, 38-42 Wharf Road, West Ryde, NSW 2114, Australia    
Phone 1800 814 883