Vaccination protocols for camelids vary widely in the United States. Variations occur even regionally. Establishing a rational immunization protocol for clients can be a challenging endeavor for most practitioners. Vaccination protocols should be based on potential exposure, prevalence of disease in your local area and susceptibility of camelids to these diseases. Unlike some other species (e.g., feline, equine) in the United States, currently, no established guidelines exist for vaccination of camelids.
Vaccination programs may be designed for individual farms on the basis of local disease incidence, potential exposure from neighboring farms, and animal movement to and from the farm. At present, many camelid farms follow what successful breeders use in other parts of the country without regard for regional concerns. Although many vaccines are currently used in the United States, not all camelids need all of the vaccines discussed below. As with other animal species, vaccine programs should be tailored for individual producers and their current needs.
It should be noted that currently no vaccines are labeled for use in camelids and that all usages are considered off-label. Use of vaccines should also be considered in light of the pregnancy status of camelids. Given the high incidence of congenital defects in camelids, some authors caution against using any unnecessary medications, including vaccines, in the first trimester of pregnancy. Vaccines that could be considered in setting individual farm programs are discussed below.
Vaccines against Clostridium perfringens types C and D and C. tetani (CDT) should be considered “core” vaccines for camelids. Although recommendations vary with regard to time of first vaccine, these vaccines are typically given twice at 3- to 6-week intervals in the first year and then boostered annually after the primary series. It is known that camelids are susceptible to these pathogens, and several studies have shown antibody response after two injections.1 In some high-risk areas, the primary vaccines are started at age 2 to 5 days. Another protocol would be to start the vaccination series at age 3 to 4 months in crias that obtained good passive transfer and whose dams were previously vaccinated. Booster vaccines are generally recommended for animals undergoing surgical procedures or for animals that have suffered open wounds from trauma if the last vaccine was given more than 6 months ago. Many practitioners recommend boosting CDT vaccines 4 to 6 weeks prior to birthing in pregnant dams. Be cautious of rough handling or excessive excitement during the vaccine administration procedure, as camelids are considered prone to stress-induced abortions.
Seven-and Eight-Way Clostridial Vaccines
Multivalent clostridial vaccines, which include those against Clostridium septicum, C. sordelli, C. novyi, C. chauvoei, and C. haemolyticum, may be considered if the risk is present, especially in relation to complications of snake envenomations. Ideally, these vaccines should not be used in pregnant dams but could be used in the window postpartum period and before rebreeding. Recommendations for these products would be the same as those for the CDT program outlined above. Injection site reactions may occur with these products, so injection sites should be checked a few weeks after administration.
Fortunately, anthrax has rarely been a problem in camelids, but one might be tempted to vaccinate in an endemic area. Unfortunately, use of an anthrax spore vaccine in young llamas resulted in some deaths.2