Giving vaccines to pigs

Each unit should have a vaccination programme as part of the herd health plan, determined in consultation with a veterinarian. The programme establishes which vaccines must be given and when.

Always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines when giving the vaccine. All treatments must be carried out by competent staff wearing appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE).

Types of vaccine

There are 3 types of vaccine administered to pigs:

  • Live attenuated – contains weakened forms of the organism that causes the disease. It can cause minor symptoms of the target disease in a bid to build up immunity to it, and carries the risk (usually minor) of full symptoms being displayed.
  • Inactivated – uses a dead or killed virus or bacteria to help the animal develop an immune response. These vaccines cannot cause the disease to develop, but are also likely to trigger a weaker response from an animal’s immune system than a live vaccine.
  • Toxoid – some vaccines for pigs contain toxoids, which are modified toxins that stimulate a response from the immune system. The original toxin would have caused the illness rather than the microorganism itself.

Most vaccines given to pigs are the inactivated type.


Some vaccines for diseases such as leptospirosis, porcine parvovirus and erysipelas are administered under the skin, preferably high on the neck behind the ear. Therefore, a short 12mm, 18-gauge needle should be used.

E. coli vaccines must be injected into muscle, and a 38mm, 18-gauge needle is needed for sows and gilts. For sucker pigs, a short 12mm needle is adequate for injecting into muscle.

Not all vaccines are given by injection—for example, the ileitis vaccine is given orally.

How to give the vaccine

Follow the guidelines from the vaccine’s manufacturer when administering vaccines. Syringes must be calibrated to ensure the correct dose. Ensure a full dose of vaccine is given to every animal.

Injection site

Injectable vaccines stimulate a tissue reaction at the site of injection, so high on the neck behind the ear is the recommended injection site to minimise carcase blemishes. Hypodermic needles can break during vaccination if the pig is not restrained properly, so the pig must be restrained for effective vaccination.

If a needle breaks during vaccination, record the ID of the animal and the exact location of the vaccination site. The records should accompany the pig if it is subsequently sent for slaughter.

Multiple vaccines

If more than 1 vaccine is needed, use separate syringes and administer them at different sites, at least 15cm apart and preferably on different sides of the animal's body. Combination vaccines are available against some diseases.