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Types of Vaccines for Animals


Ian Rodney Tizard

, BVMS, BSc, PhD, DSc (Hons), DACVM, Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, College of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University

Reviewed/Revised Oct 2023
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  • A major development in vaccine technology is the use of RNA vaccines.

Nonliving Vaccines for Animals

Vaccines may contain either living or killed organisms or purified antigens from these organisms. The immune system The Biology of the Immune System processes these antigens and presents them to either T or B cells.

Vaccines containing living organisms tend to trigger the best protective responses. Nonliving vaccines containing killed organisms or purified antigens may be less immunogenic than living ones because they are unable to grow and spread in the host. Thus, they are less likely to stimulate the immune system in an optimal fashion.

Killed organisms and purified antigens, in contrast, commonly stimulate responses dominated by antibodies—a type 2 response. This type of response may not provide optimal protection against some organisms. As a result, vaccines that contain killed organisms or purified antigens may require multiple doses and also require the use of adjuvants to maximize their effectiveness.

Killed vaccines should resemble the living organisms as closely as possible. Chemical inactivation should cause minimal change to their antigens. Compounds used in this way include formaldehyde, ethylene oxide, ethyleneimine, acetylethyleneimine, and beta-propiolactone.

Subunit Vaccines

Although vaccines containing whole killed organisms are economical to produce, they contain many components that do not contribute to protective immunity. They may also contain toxic components such as endotoxins.

Subunit vaccines are made by identifying, isolating, and purifying the critical protective antigens. These can then be administered in a vaccine by themselves, as in the following examples:

  • Purified tetanus toxin, inactivated by treatment with formalin (tetanus toxoid), is used for vaccination against tetanus.

  • The attachment pili of enteropathogenic Escherichia coli can be purified and incorporated into vaccines. Anti-pilus antibodies protect animals by preventing bacterial attachment to the intestinal wall.

Antigens Generated by Gene Cloning

Physically purifying a specific antigen may be cost-prohibitive. In such cases it may be more appropriate to clone the genes coding for the protective antigens into a vector such as a bacterium, yeast, baculovirus, or plant.

The DNA encoding the desired antigens may be inserted into its vector, which then expresses the protective antigen. The antigens encoded by the inserted genes are harvested, purified, and administered as a vaccine, as in the following examples:

  • A cloned subunit vaccine against E coli enterotoxin uses cloned subunits that are antigenic and function as effective toxoids.

  • A purified subunit antigen, called OspA, encoded by a gene from Borrelia burgdorferi, effectively protects dogs against Lyme disease.

Some recombinant structural proteins may be assembled into viruslike particles (VLPs). One or more viral proteins may make up the VLP.

VLPs present viral antigen in a manner that more closely resembles the infectious virus. Viruslike particles are potent immunogens and may not require adjuvants. Because VLPs contain no viral genetic material, they cannot replicate in the recipient animal.

A similar type of vaccine may be developed through the use of bacterial “ghosts,” bacteria that have been emptied of their contents, especially their DNA.

DNA Plasmid Vaccines

Immunity may be induced by injection of DNA encoding viral antigens, as opposed to the antigen itself. This DNA is first inserted into a bacterial plasmid, a piece of circular DNA that acts as a vector. When the genetically engineered plasmid is injected, it is taken up by host cells.

Once within the cell nucleus, the DNA is transcribed, and mRNAs are translated to produce the vaccine protein. The transfected host cells thus express the vaccine protein in association with major histocompatibility complex class I molecules. This stimulates an immune response involving the development of not only neutralizing antibodies but also cytotoxic T cells.

This type of DNA plasmid vaccine is used to protect horses against West Nile virus Equine Arboviral Encephalomyelitis Equine arboviral encephalomyelitis is due to infection with arthropod-borne viruses typically belonging to the families Togaviridae (genus Alphavirus) or Flaviviridae (genus Flavivirus)... read more infection. This approach has been applied experimentally to produce vaccines against the following disease agents:

Because they produce a response similar to that induced by live, attenuated virus vaccines, DNA plasmid vaccines are ideally suited for use against organisms that are difficult to grow in cell culture.

RNA Vaccines

A major development in vaccine technology is the use of RNA vaccines, which have been successfully used in human coronavirus vaccines. They are simple to make and, unlike DNA vaccines, only need to enter a cell's cytoplasm to be effective. DNA vaccines have to enter a cell nucleus to be transcribed.

Once in the cytosol, the RNA can be translated into a protein antigen that can be presented to the immune system. RNA vaccines induce the production of endogenous antigens. They are more stable than DNA plasmids and are more efficient.

Some RNA vaccines may also be constructed in such a way that they are self-replicating. These are usually derived from alphaviruses such as Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus. They can generate large amounts of endogenous antigen when they replicate for a brief time within cells.

RNA does not persist within cells and as a result, these vaccines are very safe. RNA vaccines are under development for many animal vaccines.

Modified Live Virus Vaccines for Animals

Attenuated Vaccines

The use of live organisms in vaccines presents many advantages. For example, they are usually more effective than inactivated vaccines in triggering cell-mediated immune responses. Their use, however, also presents potential hazards. Thus, the virulence of a live organism used for vaccination must be minimized so that it is able to replicate but is no longer pathogenic.

The level of attenuation is critical to vaccine success. Underattenuation will result in residual virulence and disease (reversion to virulence); overattenuation will result in an ineffective vaccine.

Rigorous reversion to virulence studies must be performed to demonstrate stability. Live, attenuated virus vaccines should not be used to vaccinate species for which they have not been tested or approved. Pathogens attenuated for one species may be over- or underattenuated in others. Thus, they may either cause disease or fail to provide adequate protection.

Attenuation has historically involved adapting organisms to growth in unusual conditions. Bacteria were attenuated by culture under abnormal conditions, and viruses were attenuated by growth in cells to which they are not naturally adapted. Vaccine viruses may also be attenuated by growth in alternative media, such as tissue culture or eggs. This has been done for canine distemper, bluetongue, and rabies vaccines.

Prolonged tissue culture was, for many years, the most common method of attenuation. Attenuation of viruses by prolonged tissue culture can be considered a primitive form of genetic engineering. Ideally, this resulted in the development of a strain of virus that was unable to cause disease. This was often difficult to achieve, and reversion to virulence was a constant hazard.

For some diseases, related organisms normally adapted to another species may impart limited immunity. Examples include vaccines against measles virus, which can protect dogs against distemper, and against bovine viral diarrhea virus, which can protect pigs against classical swine fever Classical Swine Fever Classical swine fever (CSF) is a highly contagious and often fatal viral disease of swine. Infected pigs develop fever, hemorrhages, lethargy, yellowish diarrhea, vomiting, and a purple skin... read more .

In rare circumstances, virulent organisms may be used for vaccination. The only current example of this is vaccination against contagious ecthyma (orf Contagious Ecthyma in Sheep and Goats Contagious ecthyma is an infectious dermatitis of sheep and goats that primarily affects the lips of young animals. The lesions are characteristic, and diagnosis is confirmed by PCR assay. The... read more Contagious Ecthyma in Sheep and Goats , or sore mouth) of sheep. Lambs are vaccinated by rubbing dried, infected scab material into scratches made on the inner thigh, resulting in local infection and development of immunity.

Because vaccinated animals may transmit the disease, however, they must be separated from unvaccinated stock for a few weeks. Considerable care must also be exercised in the preparation, storage, and handling of modified live virus vaccines to avoid temperature extremes that can decrease the viability of the organisms.

Vaccines such as Brucella strain RB51 and contagious ecthyma are zoonotic and present hazards to the administrator.

Traditional methods of attenuating organisms have relied on random mutations, an unpredictable process.

Although a few bacterial vaccines have been attenuated in this way (the most obvious examples are Brucella strain 19 and the Sterne strain of anthrax), the bacterial genome is usually too large to generate effectively and irreversibly attenuated mutants. It has proven much easier to attenuate viruses with their relatively small genomes.

Many of the currently available viral vaccine strains were attenuated in this way.

Another relatively simple method is to adapt the vaccine virus to grow at a temperature ~10° lower than normal body temperature. These cold-attenuated vaccines can be administered intranasally, where they can grow in the cool upper respiratory tract but not in the warmer lower respiratory tract or other organs.

Gene-Deleted Vaccines

Molecular genetic techniques now make it possible to modify the genes of an organism so that it becomes irreversibly attenuated. Deliberate deletion of the genes that code for proteins associated with virulence is an increasingly attractive procedure.

For example, gene-deleted vaccines were first used against suid herpesvirus 1 (Aujeszky disease herpesvirus Pseudorabies in Pigs Pseudorabies is an acute, often fatal, viral disease with a worldwide distribution. Swine are the primary host, but other species are also occasionally infected. Clinical signs include reproductive... read more ), the causative agent of pseudorabies in swine. In this case, the thymidine kinase gene was removed from the virus. Herpesvirus requires thymidine kinase to return from latency. Viruses from which this gene has been removed can infect neurons but cannot replicate and cause disease.

Similar genetic manipulation can also be used to restrict the ability of bacteria to grow in vivo.

For example, a modified live virus vaccine is available that contains streptomycin-dependent Mannheimia haemolytica and Pasteurella multocida. These mutants depend on the presence of streptomycin for growth. When they are used in a vaccine, the absence of streptomycin will eventually result in the death of the bacteria, but not before they have stimulated a protective immune response.

In addition, it is possible to alter the expression of other antigens so that a vaccine will induce an antibody response distinguishable from that caused by wild strains. This creates a way to distinguish infected from vaccinated animals (referred to as DIVA DIVA Vaccines The most common route of vaccine administration is SC or IM injection. This approach is excellent for small numbers of animals and for diseases in which systemic immunity is important. In addition... read more ).

Virus-Vectored Vaccines

Another way to produce a highly effective living vaccine is to insert the genes that encode protective antigens into an avirulent “vector” organism. These vaccines are created by deleting genes from the vector and replacing them with genes coding for antigens from the pathogen. The recombinant vector is then administered as the vaccine, and the inserted genes express the antigens when cells are infected by the vector virus.

The vector may be attenuated so that it will not be shed from the vaccinated animal, or it may be host-restricted so that it will not replicate itself within the tissues of the vaccinate. Virus-vectored vaccines are well-suited for use against organisms that are difficult or dangerous to grow in the laboratory.

The most widely used vaccine viral vectors are large DNA viruses such as poxviruses (fowlpox, canarypox, or vaccinia virus), adenoviruses, and some herpesviruses. These viruses all have a large genome that facilitates insertion of new genes. They also express relatively high levels of the recombinant antigen.

In some cases, vectored vaccines are able to induce immunity even when high levels of maternal antibody are present.

Canarypox-vectored vaccines incorporating genes from canine distemper virus are now used to immunize dogs, and a similar vaccinia vector containing the gene encoding rabies glycoprotein is effective in protecting dogs and cats against rabies virus.

Fowlpox virus and herpesvirus recombinant vaccines are widely used in the poultry industry. For example, one vector is fowlpox virus, into which Newcastle disease virus HA and F genes are incorporated. It has the benefit of conferring immunity against fowlpox virus as well.

An innovative example of a vectored vaccine involves the use of a yellow fever viral chimera to protect horses against West Nile virus. This technology uses the capsid and nonstructural genes of the attenuated yellow fever vaccine strain 17D to deliver the envelope genes of other flaviviruses such as West Nile virus. The resulting virus is a yellow fever/West Nile virus chimera that is much safer than either of the parent viruses.

Vectored vaccines are commercially available for the following:

These vaccines are safe, stable, can work in the absence of an adjuvant, and like the gene-deleted vaccines, allow for differentiation from natural infections. Some are adaptable to mass vaccination, such as in ovo vaccination of chickens.

Key Points

  • Vaccines can be categorized into several types, including inactivated, live attenuated, subunit, recombinant, and virus-vectored vaccines.

  • Some vaccines are adjuvanted, containing an additive to increase inflammation and the immune response.

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