Vaccinating for Coliform Mastitis: Buying the Right Insurance Policy


Commercial J5 bacterins are formulated with a mutant strain of Escherichia coli (E. coli) O111:B4 (Rc mutant) lacking the “O” antigen capsule of the cell wall but with the core lipopolysaccharide (endotoxin) intact. These core antigens are highly conserved among Gram-negative bacteria (Cullor, 1991) and elicit cross-reactive antibodies against a wide variety of Gram-negative bacteria in J5 vaccinated cows (Chaiyotwittayakun et al., 2004). Vaccination with J5 bacterin increases anti-J5 E. coli antibodies in serum and milk as compared to unvaccinated controls (Hogan et al., 1992b; Tomita et al., 2000).

Initial field trials determined that three immunizations during the dry period and early lactation reduced the rate of clinical mastitis caused by Gram-negative pathogens during the first three months of lactation (Hogan et al., 1992a; Gonzalez et al., 1989). A more recent study revealed that clinical mastitis in non-vaccinated cows was nearly 3 times as likely to result in culling or death as clinical mastitis in J5-vaccinated cows (Wilson et al., 2007). Although J5 bacterins reduce the severity of infections, evidence that infections are prevented has been inconclusive (Hogan et al., 1992; Tomita et al., 2000; Hill, 1991).

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Hyperimmunization may be key

Gram-negative bacterins are regarded as weakly immunogenic in cattle because they elicit poor memory responses from antibody-producing cells (Kehrli and Harp, 2001). This suggestion is supported by a field study that determined that use of the J5 bacterin reduced the rate of clinical mastitis and culling following a clinical mastitis episode but that this protection waned as time after vaccination increased (Wilson et al., 2007). Hyperimmunization (vaccinating in multiple doses) of Holstein steers with at least five doses of J5 bacterin was required to elevate cross-reactive anti-J5 E. coli antibodies in serum above pre-immunization levels (Chaiyotwittayakun et al., 2004). Additionally, continued immunization with the J5 bacterin resulted in serum antibodies that bound to bacterial proteins; these antibodies were lacking in the same animals after only three immunizations.

In a recent field study in Michigan, hyperimmunization (six doses) of mature lactating dairy cattle increased serum anti-J5 antibodies, and decreased occurrence of severe mastitis, particularly in cases that occurred between 45 and 160 days in milk (Erskine et al., 2007). Hyperimmunization also improved animal survival through the first 305 days in milk of lactation. However, this apparent benefit may have a limited duration. This idea was corroborated in a study conducted in New York in which the investigators determined that cows vaccinated against J5 E. coli had an increase in adjusted daily milk production for 21 days after clinical mastitis, compared with results for unvaccinated control cows; however, the protective effect of vaccination waned with increasing number of days of lactation at onset of the clinical mastitis (Wilson et al., 2008). For dairy herds that experience increased risk of severe clinical mastitis associated with peak milk production (45 to 120 days of lactation), increasing the number of doses with core-antigen vaccines may reduce losses from this disease. The economic benefits of such a protocol remain speculative, and development of Gram-negative bacterins that provide adequate protection with fewer doses should be a long-term goal of core-antigen technology. In a further investigation, we determined that changing the location of injection sites in dairy cows during the course of an immunization regimen with J5 bacterins may improve the duration of the immune response as measured by serum antibody response (Erskine et al., 2010).


  • Hyperimmunization with J5 bacterins may reduce the incidence of severe clinical mastitis if the following conditions are present:
  • Severe coliform mastitis is an identified problem in a herd. This circumstance should be determined by clinical mastitis records and culture of milk samples from clinical mastitis cases.
  • Labeled two- or three-dose vaccination protocols already have been incorporated as part of the herd mastitis control program attempted.
  • A careful analysis is made regarding the age and stage of lactation of affected cows and seasonal patterns that will identify risk factors for severe coliform mastitis in a herd. This analysis will encourage selective use of this strategy.
  • Proper management to prevent exposure of cows to coliform organisms in the environment is practiced. Factors to be considered include bedding, cow stocking rate, cleanliness, and comfort in both lactating and dry cows.
  • It is realized that the effect of this vaccination regimen may vary from herd to herd.
  • Other measures, such as adequate anti-oxidant supplementation in the diet, rations that alleviate cows from transition-related diseases, and bunk management, are applied.

Author Information

Ron J. Erskine, Michigan State University

Selected References

Chaiyotwittayakun A, JL Burton, PSD Weber, et al. 2004. Hyperimmunization of steers with J5 Escherichia coli bacterin: Effects on isotype-specific serum antibody responses and cross reactivity with heterogenous gram-negative bacteria. J. Dairy Sci. 87:3375–3385.

Cullor JS. 1991. The Escherichia coli J5 vaccine: Investigating a new tool to combat coliform mastitis. Vet. Med. 86:836–844.

Erskine RJ, EJ VanDyk, PC Bartlett, et al. 2007. Effect of hyperimmunization with an Escherichia coli J5 bacterin in adult lactating dairy cows. J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc. 231:1092–1097.

Erskine RJ, AR Brockett, N Beeching, et al. 2010. Effect of changes in number of doses and anatomic location for administration of an Escherichia coli bacterin on serum IgG1 and IgG2 concentrations in dairy cows. Am. J. Vet. Res.71:120–124.

Gonzalez RN, JS Cullor, DE Jasper, et al. 1989. Prevention of clinical coliform mastitis in dairy cows by a mutant Escherichia coli vaccine. Can. J. Vet. Res. 53:301–305.

Hill AW. 1991. Vaccination of cows with rough Escherichia coli mutants fails to protect against experimental intramammary bacterial challenge. Vet. Res. Comm. 15:7–16.

Hogan JS, KL Smith, DA Todhunter, et al. 1992a. Field trial to determine efficacy of an Escherichia coli J5 mastitis vaccine. J. Dairy Sci. 75:78–84.

Hogan JS, WP Weiss, DA Todhunter, et al. 1992b. Efficacy of an Escherichia coli J5 mastitis vaccine in an experimental challenge trial. J. Dairy Sci. 75:415–422.

Kehrli ME, Jr, and JA Harp. 2001. Immunity in the mammary gland. Vet. Clin. North Am. Food Anim. Pract. 17:495–516.

Tomita GM, CH Ray, SC Nickerson, et al. 2000. A comparison of two commercially available Escherichia coli J5 vaccines against E. coli intramammary challenge. J. Dairy Sci. 83:2276–2281.

Wilson DJ, YT Grohn, GJ Bennett, et al. 2007. Comparison of J-5 vaccinates and controls for incidence, etiologic agent, clinical severity, and survival in the herd following naturally occurring cases of clinical mastitis. J. Dairy Sci. 90:4282–4288.

Wilson DJ, YT Grohn, GJ Bennett, et al. 2008. Milk production change following clinical mastitis and reproductive performance compared among J5 vaccinated and control dairy cattle. J. Dairy Sci. 91:3869–3879.