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Larval rearing in hatcheries and highly intensive grow-out culture practices followed in shrimp production systems favour the growth of potential pathogenic bacterial loads. This study reports the efficacy of formalin-killed vibrio bacterin on growth, survival and protection to challenge with virulent Vibrio harveyi and Vibrio anguillarum in juveniles of banana shrimp Fenneropenaeus merguiensis. Postlarvae 15 (0·24 ± 0·01 g) were administered orally in different concentrations of bacterial preparation (0, 106, 108, 1010 and 1012 CFU kg−1 feed) for a period of 6 weeks. Physicochemical and microbial quality of water in larval rearing tanks, and growth and survival of the postlarvae were monitored at regular intervals, and body composition was estimated at the end of the experiment. Shrimps were challenged with V. harveyi and V. anguillarum, and cumulative mortality was calculated. The group receiving 108 CFU kg−1 feed showed highest average weight gain (162·66 ± 22·94 mg) and survival (90·33 ± 4·5%) and lowest cumulative mortality following the challenge with V. anguillarum (26%) and V. harveyi (36·67%). The results of the study suggest that formalized vibrio administered orally to F. merguiensis postlarvae could induce both homologous and heterologous protection against V. anguillarum and V. harveyi. ‘Vaccination’ of shrimp postlarvae at hatcheries would help in preventing the losses due to vibriosis and the most susceptible stages of shrimp development.The study demonstrates the cross-protection offered by the oral feeding of formalin-killed Vibrio anguillarum against pathogenic V. harveyi challenge at the early developmental stages of banana shrimp, Fenneropenaeus merguiensis.