Can you be allergic to a vaccine?
In fact, having a severe, life-threatening allergy to a vaccine is one of the main reasons to not get vaccinated.
Specifically, guidelines usually state that you should not get vaccinated:
- if you have a severe allergy to any component of the vaccine
- if you have had had a serious allergic reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine
Fortunately, these types of serious allergic reactions are very rare. In fact, most kids with egg allergies can even get a flu shot, something unheard of just a few years ago.
The WHO states that “The rate of anaphylaxis has been documented to be variable, with a rate of 3.5 to 10 per million doses following a measles-containing vaccine.”
Rates of 0.65 to 1.53 cases per million doses have also been reported when including more commonly used vaccines.
Vaccine Allergy Myths
Still, instead of true vaccine allergies leading to problems, it is much more common for misinformation about vaccine allergies to scare parents away from getting their kids vaccinated.
Some of the most common vaccine allergy myths include that:
- you can’t get vaccinated if you have a history of a penicillin allergy, cephalosporin allergy, or sulfa drug allergy – you can
- you can’t get vaccinated if you have non-vaccine allergies, have relatives with allergies, or are receiving allergy shots – you can
- you can’t get vaccinated if you have a latex allergy that is not anaphylactic – you can
- you can’t get the MMR vaccine if you have an egg allergy – you can
- you can’t get the flu vaccine if you have an egg allergy – you can, although your pediatrician will observe your child for 30 minutes if he has a severe egg allergy
- vaccines are causing a peanut allergy epidemic – they aren’t and you can get vaccinated if you have a peanut allergy.
And know that vaccines don’t actually cause allergies.
Allergies and Vaccine Components
Components of vaccines can rarely trigger allergic reactions, including:
- antibiotics – but these aren’t antibiotics that are commonly used anymore, like Amoxil. Instead, some vaccines contain residual amounts of either gentamicin, neomycin, polymyxin B, or streptomycin. And anyway, the small amounts that could be leftover in the vaccine aren’t known to trigger allergic reactions.
- eggs – while your child with an egg allergy can get the flu shot, and then being observed as a precaution, the yellow fever vaccine could still be an issue
- gelatin – some vaccines use gelatin, like in Jell-O, as a stabilizer
- latex – if your child has a severe (anaphylactic) allergy to latex, you should likely avoid vaccines supplied in vials or syringes that contain natural rubber latex
- yeast – although they aren’t thought to be an issue for kids with yeast allergies, a few vaccines can have residual amounts of yeast in them
What about aluminum? Some recent studies, including one in Pediatrics, “Case Report of Subcutaneous Nodules and Sterile Abscesses Due to Delayed Type Hypersensitivity to Aluminum-Containing Vaccines,” do suggest that aluminum can very rarely cause a non-anaphylactic delayed type IV hypersensitivity reaction. These children could have persistent redness and nodules at the site of vaccination for weeks or months when an aluminum containing vaccine is given.
Fortunately, these are mild, non-life-threatening reactions and aren’t a reason to stop vaccinating your child. And, as another study reported, “Unexpected loss of contact allergy to aluminum induced by vaccine,” many of these children outgrow their allergy.
Keep in mind that persistent hard nodules can also be caused by irritation and may not be an allergic reaction at all.
What To Know About Vaccine Allergies
The 2011 IOM report, “Adverse Effects of Vaccines: Evidence and Causality,” while concluding that most vaccines, including MMR, varicella, flu, hepatitis B, tetanus, meningococcal, and HPV could cause anaphylaxis, stated that “It appears likely to the committee that the risk of anaphylaxis caused by vaccines is exceedingly low in the general population.”
Do you think that your child has an allergy keeping him from getting vaccinated?
Talk to your pediatrician or a pediatric allergist. They can review the “Algorithm for treatment of patients with hypersensitivity reactions after vaccines,” which “provides a rational and organized approach for the evaluation and treatment of patients with suspected hypersensitivity.”
This is especially important if you think that your child is allergic to all vaccines, something that is almost unheard of, as vaccines have different components and are made in different ways.
For More Information on Vaccine Allergies
- An Algorithm for Treatment of Patients With Hypersensitivity Reactions After Vaccines
- Ask the Experts: Precautions and Contraindications
- Contraindications and Precautions to Commonly Used Vaccines in Adults
- Common Misperceived Contraindications to Vaccination
- Allergens in Vaccines
- Vaccine Screening Questionaires
- Antibiotics in Vaccines
- Gelatin in Vaccines
- Yeast in Vaccines
- Antivaccine lies–peanut oil and vaccines
- Do vaccines cause asthma or allergies?
- Are There Vaccines That Children With Allergies Need to Avoid?
- Addressing Parents’ Concerns: Do Vaccines Cause Allergic or Autoimmune Diseases?
- WHO – Vaccine reaction rates information sheets
Updated May 2, 2017