Can I Give My Kids Tylenol When They Have Their Vaccines?

Many parents ask about acetaminophen (Tylenol) when kids get their vaccines.

Is it okay to give kids Tylenol when they get their shots?

The Tylenol and Vaccines Controversy

As you can probably guess, there is no real controversy about Tylenol and vaccines.

Instead, what we are talking about are the myths surrounding Tylenol and vaccines that anti-vaccine folks have created, including that:

  • giving Tylenol right before a child gets their shots somehow increases the risk that they will have side effects
  • giving Tylenol right after a child gets their shots somehow masks the symptoms of serious vaccine damage
  • giving Tylenol after the MMR vaccine is associated with developing autism

Fortunately, most parents understand that like other anti-vaccine misinformation, none of these statements are true.

Why do some folks believe it?

Well, there have been studies warning people about giving Tylenol before vaccines. It had nothing to do with side effects though. They suggested that a vaccine might be less effective if the child got Tylenol before his vaccines. It is important to note that they never really found that the vaccines didn’t work as well, as all of the kids in the study still had protective levels of antibodies, they were just a little lower than kids who didn’t get Tylenol.

Other studies have found the same effect if Tylenol was given after a child got his vaccines. Although interestingly, other studies have found that giving Tylenol after vaccines does not affect antibody titers.

“Antibody titres to diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and pertussis bacteria of the placebo (n = 25) and acetaminophen (n = 34) groups did not differ significantly from each other. It is concluded that acetaminophen in a single dose schedule is ineffective in decreasing post-vaccination fever and other symptoms.”

Uhari et al on Effect of prophylactic acetaminophen administration on reaction to DTP vaccination

Giving Tylenol after the MMR vaccine is not associated with autism.
Giving Tylenol after the MMR vaccine is not associated with autism.

The only thing that this had to do with side effects though, is that the kids who got Tylenol had a little less fever.

Could giving Tylenol mask something like encephalitis, which some anti-vaccine folks think can be vaccine induced?

Nope. It typically can’t even keep someone from getting a febrile seizure.

What about the association of MMR, Tylenol and autism? Although one study did suggest that to be true, the study, a parental survey, was found to be “fatally flawed.”

Can I Give My Kids Tylenol When They Have Their Vaccines?

So, can you give your kids Tylenol when they get their vaccines?

The better question is, should you give your kids Tylenol either before or after they get their vaccines?

Have some Tylenol or Motrin on hand after your kids get their vaccinations, just in case they need a dose.
Have some Tylenol or Motrin on hand after your kids get their vaccinations, just in case they need a dose. Photo by Vincent Iannelli, MD

Notwithstanding the very small chance that giving Tylenol might cause decreased immunogenicity (lower antibody production) if you give it before your kids get their vaccines, since there is a good chance that they won’t have any pain or fever and won’t even need any Tylenol, then why give it?

Skip the “just in case” dose and wait and see if they even need it.

What about afterwards?

If your kids have pain or fever and are uncomfortable, then you should likely give them something for pain or fever control, such as an age appropriate dose of either acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Will that cause lower antibody production? Maybe. Will that mean that their vaccines won’t work. That’s doubtful. It certainly won’t lead to increased side effects though, unless they a reaction to the dose of Tylenol itself.

Should you give a pain or fever reducer after a vaccine “just in case?” Again, there is a good chance that your kids might not need it, so it is likely better to wait and see if they do, instead of giving a dose automatically after their shots.

There is even some evidence that giving acetaminophen or ibuprofen before vaccines, or as a routine dose right after, especially with booster shots, doesn’t really prevent side effects that well anyway. They work better if given on an as needed basis instead, and these kinds of doses are less likely to be associated with decreased antibody production.

What to Know About Tylenol and Vaccines

Giving a pain or fever reducer either before or after your child’s vaccinations likely won’t affect how it works, but since it often isn’t necessary, it is likely best to only given one, like Tylenol or Motrin, if it is really needed.

More on Tylenol and Vaccines

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