What is Eczema Vaccinatum?

Did you know that having eczema is a contraindication to getting a vaccine?

Which vaccine?

The smallpox vaccine!

Yes, smallpox has been eradicated, but the vaccine is sometimes still used in very specific situations, especially in the military.

What is Eczema Vaccinatum?

Not only is eczema a contraindication to getting the smallpox vaccine, you shouldn’t even get it if a household contact has eczema.

Why not?

Shedding.

Yes, although anti-vaccine folks needlessly worry about shedding when kids get routine childhood vaccines and even talk about a shedding season, with the smallpox vaccine, problems with shedding are really a thing.

Since the smallpox vaccine is a live virus vaccine and since it very commonly causes a skin reaction at the injection site, shedding can spread it to others. While that’s a good thing with some vaccines, like the oral polio vaccine, because it increases herd immunity, it isn’t with the smallpox vaccine.

If the weakened smallpox vaccine can cause a skin reaction on your arm where you got the shot, what is it going to do if it gets on a child’s skin that is irritated all over with eczema?

An 8-month-old boy with eczema vaccinatum.
An 8-month-old boy with eczema vaccinatum. Photo by CDC/Arthur E. Kaye

It’s a good thing that we don’t routinely have to use the smallpox vaccine anymore.

“Because persons with eczema are deferred from vaccination, only a single, accidentally transmitted case of EV has been described in the medical literature since military vaccination was resumed in the United States in 2002.”

Reed et al on Eczema vaccinatum.

And that it doesn’t happen with any other vaccines!

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