Category: Vaccine Side Effects

Can Vaccines Cause Rhabdomyolysis?

The urine is dark because of myoglobinuria secondary to muscle break down. Hemoglobinuria, from blood, is the other thing that makes urine dark.
The urine is dark because of myoglobinuria secondary to muscle break down. Hemoglobinuria, from blood, is the other thing that makes urine dark. Photo Kumar et al (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 US).

You have probably never heard of rhabdomyolysis.

Children with rhabdomyolysis have severe muscle pain, muscle weakness, and dark urine.

It is classically caused by exercising too much (really overdoing it or exercising a lot more or a lot longer than you typically do) and damaging your muscles, leading to a breakdown of muscle cells and the release of creatine kinase, which in addition to muscle symptoms, can lead to kidney failure.

In addition to exercise, rhabdomyolysis can be caused by seizures, drugs, toxins, insect stings, snake bites, metabolic disorders, infections (viral myositis), and trauma.

“The most common causes of pediatric rhabdomyolysis were viral myositis (38%), trauma (26%), and connective tissue disease (5%).”

Mannix et al on Acute Pediatric Rhabdomyolysis: Causes and Rates of Renal Failure

Keep in mind that rhabdomyolysis is rare. You won’t confuse the aches and pains that most kids get, and which often get blamed on growing pains, with rhabdomyolysis. Although younger kids don’t always have dark urine when they have rhabdo, the pain and weakness is severe. Seek immediate medical attention if you think that your child might have rhabdomyolysis.

Can Vaccines Cause Rhabdomyolysis?

It is well known that rhabdomyolysis can be caused by infections.

“Rhabdomyolysis has been reported to be associated with a variety of viral infections, including influenza, [15,16] Coxsackie virus, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), echovirus and cytomegalovirus [17]. In our series, the definite viral infection was identified in 5 patients (influenza type B in 4, Coxsackie A10 in 1)”

Chen et al on Clinical spectrum of rhabdomyolysis presented to pediatric emergency department

So if a natural influenza virus infection can cause rhabdomyolysis, does that mean that the flu vaccine can too? What about other vaccines?

Not necessarily, but there are a few case reports that associate vaccines with rhabdomyolysis.

“Influenza A infection has been described as a major viral cause of infection-induced rhabdomyolysis, but to date, only one reported case was described as having been induced by influenza vaccine.”

Callado et al on Rhabdomyolysis secondary to influenza A H1N1 vaccine resulting in acute kidney injury.

In several of the reports, patients already had chronic medical problems for which they were being treated. Still, no signal was found to suggest that the flu vaccine is a problem for these patients.

It is important to note that reports of post-vaccination rhabdomyolysis in healthy people are even rarer.

So while it is could be possible that vaccines are rarely associated with rhabdomyolysis, we know that many infections, including many vaccine-preventable diseases, are a more common cause.

Don’t skip or delay a vaccine because you might have heard that vaccines cause rhabdomyolysis.

Vaccines are safe, with few risks, and are obviously necessary.

More on Vaccines and Rhabdomyolysis

Is Ocular Palsy a Vaccine Injury?

Now why would anyone think that an ocular palsy could be caused by vaccines?

There is no real evidence that a cranial nerve six palsy, which causes strabismus or esotropia, is a common vaccine injury, even though Dr. Bob focused on it recently.

Is Ocular Palsy a Vaccine Injury?

What is Dr. Bob’s evidence?

A vaccine injury story from a vaccine hesitant mom who was giving her child one vaccine at a time and who became cross-eyed five days after getting the MMR vaccine.

“It is an absolutely, 100% well known vaccine reaction to live virus vaccines as you eventually discovered, it’s called ocular palsy.”

Bob Sears

Is that true?

Not exactly.

It is true that there are a handful of case reports of toddlers developing a cranial nerve six palsy after a live virus vaccine, but that doesn’t make it an “absolutely, 100% well-known vaccine reaction.”

Why not?

The story Dr. Bob tells could be published as a case report. But that wouldn’t be proof that it was caused by the MMR vaccine, as other causes weren’t ruled out, and it is easy to overlook that the child had just had a double ear infection.

“Benign isolated 6th nerve palsy of childhood is rare, and recurrences are rarer. By definition, it is not due to a threatening cause, such as an underlying intracranial lesion, and recovery is expected. This condition typically occurs following viral illnesses, infections, and immunization involving attenuated live vaccinations. In general, prognosis for benign recurrent 6th nerve palsy is excellent, and majority of patients recover full muscle function.”

Gonçalves et al on Benign Recurrent Sixth Nerve Palsy in a Child

Could the child that Dr. Bob talks about have had a viral infection causing their sixth nerve palsy?

Sure. The child even had a double ear infection the previous month.

Considering that in most of the case reports, the children developed symptoms later, between 7 or 21 days to as late as 6 weeks to 6 months after their vaccine, then the previous ear infection starts to look like a more likely cause, not the MMR vaccine.

“A previously healthy four-year-old girl was presented to our emergency room with complaints of binocular horizontal diplopia of sudden onset and strabismus.”

Gonçalves et al on Benign Recurrent Sixth Nerve Palsy in a Child

What’s different about the four-year-old girl discussed above and the child Dr. Bob talks about?

“One week prior to the event, the child had a history of fever and productive cough, and she was under treatment with amoxicillin. There was no history of live attenuated vaccine administration in the previous days.”

Gonçalves et al on Benign Recurrent Sixth Nerve Palsy in a Child

This child wasn’t recently vaccinated.

There are also case reports of children developing recurrent 6th nerve palsy without any obvious trigger – no immunization and no recent infection.

And cases from the 1950s and 60s and earlier, before we had an MMR vaccine.

“This syndrome is not a new entity, and experienced clinicians recall cases in which the combination of only fever and VI nerve palsy cautioned them against other diagnostic measures. Sir Charles Symonds, in a discussion recorded in the proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, makes reference to his observations of patients in whom VI nerve palsy followed febrile illness and was of no consequence. In the same discussion he also mentions instances in which VI nerve palsy followed otitis media, and yet there was no pain and little constitutional disturbance. The palsy he considered to be the result of an aseptic thrombosis of the inferior petrosal sinus, adjacent to the VI nerve as it passes through Dorello’s canal.”

Knox et al on Benign VI Nerve Palsies in Children

Also consider that if a live attenuated vaccine is causing such a vaccine injury, then wouldn’t you expect kids with natural measles infections to develop these 6th nerve palsies at equal, or more likely, greater rates.

What about those case reports from the 1950s and 60s and earlier? No, those early case reports weren’t about kids with measles.

The bottom line is that if you want to consider this type of ocular palsy a vaccine injury, you should also explore the possibility that it was caused by an infection or by chance. And the only folks who would say 100% that these incidents are a vaccine injury, when there is just as much, if not more, evidence saying they aren’t, are those who think that everything is a vaccine injury

More on Medical Exemptions

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!

More on Eczema Vaccinatum

Do Vaccines Cause Mastocytosis?

Children with mastocytosis have extra mast cells, a normal type of cell that we all have that release histamine and other chemicals when activated.

As you can imagine, having too many mast cells, which release too much histamine, isn’t a good thing.

What Causes Mastocytosis?

Mastocytosis, some forms of which have been known since 1869, is caused by spontaneous mutations that aren’t passed on to future generations (somatic mutations).

“Most forms of mastocytosis are caused by a mutation of the KIT gene on the 4q12 chromosome – a mutation that increases cellular reproduction. The c-KIT gene mutation creates an overgrowth of one cell line of mast cells.”

What is mastocytosis?

And the symptoms you have with mastocytosis depends on the type you have, which can include localized (solitary, maculopapular cutaneous, diffuse cutaneous) vs systemic mastocytosis.

“The severity of the symptoms associated with mastocytosis may vary from mild to life-threatening. In general, symptoms occurring in mastocytosis are mainly due to the release of chemicals from the mast cells and thus produce symptoms associated with an allergic reaction.”

Mastocytosis – Rare Disease Database

Localized mastocytosis is usually present at birth or early infancy.

Do Vaccines Cause Mastocytosis?

Since it is caused by spontaneous mutations and is often present at birth or early infancy, there is no reason to think that vaccines could cause mastocytosis.

Vaccines and Mastocytosis

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t think about vaccines if your child has mastocytosis.

Although almost anything can be a trigger for kids with mastocytosis, from insect stings, skin rubbing, antibiotics, aspirin, cough medications, exposure to heat or cold, and stress, there have been a few reports of vaccines being a trigger.

“In childhood, the risk for anaphylactic episodes was limited to children with extensive skin disease, but nonexistent for children with mastocytoma or limited macular lesions. This is in good agreement with the literature, where children with anaphylaxis were described as having clinically severe skin involvement of mastocytosis, although the levels of skin involvement were not given and tryptase concentrations not determined. Children with fatal anaphylaxis, described in three case reports, all had suffered from extensive blistering skin disease…”

Brockow et al on Anaphylaxis in patients with mastocytosis: a study on history, clinical features and risk factors in 120 patients.

It is important to note that these are kids with severe disease though and not the more typical type of localized disease that the average child will have.

An infant with diffuse cutaneous mastocytosis. Lange et al. (CC BY-NC 3.0)
An infant with diffuse cutaneous mastocytosis. Lange et al. (CC BY-NC 3.0)

It should also be noted that viral and bacterial infections with fever, some of which are vaccine preventable, can also be a trigger.

Still, if your child has extensive skin disease, your specialist will likely talk about premedication before vaccines and watching your child closely afterward in case they have an anaphylactic reaction.

Should they get fewer vaccines at a time?

Surprisingly, it depends on who you ask, but it should be noted that all of the discussions about vaccines are for kids with diffuse cutaneous mastocytosis (DCM), a rare form of cutaneous mastocytosis.

“Although patients with mastocytosis can be vaccinated according to the standard schedule, precautions to prevent MC activation and degranulation have been formulated by experts, particularly in cases of diffuse skin manifestations”

And none say to skip vaccines, although some say to use an alternative immunization schedule, getting one vaccine at a time perhaps, especially for the initial doses.

It should be clear that kids with mastocytosis can and should be vaccinated though and vaccines do not actually cause mastocytosis.

More on Vaccines and Mastocytosis

Did a Top Cancer Scientist Suddenly Die After Getting a Yellow Fever Vaccination?

We are seeing many reports that Professor Martin Gore, an oncologist at London’s Royal Marsden Hospital for more than 35 years, died suddenly after getting a yellow fever vaccine.

Could that be true?

Could someone really die after getting a routine vaccination?

Did a Top Cancer Scientist Suddenly Die After Getting a Yellow Fever Vaccination?

Of course, it could be true.

Although vaccines are very safe, they are not 100% risk free. And tragically, they do very rarely have life-threatening side effects.

To be fair, we don’t know the full story about what happened to Prof Gore, but the media reports do say that he suffered total organ failure shortly after getting his yellow fever vaccine.

What we don’t know is how shortly after getting the vaccine or if there is any evidence for another cause for his having organ failure.

Still, although most side effects are mild, it is reported that the yellow fever vaccine, which has been available for more than 80 years, can rarely cause:

How rarely?

About 1 in 55,000 for severe allergic reactions, 1 in 125,000 for severe nervous system reactions, and 1 in 250,000 for life-threatening severe illness with organ failure.

And the risks are likely higher if you are older than age 60 years, although YEL-AND and YEL-AVD are not reported to happen with booster doses of the yellow fever vaccine.

“People aged ≥60 years may be at increased risk for serious adverse events (serious disease or, very rarely, death) following vaccination, compared with younger persons. This is particularly true if they are receiving their first yellow fever vaccination. Travelers aged ≥60 years should discuss with their healthcare provider the risks and benefits of the vaccine given their travel plans.”

Yellow Fever Frequently Asked Questions

Why would you get the yellow fever vaccine if you were older than aged 60 years and you knew there was a higher risk of severe side effects?

Yellow fever itself is a life threatening disease without a cure and a case fatality rate of up to 50%, and again, YEL-AVD is not common, occurring in about 0.4/100,000 doses.

So you would typically want to get vaccinated if you were traveling to an area where yellow fever was a risk.

“Since January 2018, 10 travel-related cases of yellow fever, including four deaths, have been reported in international travelers returning from Brazil. None of the 10 travelers had received yellow fever vaccination.”

Fatal Yellow Fever in Travelers to Brazil, 2018

In addition to outbreaks, yellow fever is still endemic in forty-seven countries in Africa and Central and South America, leading to 170,000 severe cases and 60,000 deaths in recent years, including some deaths in unvaccinated travelers returning from these areas. Did you read about these deaths in the paper?

Although it is not on the routine immunization schedule, if you are traveling somewhere and yellow fever is a risk, you should get a yellow fever vaccine.

Professor Gore’s death, at age 67, is a tragedy, no matter the cause.

That we are having to talk about it because anti-vaccine folks are using his death to push their idea that vaccines aren’t safe is unconscionable.

More on Yellow Fever Vaccine Deaths

What Are the Side Effects of the Flu Vaccine?

Like other vaccines, flu vaccines can have side effects.

Fortunately, most of those side effects are mild.

What Are the Side Effects of the Flu Vaccine?

Not surprisingly, a lot of things that get blamed as being caused by flu vaccines are not actually side effects.

Did you actually get the flu in the days or weeks after your flu vaccine?

That’s not a side effect of your flu vaccine. Neither the inactivated flu shot, nor the attenuated FluMist can actually cause a flu infection.

Did you get a little sore at the site where you got your flu shot?

That’s a common side effect to getting a flu shot.

So is having some redness and swelling at the site, all of which begin soon after getting the shot and go away in a few days. You can also get a headache, fever, nausea, and muscle aches or signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction.

Do you have a runny nose or a cough? Side effects of the nasal spray flu vaccine can include a few days of runny nose, wheezing, headache, vomiting, muscle aches, fever, sore throat and cough.

Again, a bad cough and cold after a flu shot isn’t a side effect of the vaccine though.

Remember, correlation does not imply causation.

If you found out you were pregnant shortly after getting a flu shot, you wouldn’t think they were associated, would you?

What about narcolepsy?

“An increased risk of narcolepsy was found following vaccination with Pandemrix, a monovalent 2009 H1N1 influenza vaccine that was used in several European countries during the H1N1 influenza pandemic.”

Narcolepsy Following Pandemrix Influenza Vaccination in Europe

Although the focus has been on the Pandemrix flu vaccine as a trigger for narcolepsy in some countries (the vaccine wasn’t used in the United States), interestingly, several countries that weren’t using the vaccine also saw a spike in narcolepsy cases as the 2009 H1N1 pandemic hit.

Doctors and pharmacies rarely give away flu shots for free. They might not charge a copay sometimes because they are getting paid by your insurance company!
Doctors and pharmacies rarely give away flu shots for free. They might not charge a copay sometimes because they are getting paid by your insurance company!

What about all of the reports of severe reactions and deaths after getting a flu shot that you might hear about? In addition to vaccine injury stories, those reports are to VAERS and typically are not causally related to getting a vaccine.

Why are there so many reports to VAERS and the NVICP about flu vaccines? Since 2006, over 1.6 trillion doses of flu vaccine have been distributed in the United States, which equals about the total of all other vaccines we use.

What Are the Side Effects of This Year’s Flu Shot

Even when folks understand that flu vaccines don’t typically cause serious side effects, the question always comes up whether or not this year’s flu shot is causing more side effects than usual.

That’s actually not unreasonable, even when you consider that the biggest change in most flu vaccines from year to year is the strain of flu viruses they include, and not any of the other ingredients.

In addition to the Pandemrix flu vaccine, in 2010, the use of one brand of flu vaccines in Australia was suspended because they were causing more side effects (fever and febrile seizures) in young children than expected.

“The studies flesh out preliminary findings from CSL in June 2012, which said that the manufacturing process retained more virus component than that of other manufacturers and that the 2010 virus components triggered an excessive immune response in some young kids.”

CSL studies shed light on 2010 flu vaccine seizures

So are there any more side effects this year?

No, there is no evidence of increased side effects from this year’s flu vaccines

More on Flu Vaccine Side Effects

Can Vaccines Cause Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

People with Guillain-Barré syndrome develop the rapid onset of muscle weakness and then paralysis. They may also have numbness and a loss of reflexes.

Unlike some other conditions that cause weakness and paralysis, GBS is a symmetrical, ascending paralysis – it starts in your toes and fingers and moves up your legs and arms.

What Causes Guillain-Barré Syndrome?

If you want to avoid GBS, skip raw milk, not your vaccines.
If you want to avoid GBS, skip raw milk, not your vaccines. (CC BY 2.0)

GBS is an autoimmune disorder and often starts after a viral or bacterial infection, especially one that causes diarrhea or a respiratory illness.

One of the biggest risk factors is a previous Campylobacter jejuni infection, that is often linked to drinking raw milk, eating undercooked food, drinking untreated water, or from contact with the pet feces.

In less half of cases, no specific cause is found.

Fortunately, although progress can be slow, many people with GBS recover.

Can Vaccines Cause Guillain-Barré Syndrome?

Guillain-Barré syndrome is actually a table injury for the seasonal flu vaccine.

“On very rare occasions, they may develop GBS in the days or weeks after getting a vaccination.”

CDC on Guillain-Barré syndrome and Flu Vaccine

It is not common though.

For example, the increased risk of GBS after getting a flu vaccine is thought to be on the order of about one in a million – in adults.

Flu vaccines have not been shown to cause GBS in children.

“The risk of GBS is 4–7 times higher after influenza infection than after influenza vaccine. The risk of getting GBS after influenza vaccine is rare enough that it cannot be accurately measured, but a risk as high as one case of GBS per 1 million doses of flu vaccine cannot be reliably excluded.”

Poland et al on Influenza vaccine, Guillain–Barré syndrome, and chasing zero

It is also important to keep in mind that you are far more likely to get GBS after a natural flu infection than after the vaccine, plus the flu vaccine has many other benefits.

What about other vaccines?

“In this large retrospective study, we did not find evidence of an increased risk of GBS following vaccinations of any kind, including influenza vaccination.”

Baxter et al on Lack of association of Guillain-Barré syndrome with vaccinations

No other vaccines that are currently being used routinely have been associated with Guillain-Barré syndrome.

In fact, many studies do not even find an association between GBS and the flu vaccine.

What to Know About Guillain-Barré Syndrome and Vaccines

Guillain-Barré Syndrome may be associated with the flu vaccine in adults in about 1 in a million cases, but does not occur with any other vaccines, and occurs far more commonly after a natural flu infection.

More on Guillain-Barré Syndrome and Vaccines