Vaccinations 101

It’s that time of year for you to get your flu shot.  You can get your flu shot just about anywhere anymore; your local pharmacy, grocery store and even Costco had a table set up last time I shopped.  But any vaccination is not without some risk so let’s review some things we need to keep in mind when we get a vaccinated.

Children and adults can have vaccine reactions to any of the childhood immunizations or adult vaccines that are available today.  There are several questions that you and your physician should ask before giving a vaccine to evaluate the risk of administering the medication.

  • Is the patient sick right now?
  • Has there been a bad reaction to vaccination before?
  • Is there a personal history of reactions, convulsions, severe allergies, or immune disorders?
  • Do I know how to identify a vaccine reaction?
  • Do I have the vaccine manufacturer name and lot number of the medication?
  • Is there a choice?

Vaccination reactions can happen to any child or adult with any vaccination, even if they’ve not had a reaction before.  Knowledge of what those reactions look like will better help to evaluate the type of treatment that may be necessary or when to call the doctor.

Children receive a DTaP vaccine in early childhood.  The initials stand for Diphtheria (commonly misspelled as diptheria), Tetanus and Pertussis.  The diseases are much riskier than the actual vaccine but because they are medicine they can cause side effects.  Mild vaccine reactions include fever, redness or swelling at the site of injection and soreness or tenderness at the injection site.  These side effects are more evident after the 4th or 5th dose than in the earlier doses.  Other reactions include fussiness, tiredness, poor appetite and vomiting.     Other more moderate reactions include seizures, non-stop crying, high fever, coma or permanent brain damage.  These reactions are so rare that it is difficult to attribute to the vaccine.

Reactions to the Hepatitis A vaccine include soreness at the site of injection, headache, loss of appetite and tiredness which can last 1 — 2 days.  Reactions to the Hepatitis B vaccine are similar but also include a mild to moderate fever.  More severe reactions will happen within a few minutes to a few hours but are very rare.

The Hib vaccine reactions include redness, warmth or swelling at the site of the injection and fever over 101.  They may start within a day of vaccination and last 2 —3 days.

The HPV vaccine doesn’t appear to cause any serious side effects but may have some mild problems which include pain at the injection site, redness or swelling, mild fever, itching at the site of injection and moderate fever.

The Flu vaccine is a common vaccination used in both at risk children and adults.  Serious problems from this vaccination are rare but mild problems can be more common.  The virus is inactivated so people cannot get the flu from the vaccine.  Most experience soreness, redness or swelling at the site and can get aches and fever that last a couple of days.  Other life threatening and severe vaccine reactions although rare, may occur within minutes to a few hours after the shot.

MMR vaccine immunizes children in a triple vaccine against mumps, measles and rubella.  There are mild to moderate problems that can occur with this combination and there is some controversy over whether it has been associated with the development of autism.  Mild problems include the development of fever, mild rash, and swelling of the glands in the cheeks or neck (rarer).  More moderate problems include seizure, temporary pain and stiffness in the joints, and low platelet count that causes a bleeding disorder.

The polio vaccine has all but eradicated this devastating disease that often left victims with physical disabilities and paralysis.  The IPV, or inactivated polio vaccine, shouldn’t be given to any patients who have had an allergic reaction of a previous dose of IPV, streptomycin, polymyxin B and neomycin.


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