Afraid of an Allergic Reaction to Vaccines? Chances are One in a Million
Oct 22, 2015

It’s a fairly common concern.  What are the chances that I will have an allergic reaction to a vaccine?  And if so, how dangerous could it be?  What about my kids?

schoolvaccinationsAt the onset of almost every doctor’s visit, patients are asked to identify what, if anything, they are allergic to.  For some, it’s a long list of food, environmental allergens, or even medications.  For others, who don’t have allergies, there is always the concern that an unknown allergy may exist, and the fear is heightened by not knowing when, or how, that allergy may reveal itself.

When it comes to vaccinations, parents and children can breathe a little easier now.  A study that was recently published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology determined that the odds that a vaccine will trigger a serious or potentially fatal allergic reaction is very slim.  In fact, it’s about one in a million (or 1.31 in a million to be exact).

According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) searched the Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD) databases to identify potential anaphylaxis cases following any vaccine. After reviewing 25 million vaccines administered between the years of 2009 to 2011, they found that just 33 people had a serious or potentially life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.

After reviewing the records from more than 17 million visits, researchers identified the following:

  • 380 cases of anaphylaxis, possible anaphylaxis, or allergy of which only 135 involved children 5 years old or younger
  • no cases of vaccine induced anaphylaxis in children less than 4 years old
  • none of the people who had anaphylaxis died, and only one had to be hospitalized
  • pre-existing allergies, asthma or past anaphylaxis, which are known risk factors for anaphylaxis, were a factor in as many as 85% of these cases
  • epinephrine (the first-line treatment for anaphylaxis) — was only given in 15 cases, whereas antihistamines and corticosteroids were the preferred treatment by caregivers in the remaining cases
  • only 9% of those who had a serious allergic reaction had a documented prescription for an epinephrine auto-injector
  • only 15% were known to have been referred to an allergist for follow-up after the reaction occurred

Anaphylaxis is a serious and life-threatening allergic reaction, so it’s understandable to be concerned about the risk of allergic reaction to vaccines, especially among children with known allergies.  However, while most common anaphylactic reactions are to foods, insect stings, medications and latex, this study helps identify that there is a very low risk of anaphylaxis as a result of vaccination.

At a time when there seems to be a heightened awareness about allergies, and it is almost commonplace for many people to be diagnosed with some type of allergies or asthma, this study should help put the risk of reaction in perspective.

For people who suffer with asthma, it is extremely important to take every measure possible to prevent diseases such as pneumonia, influenza and pertussis because these respiratory infections can easily exacerbate asthmatic symptoms. For instance, influenza infection can trigger asthma attacks and a worsening of asthma symptoms. It also can lead to pneumonia and other acute respiratory diseases. Studies show that children with asthma who contract influenza get twice as many antibiotic prescriptions, require more doctors visits and are at a greater risk of hospitalization compared to their non-asthmatic peers.  That is why an inactivated influenza vaccine is strongly advised for high risk populations such as asthmatic individuals as well as routinely recommended for all children at least 6 months of age.  Additionally, studies indicate that the flu vaccine can be safely administered to children and adults with severe asthma, like those receiving medium or high dose inhaled corticosteroids or oral corticosteroids.  And following vaccination, studies show that people with asthma experience no difference in asthma-related symptoms.

While this latest study suggests that allergic reactions to vaccines are quite rare, it is best for caregivers to be prepared to treat any symptoms of anaphylaxis when vaccinating anyone with known allergies.  It is also advisable for all patients, regardless of their history of allergies, to remain in the provider’s office for at least 15 minutes following vaccine administration, to ensure that prompt medical attention can be given in the event of a reaction, even if the risk of a reaction is rare.

Hopefully this new study will help individuals to better evaluate the risk and benefits of vaccines.  Even for patients with allergies or asthma, vaccination can be a safe and effective way to prevent dangerous diseases that could further complicate their health issues.  

To find out more about who should avoid certain vaccines and why, check out the vaccine safety data available on the CDC website here.

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