The Risks of Childhood Vaccines
BY ANGELA POMPONIO-WILLIAMS
Maureen Lenox knew her son, Carter, might come down with a fever or fatigue after his 15-month-old checkup and immunizations. What she didn’t foresee coming: A temperature of 105 degrees that subsided only to be followed two weeks later by a rash after his MMR vaccine to protect against mumps, measles and rubella.
“It was everywhere,” Lenox says of the raised, prickly rash that appeared one morning and spread by the afternoon. “It was on his palms and on the bottom of his feet. It was even in his ears. I was so nervous driving to the pediatrician, thinking he could go into an (allergic) shock. Every worst-case scenario was racing through my head.”
The family pediatrician examined the bubbly toddler, seemingly unaffected by the bumps on his skin. The diagnosis: a measles-like rash that was a reaction to his vaccine.
Lenox and her husband kept Carter at home until the rash disappeared in a few days with the help of cortisone cream and rest. Carter, now 18 months old, had no long-lasting side effects.
Despite the scare, Lenox is undaunted about future vaccines for Carter and a second child due to arrive in December. “The rash wasn’t deadly but the measles is,” Lenox says.
Although a rash to the MMR vaccine is rare, Dr. Cynthia DeMuth, a pediatrician at Pinnacle Health’s Children and Teens Center, has seen it before. “We warn people that it can happen,” says DeMuth, who didn’t treat Carter, but spent 15 years educating pediatricians throughout the state about immunizations through the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “It can be scary. Even though it looks bad, it’s not contagious and children usually recover within a few days.”
Freelance Journalist Angela Pomponio-Williams is on break from daily reporting/editing to stay home with her 3-year-old daughter. She writes from Carlisle.
What to watch
To be prepared for any possible reactions to your child’s vaccinations, including the MMR immunizations, follow these tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Research and record. Your pediatrician will provide handouts about any vaccination your infant/child is receiving. The same information, though, can be found at the Centers for Disease Control’s Web site at www.cdc.gov. If you have time, prepare for the appointment beforehand and write down questions for your doctor. Also, remember to take your child’s record book to document his/her weight, height and immunizations.
- The most common reaction. Redness and swelling commonly occur around a needle injection site, especially after DTaP vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough. Symptoms—which normally last 48 hours—can be relieved with a cool compress for 10 to15 minutes. Make sure to discuss appropriate dosage of acetaminophen or ibuprofen with your doctor to help ease any pain if it persists.
- Fever and fussiness. A fussy child can be expected after a trip to the doctor’s office and needle pricks, however, pediatricians advise calling the doctor if your child has been crying for three hours straight and/or is running a fever of 105 degrees following immunizations.
- When to call the doctor or 911. If concerned about any symptom following an immunization appointment, call your pediatrician. Doctors recommend calling night or day if your child has a fever higher than 104 degrees, has been crying continuously for three hours or has a large red streak around an injection site within 48 hours. Dial 911 if your child very lethargic and/or has breathing or swallowing difficulties.