Vaccine Ingredients That May Cause Allergic Reactions

Vaccine Ingredients That May Cause Allergic Reactions

Many people are unaware of the problems associated with allergic reactions to vaccine components. According to the 2012 Red Book, allergic reactions to vaccine ingredients are rare. The most common difficulties are encountered with hypersensitivities to chickens or eggs, mercury, certain antibiotics, or to gelatin.

If Your Child has Antibiotic Allergies:

  • Both types of polio vaccine include streptomycin, neomycin, and polymyxin B (also found in Polysporin, Neosporin, and Betadine Plus topical ointments). The MMR and the varicella vaccine have trace amounts of neomycin. Most allergic reactions to these antibiotics are nothing more than mild skin rashes. However, if your child has a severe allergy with systemic symptoms to these or related antibiotics, you should avoid these vaccines.
  • No vaccine contains penicillin or penicillin-related antibiotics. This type of allergy is not a reason to miss any vaccine.

If Your Child has Chicken and Egg Allergies:

  • The current measles-mumps-rubella vaccine (MMR) does not contain a significant amount of egg proteins (but two other vaccines do). Even those with dramatic egg allergies are extremely unlikely to have an anaphylactic reaction to the MMR.
  • The influenza vaccine (“flu shot”) contains egg protein. People who react to eggs, chicken, or chicken feathers with systemic symptoms (a drop in blood pressure, significant wheezing, difficulty breathing, or generalized hives) generally should not get the flu vaccine.
  • The yellow fever vaccine also contains egg protein. Yellow fever is still a major problem for people living in or traveling to tropical South America or Africa. Rather than skipping it, most candidates for the vaccine who have a suspected allergy should get a series of two skin tests with the vaccine. If both tests are fine, proceed with the vaccine. If either test shows a reaction, a process of desensitization is begun.

If Your Child has Gelatin Allergies:

  • Some of the live vaccines do contain gelatin as a stabilizing agent.
  • Gelatin is an ingredient in MMR, varicella, and yellow fever vaccines. People with severe allergies to gelatin should consider skin testing prior to receiving a gelatin-containing vaccine.
  • Most gelatins in foods come from boiled cows, while the gelatin used in vaccines is from boiled pigs. People may not know that they are allergic to pig gelatin.

If Your Child has Mercury Allergies:

  • Mercury (thimerosal) is an ingredient in several vaccines — included in order to kill any live contaminants. In rare instances, this causes allergic reactions. It is most likely to be used for a vaccine stored in a multi-dose vial.
  • All of the vaccines in the routine schedule are available in thimerosal-free forms or contain only trace amounts of thimerosal, with the exception of some inactivated influenza vaccines. There is a trace thimerosal-containing formulation of the inactivated influenza vaccine, but it is available in limited supply.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the United States Public Health Service (PHS) has called for the elimination of mercury from all vaccines. Multi-dose vials require a preservative to prevent microbial contamination after the vial is opened, but manufacturers are encouraged to seek alternatives.

Dr. Alan Greene

Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.

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  1. A B

    Do you know of an allergy test for the “mycin drugs”? Our allergist is saying there isn’t one. My daughter had a systemic reaction to her second dose (1 drop each) of tobramycin eye drops. The allergist suggested she “stay away from all ‘drugs in the mycin family’. But, will not write us an exemption or proof of allergy since he didn’t prescribe it. (The Dr who perscribed it told me to see the allergist. Our Ped refused to run the test & referred us to the allergist.)
    He’s saying there IS no allergy test for it, and it’s an “ethics issue”, so he isn’t willing to run any of those tests. I’m not about to inject a known allergen into my child.
    Does anybody know the name of the test I can get to run this allergy panel? His response to me was “She can have pennecillin. She’s not allergic to that.” Great! But, vaccines don’t have pennecillin in them!
    We live in an only medical exemption state. My girl can’t attend classes. I need help with this. Thanks.

  2. Howard

    I have had a chronic adverse reaction to a Hep B vaccine that I received years ago. Is there any test(s) that would indicate what I reacted to?

    • Felicity

      It wouldnt involve the skin would it?

      • Hi Felicity,

        Skin reactions to shots are fairly common. Typically, more irritation than allergy.


  3. Donna

    Does betadine contain thimerosal? I’ve tested severely allergic to the latter. Betadine gives me a similar reaction. I won’t let doctors use it on me. After one surgery all my skin peeled off if I didn’t scratch it off first wherever I was painted red.

  4. Melissa

    I just visited an allergist today and she said they would not test against specific components in vaccines except for eggs, gelatin & latex. Basically wrote me off because I wanted to have my son tested before he receives any vaccines.

  5. Roy Dobbs

    Dr. Greene, hello, I don’t much about testing for allergies other than the blood and food testing for allergies. Can you tell me if there is a way that the doctors can take blood and then mix with vaccines to see if one would have an allergic reaction or possibly worse. Possibly testing for that before a patient is given a vaccine may possibly save someones life and relieve any liability against a Doctor. Also it may insure the person that they are not going to have an adverse reaction. As we both know Prozac etc may be great for some folks and others it may drive them to homicide or suicide. Thank You for your time. Roy Dobbs

    • Karen Rice-Leroux

      Roy, my youngest son is profoundly allergic and presented with a severe reaction to vaccines following a skin test. His allergist, at the Montreal Children’s Hospital created a desensitization process which took place, in the hospital, over an entire day. My son was given minute amounts of the MMR vaccine and as a result, was able to be vaccinated. This was over 25 years ago.
      There are protocols in place for children/people at risk for reaction. Consult an allergist.


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