Healthy living

Possible side effects of vaccination

Vaccines, like any medication, can cause side effects.

This information explains common reactions that may be experienced after receiving a vaccine and actions to take if you are concerned.

All vaccines used in Australia have been through a safety testing process then licensed by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). This is to ensure that each vaccine is safe and proven to be effective based on clinical trials.

Read more about vaccination safety.

Common reactions

Most vaccines can cause mild reactions. These should be explained to you by your immunisation provider.

Side effects after vaccination are usually mild and short lasting and do not need special treatment.

Table: Common reactions to vaccination

Common reactions
What can you do
Local reaction (redness and/or swelling around injection site)
  • Place a cold damp cloth (cold compress) over the affected area to give relief.
  • Paracetamol (not aspirin) may be used to ease the discomfort.
Mild temperature or fever

  • Monitor the temperature regularly (a fever is above 38.5 °C). Paracetamol (not aspirin) may be used to help reduce the temperature.
  • Extra fluids are recommended (for example, water, milk).
  • Keep cool by not overdressing.
  • Sponge down with lukewarm water.
  • Cold baths or showers are not recommended.
Irritability, decreased appetite, sleepiness
  • These symptoms are common in children and usually disappear over 24 to 48 hours. It does not usually require any specific treatment.
Vomiting and diarrhoea

  • Continue to breastfeed, giving small frequent feeds.
  • Wash hands thoroughly after changing soiled nappies to prevent any spread.
A small lump may appear at the injection site
  • No treatment is usually required and it will disappear in a few weeks.
Fainting (uncommon, however this may sometimes occur)
  • Anyone experiencing light-headedness before or after vaccination is advised to lie down until symptoms subside.

Table: Side effects to specific vaccines

Vaccines protecting against
Vaccine-specific side effects
Rotavirus
  • Mild temperature.
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea can occur up to 7 days after vaccination – handwashing is important, especially after nappy changes, and particularly after the first dose.
  • Intussusception – see information below under ‘Rare reactions’.
Pneumococcal

  • Mild temperature
  • Pain at the injection site
  • Muscle pain
  • See common reactions in previous table
Diphtheria/tetanus/pertussis
  • Mild temperature.
  • Irritable, crying, generally unsettled.
  • Drowsiness or tiredness.
Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib)

  • See common reactions in previous table.
Human papillomavirus
  • See common reactions in previous table.
  • Mild headache.
  • Mild nausea.
Meningococcal C
  • See common reactions in previous table.
  • Irritable, crying, unsettled and generally unhappy.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Headache (older children/adults).

Measles, mumps, rubella

  • The following reactions may occur 5 to 10 days after vaccination:
    • high fever over 39 °C lasting 2 to 3 days
    • faint red rash (not infectious)
    • runny nose, cough and/or puffy eyes
    • swelling of salivary glands
    • drowsiness or tiredness
    • thrombocytopenia (low platelet count – about 1 in 30,000), and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain – about 1 in 3 million) are 2 very rare reactions.
Varicella (chickenpox)
  • See common reactions in previous table.
  • High fever over 39 °C
  • The following reactions may occur 5 to 26 days after vaccination:
    • Mild chickenpox-like rash (2 – 5 spots) usually at injection site, may also appear on other parts of the body
    • If those vaccinated develop a rash, they should cover the rash and avoid contact with people who have impaired immunity for the duration of the rash.
Measles/mumps/rubella/varicella

  • See common reactions in previous table.
  • The following reactions may occur 5 to 26 days after vaccination:
    • high fever over 39 °C lasting 2 to 3 days
    • faint red rash (not infectious)
    • runny nose, cough and/or puffy eyes
    • swelling of salivary glands
    • drowsiness or tiredness
    • mild chickenpox-like rash (2 to 5 spots) usually at injection site may also appear on other parts of the body
    • if those vaccinated develop a rash, they should cover the rash and avoid contact with people who have impaired immunity for the duration of the rash.
Hepatitis B


  • See common reactions in previous table.
  • Dizziness, sweating, muscle pain, insomnia and earache.
Influenza
  • See common reactions in previous table.
  • Drowsiness or tiredness.
  • Muscle aches.
Gillian-Barre Syndrome (ascending paralysis), but this is very rare in adults (1 in 1,000,000)

Polio

  • See common reactions in previous table.
  • Rash.
Managing common side effects

Pain relief

The routine use of paracetamol at the time of vaccination is no longer recommended as today’s vaccines have fewer side effects.

You can use paracetamol to help with pain and fever after a vaccination, remembering to carefully follow the instructions on the packet.

Never give aspirin to a child or adolescent under 16. It can cause a rare, but severe illness called Reye’s Syndrome.

You can ease the soreness at the injection site by placing a wet cloth over it

Fainting

This is mainly seen in adolescents and adults. If you feel light-headed or dizzy before or after a vaccination you should lie down until you feel better.

Vomiting and diarrhoea

See your doctor if these symptoms are severe or persistent.

Irritability, loss of appetite, sleepiness

These are common symptoms and do not require any treatment. These symptoms usually disappear after 24 to 48 hours – if they don’t, see your doctor.

Your child may need extra comforting after vaccination.

Fever

If you develop a fever higher than 38.5 °C after a vaccination take paracetamol (not aspirin) as directed depending on your weight and age. Make sure you drink extra fluids and wear light-weight, loose clothing.

If your child has a fever:

  • take their temperature regularly. If your child has a persistent high temperature, see your doctor.
  • give them extra fluids (for example more breast feeds or more water)
  • dress them in light clothing
  • do not give them a bath in cool water. This can cause shivering, which can increase the body’s core temperature.

Seizure

Seizures (convulsions or fit) can occur in young children if they experience a fever after a vaccination. They usually last 20 seconds, rarely more than 2 minutes.

If you or your child has a seizure after a vaccination you should call an ambulance. You should always make sure your child sees a doctor if they have a seizure. There is usually no long-term damage from seizures in young children, but they should be checked by your doctor.

Rare reactions

Any medication, including vaccines, may have potentially serious side effects including a severe allergic reaction, such as anaphylaxis.

The risk of developing severe reactions after receiving a vaccine is extremely rare.

Your doctor or nurse is trained to recognise and manage any immediate, severe reactions.

A severe, anaphylactic reaction will generally occur within the first 15 minutes after receiving a vaccine, so it is important for you to wait at the place you have received your vaccination so that you can be observed for any reaction.

As with any medication, on rare occasions, an individual may experience a severe reaction.

Seek medical advice immediately by:

  • Calling healthdirect Australia on 1800 022 222, who will advise you on what to do next. The advice may include calling an ambulance by dialling triple zero (000) to get immediate assistance
  • Seeing your family doctor (GP).

Some rare reactions could include the following:

  • Seizure (also known as convulsion or fit) – some children are more prone to seizures when experiencing a high fever. The seizure usually lasts approximately 20 seconds and very rarely more than 2 minutes.
  • Intussusception (relates to rotavirus) – this is an uncommon form of bowel obstruction where one segment of the bowel slides into the next, much like the pieces of a telescope. There is a very small risk of this occurring in a baby in the first 1 to 7 days after receiving the first dose of rotavirus vaccine, and a smaller risk after the second dose of rotavirus vaccine. The baby may have bouts of crying, look pale, get very irritable and pull his or her legs up to the abdomen (stomach) because of pain.
  • Anaphylaxis – a severe allergic reaction which occurs suddenly, usually within 15 minutes, however anaphylaxis can occur within hours of vaccine administration. Early signs of anaphylaxis include: redness and/or itching of the skin, swelling (hives), breathing difficulties and a sense of distress.

Where to get help

Seek medical advice immediately by:

  • calling healthdirect on 1800 022 222, who will advise you on what to do next
  • the advice may include calling an ambulance by dialling triple zero (000) to get immediate assistance
  • see your family doctor (GP).

Any serious or unexpected adverse event (reaction) following vaccination (AEFI) should be reported to the WA Health by:

  • using the Western Australian Vaccination Safety Surveillance (WAVSS) (external site) system at (24 hours, 7 days a week)
  • downloading and completing a WAVSS adverse reaction reporting form and returning by:
    • fax: (08) 9426 9408 (24 hours, 7 days a week)
    • post to Central Immunisation Clinic, PO Box 8172, Perth Business Centre, WA 6849
    • email WAVSS
  • contacting the Central Immunisation Clinic (08) 9321 1312 (8.30am to 4.30pm) to report your concerns.

Acknowledgements

Public Health


This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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