Vaccination Safety Tips for Parents

If you make the informed decision to vaccinate your child, you can help reduce the risk of serious vaccine reactions. Discuss these options with your child's doctor. The suggestions provided by NVIC are not intended to replace the expert advice you should obtain from a health care professional. Consult one or more trusted doctors before you make a decision about vaccination or any other medical procedure.

Before You Vaccinate

Be informed. Educate yourself about childhood diseases and vaccines. Review your state's mandatory vaccination laws, including your rights and legal exemptions to vaccination. The National Vaccine Information Center's website is a good place to start. Don't feel pressured into a making a decision about vaccination before you are ready.

Make sure your child is healthy. A child who is sick or has been recently sick may be at increased risk for having a serious vaccine reaction. Ask your doctor to give your child a physical exam to make sure your child is healthy before vaccination.

Get it in writing. Document your child's personal and family medical history. Provide your child's doctor with a list of your child's major illnesses, diseases, allergies, and medical conditions, especially previous adverse reactions to vaccinations. Tell your doctor about any family history of immune system or brain disorders. Ask for a copy of the doctor's record on vaccinations given to your child to keep for your records. (Your doctor is required by law to keep a permanent record of all vaccinations given, including the vaccine manufacturer's name and lot number.)

Ask questions. Tell your doctor about any health conditions in your child’s medical history or that of your family which might put your child at an increased risk for having a vaccine reaction, especially if the child has had a deterioration in health after vaccination in the past. A child who has had a previous vaccine reaction may have an increased risk for a more severe reaction. Be sure to tell your doctor if your child or anyone in your family is allergic to eggs, gelatin, neomycin (a drug), or any other component that may be found in vaccines. If you are not satisfied with the answers you are given, get a second opinion from a trusted health care professional.

Request advance information. Ask your doctor for printed information about the benefits and risks of the vaccines your child is scheduled to take, as well as any side effects you may expect to see. Take time to read it before your child is vaccinated. You may also ask your doctor to show you the information insert provided by the drug company which manufactured the vaccine(s) your child is scheduled to receive. Vaccine manufacturer inserts list ingredients and reported reactions, and explain some instances in which administration of a vaccine should be postponed or avoided. Your doctor is required by federal law to provide you with vaccine benefit/risk information materials before your child is vaccinated.

Consider Thimerosal-free flu vaccines. Be aware that Thimerosal -- a mercury preservative which has been removed from most childhood vaccines -- has not been removed from most influenza shots administered to children. Thimerosal doesn’t make flu vaccines work better. Thimerosal is a bactericide that is added to multi-dose vaccine vials to make them less expensive to administer. If you choose to vaccinate yourself or your child against flu, you may request single-dose, Thimerosal-free influenza vaccines.

Consider an alternative vaccination schedule. While the majority of doctors administer shots combining two to five different vaccines to a child in a single day, others will agree to spread out the federally recommended vaccinations over a more extended period of time. You and your doctor may elect to administer fewer vaccines to your child on a single day. Some believe this is less challenging to a young child's immune system. This approach may also make it easier for you and your doctor to determine which vaccine caused a vaccine reaction, should one occur.

After You Vaccinate

Whenever you choose to vaccinate, be on the lookout for adverse reactions.  Monitor your child closely 72 hours after vaccination for unusual symptoms or behavior changes, which may indicate a vaccine reaction is occurring. Vaccine reactions have been known to occur as long as four weeks after vaccination.

A vaccine reaction may include one or more of the following symptoms:

  • rash
  • hives
  • itching
  • swelling, redness, and pain at the injection site
  • high fever
  • difficulty breathing or wheezing
  • paleness or changes in skin or lip color
  • muscle weakness or limpness
  • excessive sleepiness or lack of responsiveness
  • rapid heart beat
  • dizziness
  • unusual irritability or other behavior changes
    prolonged crying (especially high-pitched screaming in infants)
  • seizures or convulsions (shaking, twitching, jerking)
    vomiting or diarrhea

If you observe any of these symptoms -- or any other symptom that causes you concern -- get medical help right away.

If your child experiences serious health problems following vaccination, ask your doctor to report it to federal health authorities.  Your doctor is required by law to report  adverse reactions to vaccination within 30 days of  vaccination.  You may also report serious health problems following vaccination to the government yourself. 

Your doctor, nurse, or health department can report a serious health problem following vaccination by filing a Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) form.  You can also file a vaccine adverse report yourself at vaers.hhs.gov, or by calling 1-800-822-7967.

You may also make a report to NVIC's Vaccine Reaction Registry, operated since 1982.  To report a reaction, click here.

If your child is injured, you may be entitled to compensation under the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986.  Contact the National Vaccine Information Center for assistance.

If You Vaccinate, Ask Eight Questions:

  1. Is my child sick right now?
  2. Has my child had a bad reaction to a vaccination before?
  3. Does my child have a personal or family history of:
    • Vaccine reactions
    • Convulsions or neurological disorders
    • Severe allergies
    • Immune system disorders
  4. Do I know if my child is at high risk of reacting?
  5. Do I know how to identify a vaccine reaction?
  6. Do I know how to report a vaccine reaction?
  7. Do I know the vaccine manufacturer’s name and lot number?
  8. Do I know I have a choice?
Click here for the eight questions in Spanish.