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Severe reactions to vaccines are extremely rare, but they do happen. If your child breaks out in hives, has difficulty breathing, becomes pale or weak, or loses consciousness, you should call 911. These are signs that she may be having a severe allergic reaction, which can lead to anaphylactic shock.
Serious anaphylactic reactions to vaccines are rare – so rare that I've never seen one in over 20 years of practice as a physician. Still, it's wise to keep an eye out for reactions after your child has been immunized, just in case.
Rarely, infants or children have an autoimmune response that causes them to have low platelets (blood cells that prevent bleeding). This can result in bleeding problems, such as easy bruising, bleeding of the gums, blood in stool or urine, or hard-to-stop bleeding from an injury. You might also notice a rash that looks like tiny red or purple dots/bruises (a result of bleeding in the skin). Call your doctor immediately if you suspect this problem.
Also call the doctor if your child has a seizure or a high fever (over 104 degrees Fahrenheit). If you can't reach your doctor right away, take your child to the closest emergency room or clinic. Tell your healthcare provider which vaccines your child received and when, and describe all the symptoms you've observed.
Common reactions to vaccinations include pain, redness, and swelling at the injection site; mild fever; and fussiness. These symptoms will go away on their own, but if your child seems uncomfortable, you can give her ibuprofen (if she's at least 6 months old) or acetaminophen.
Other symptoms can include a rash, vomiting, swelling of the lymph nodes, and prolonged crying. While these reactions are unlikely to indicate a serious problem, call your doctor if you have concerns.
Healthcare providers in the United States are required to report any and all suspected serious adverse reactions to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), established by the government to monitor and investigate concerns about vaccine safety. This information will help us learn more about vaccines and enable researchers to identify patterns of adverse reactions so that vaccines can be reevaluated, as necessary. You can file a report yourself by calling (800) 822-7967.
For the rare cases in which a child has a severe reaction to a vaccine, a federal program has been established to help families pay for care. For details, call the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVCP) at (800) 338-2382.