As a parent, you want to keep your kids safe. If you're wondering about vaccine side effects, you may find it comforting to know that vaccinations used in Canada must meet very high standards for safety. The average vaccine is researched, developed, and tested for 10 years before it can be used by the public. And even after a vaccine becomes available, the Public Health Agency of Canada continues to closely monitor its safety.
Like any medication, vaccines can cause side effects. But it's important to put this in perspective by balancing the risks and benefits.
The side effects of vaccines are usually minor. The most common side effects are mild fever; irritability; and pain, soreness, or redness at the place where the vaccine was given. These side effects usually go away in a day or two and can be managed (see below). Serious side effects are extremely rare - less than one in a million doses of the vaccine. If they do occur, these reactions can be treated.
Ways to manage vaccine side effects:
Redness, swelling, and pain:
- Your child's health care professional (HCP) may recommend a dose of acetaminophen before or after the vaccination to manage swelling, redness, and pain. Ask your child's HCP what dose to give (this is calculated based on your child's weight) and when to give it.
- Your child's HCP may also recommend a medicated cream to numb your child's skin. The cream should be applied one hour before the vaccine.
- Distract your child while the vaccination is being given. Choose a distraction that is appropriate for your child's age and interests, such as blowing bubbles, singing a song, or showing them a new toy.
- Give your child plenty of reassurance and cuddling during the vaccination. Hold them on your lap or for older children, hold their hand.
- If your child is old enough to understand, tell them to take deep breaths to help them stay calm. And don't forget to stay calm yourself! Children can pick up on your mood.
Serious allergic reactions:
- Serious allergic reactions such as anaphylaxis (e.g., hives, blotchy skin, swelling of the face and throat, and difficulty breathing) must be quickly treated, usually with epinephrine, diphenhydramine, inhalers to open the airways, and oxygen. If you are in a health care professional's office or clinic, they will also call for an ambulance.
- These reactions are very rare, but there is no way to predict who will have them. For this reason, your child's HCP will ask you and your child to remain in the office for 15 to 30 minutes after the vaccine to watch for signs of anaphylaxis (see above).
The benefits of vaccines are enormous. Childhood vaccines can help protect your child from 13 diseases that can cause serious illness, permanent disability (including blindness, deafness, brain damage, or paralysis), or even death. Before vaccines were available, many children were disabled or killed by these diseases.
Overall, the risks of not being vaccinated are much greater than the risks of vaccination. The benefits of vaccines greatly outweigh the risks. If you have questions about side effects, speak to your child's HCP. Tell your child's HCP about your child's allergies or medical conditions, since these may affect which vaccinations your child can receive.