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Vaccine reactions - what can you do?

Like any other drug, vaccinations can have undesirable side effects in addition to the desired effect. Here you can find out what you should look out for during vaccinations in order to avoid vaccination reactions.

Short version:

  • Like other powerful medicines, vaccinations can have undesirable side effects.
  • Mild symptoms such as redness, swelling at the injection site, a slight fever or flu-like symptoms after vaccinations do not require further treatment in most cases.
  • Cooling gels as well as pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs help against vaccine reactions.
  • If the symptoms worsen, if an allergic reaction occurs or if you have a high fever, a doctor should be consulted immediately!

In most cases, local reactions after vaccinations do not require further treatment. Symptoms such as slight redness or swelling as well as tenderness rarely last longer than 48 hours after vaccinations. In any case, a distinction must be made between physiological vaccination reactions, real vaccine side effects and vaccination damage. While the former are a short-term and temporary reaction of the immune system after a vaccination and an expression of the immunological events at the vaccination site, a side effect of the vaccination is an excessive reaction that affects the general condition. A vaccination damage is ultimately an actual, permanent damage to health caused by the vaccination. Incidentally, vaccination damage is covered in Austria by the so-called vaccination damage law.

What should I watch out for when vaccinating?

Time of day and state of health

At least for small children, vaccinations should rather be carried out in the morning. This means that any vaccination reactions that may occur shortly after the vaccination can be recognized immediately and countermeasures can be taken. This is also advantageous in that it is difficult to reach paediatricians at night. It is also important that the person being vaccinated is in good health. Vaccination should be carefully considered in people who are chronically ill or have a known immunodeficiency.

Vaccination site

In adults and older children, vaccinations should always be given on the upper arm. In babies and toddlers (up to around 18 months of age) the lateral part of the thigh muscles is the most suitable place. If you vaccinate the buttocks, success is less certain with some vaccinations. In infants, the vaccination site is covered by the diaper and therefore cannot be assessed at any time and is possibly at risk of infection.

Time after vaccination

After a vaccination you should always wait around 20 to 30 minutes (e.g. before driving a vehicle). Some people react to a vaccination with a circulatory collapse - a condition that can take a few minutes to set in - because they are afraid of a needle stick (so-called "fear of needles"). Resting is generally not necessary after a vaccination; However, opinions differ as to whether physical activity can promote or reduce the occurrence of local reactions. In any case, after live vaccinations, it makes sense to only exercise moderately for a few days.

+++ More on the subject: Live vaccines +++

What can you do about vaccination reactions?

The following measures can help to treat symptoms that arise after a vaccination:

  • Cooling gels: They alleviate the discomfort and accelerate the reaction.
  • Taking preparations with paracetamol or ibuprofen: These have anti-inflammatory effects and relieve pain.

What symptoms can occur after a vaccination?

So-called vaccination reactions can occur after a vaccination. This refers to harmless complaints that can occur due to the body's immune response to a vaccination. The body practically imitates an infection and thus trains its immune system. This can lead to local inflammatory reactions such as burning, pain, redness, hardening or swelling at the injection site, as well as general symptoms such as (mild) fever, fatigue or flu-like symptoms.

In the case of so-called live vaccinations, the disease that was vaccinated against can occur in a weakened form ("vaccination disease"). In this process, pathogens that are capable of reproducing - but weakened - of the respective disease are fed into the organism, which can lead to symptoms in the following days that correspond to the symptoms of the respective disease.

+++ More on the topic: Vaccines +++

The table shows by way of example and incompletely which short-term symptoms, in addition to redness, swelling and pain at the injection site, as well as general symptoms such as exhaustion, tiredness, shivering, muscle, joint or headache after the respective vaccination:

Vaccination against:Possible vaccination reactions:
measles Vaccine measles, fever
mumpsslight swelling of the parotid gland, fever
Oral poliomyelitis vaccination slight diarrhea, fever
rubellabrief rashes, occasional joint pain
Oral typhoid vaccinationslight diarrhea, flatulence
Yellow feverfever
TBEoccasionally swollen lymph nodes, mild fever, headache, tiredness, gastrointestinal complaints, temporary joint and muscle pain
Tetanus vaccinationElevated temperature, gastrointestinal complaints, rarely allergic reactions to the skin or the respiratory tract, very rarely diseases of the nervous system outside of the brain and spinal cord (e.g. paralysis, abnormal sensations, etc.)
PneumococciFever, allergic reaction (e.g. hives), very rarely reduced number of blood platelets
rabiesrarely flu-like symptoms and gastrointestinal complaints, very rarely allergic reactions up to allergic shock

+++ More on the topic: Should I have my child vaccinated? +++

What to do if you have a fever

Slight febrile reactions without serious additional symptoms are possible sequelae after vaccinations. Such febrile reactions can last up to 24 hours. As long as the body temperature does not exceed 38 degrees Celsius and does not last longer than 48 hours, there is nothing to worry about. If you have a high fever and the symptoms persist for a long time, however, a doctor should be consulted to clarify the cause.

+++ More on the topic: Treatment of fever +++

When should I see a doctor?

If a swelling begins to expand at the vaccination site, the puncture site is also visible (like a "whimper") and if a fever occurs, you should immediately contact the doctor who carried out the vaccination. This can indicate an infection at the injection site or an excessive vaccination reaction. In the case of severe general complaints such as pain, exhaustion and malaise, the doctor should also be contacted. Speed ​​is particularly important when there are allergic complaints such as:

  • sudden swelling in the eyelid area
  • itchy rashes on the body
  • asthma-like breathing difficulties

Important: If you cannot reach the doctor who vaccinated you, contact his or her representative. Do not forget that the accuracy of the information you provide will determine your assessment of the situation. Among other things, it is important for the doctor to know:

  • What was vaccinated against?
  • When was vaccinated?
  • Have you had any vaccine reactions before?
  • Basically: Always bring your vaccination card and allergy pass!

+++ More on the subject: vaccination complications +++

Vaccinations for infants and young children

Vaccinations are usually given to infants (from two months) and small children so that they are protected as early as possible against infections with serious diseases such as whooping cough, polio (polio) or Haemophilus influenzae B (Hib). It is true that mothers who have developed antibodies against an illness transfer them to the unborn child in the last months of pregnancy (so-called "nest protection"), but this does not represent absolute protection. Breastfeeding also offers babies a certain protection against various infections (especially Gastrointestinal infections), but this is not automatically given for all infections and disappears again after weaning.

+++ More on the topic: Vaccinations in the 1st year of life +++

Children in particular find any type of injection uncomfortable and painful. It is therefore advisable to give multiple vaccinations or combination vaccinations (e.g. MMR vaccination), which contain vaccines against several diseases.

Vaccine reactions in babies and children

In children, as in adults, vaccination reactions can occur in very rare cases, but these are easily coped with by healthy children. In rare cases, infants and toddlers can develop febrile seizures in the event of febrile vaccination reactions - a very threatening picture for parents, but one that is survived without damage. In such cases, if there is a known tendency to such episodes, the treating pediatrician can also prescribe preventative pain and temperature-lowering medication for children.

Important: Infants and children must be examined by a doctor to ensure that they are suitable for vaccination.

+++ More on the topic: Child vaccinations +++

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Univ. Prof. Dr. Herwig Kollaritsch, specialist in specific prophylaxis and tropical medicine, hygiene and microbiology, Tanja Unterberger, Bakk. phil.
Medical review:
Univ. Prof. Dr. Herwig Kollaritsch, MD
Editorial editing:
Mag. Julia Wild

Updated on:

Austrian vaccination plan (2019):

Kollaritsch H. (2019): Vaccination Guide. Apotheker Verlag, Vienna

SPTM - reactions and side effects after vaccinations (2013): Explanations and definitions in addition to the Austrian vaccination plan;

Heiliger et al. (2018): Vaccination Compendium: 8 Guidelines for Protective Vaccinations. 9th edition, Thieme Verlag; DOI: 10.1055 / b-0037-148150

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