Vaccines and Food Allergies - Do I need to Worry?
Is there a problem with vaccines in people with food allergies? The quick answer is yes and no. People with food allergies will
be fine with most vaccines. However, there are several vaccines that you may need to be careful about.
The main issue with food allergies and vaccines has to do with eggs. In order to make vaccines, some require the incubation of
a virus in chicken eggs or chicken embryo. This means that some egg proteins may end up in some vaccines.
In order to manufacture the flu vaccine (including the H1N1 vaccine), the virus (influenza virus) is grown in chicken eggs. In the
past it was felt that individuals allergic to eggs or chicken should not receive the flu vaccine. However, recent studies show that
egg allergic individuals can safely receive the injectable flu vaccine. The latest guidelines state that individuals who only develop
hives with egg ingestion can receive the injectable flu vaccine at their primary care provider's office and be monitored for 30
minutes afterwards. Individuals who develop severe reactions to eggs should only receive the flu vaccine at an allergist clinic.
The Yellow Fever vaccine is another vaccine that should be avoided if you have a history of egg or chicken allergies. This vaccine
actually contains a higher amount of egg proteins than the flu vaccine, and cases of allergic reactions in egg allergic patients
receiving the vaccine have been reported. Desensitization to the vaccine can be undertaken for patients that have a strong need
for the vaccine.
One vaccine that often gets a bad rap in relation to egg allergies is the Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR) vaccine. However, it does
not deserve this reputation. While this vaccine is prepared in chicken embryo tissue, the amount of egg protein found in the
vaccine is so small that egg or chicken allergic people can receive the vaccine safely. However, there have been reports of
allergic reactions to the MMR vaccine in patients allergic to gelatin (such as found in Jell-0). Therefore, people allergic to gelatin
should not receive the MMR vaccine.
What if I Really Need the Vaccine?
There are some occasions when the benefits of receiving a particular vaccine are so high that it is worth the risk of receiving it,
even if there is a possibility of a reaction. One such example may be the flu vaccine. The risks of not getting the flu or H1N1
vaccination can be significant, especially in young children, older adults, or individuals with chronic illnesses such as asthma or
diabetes (35,000 Americans still die every year from the flu). It is thus imperative to talk to your allergist to see what the options
are. Allergists can perform skin tests with the vaccines in question in order to determine whether they are safe to receive.
Allergists can also give vaccines a little bit at a time, in small incremental doses, in order to attempt to desensitize the person.
This minimizes the risk of reactions and offers the individual protection against a disease that could otherwise be deadly.
updated 20 June 2012