Questions & Answers
General Vaccine
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General FAQs

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Safety

  1. Why do I have to wait 15 minutes after I get a vaccination before I can leave the clinic?
    This rule is for your safety. In rare cases, people may feel dizzy, faint, or have a severe allergic reaction after a vaccination. The standard recommended wait time after immunization is 15-20 minutes. If you have a reaction during this time a member of the clinic staff will be there to take care of you. However please note that side effects can occur anytime (hours or days) after a vaccination. Please contact the IHB if you have any additional questions.

  2. I am going to have surgery soon. Should I get any immunizations or should I wait?
    Whether or not you should receive a vaccination before surgery depends on the particular vaccination and the type of surgery.

    For more information contact a IHB healthcare provider.

  3. If I have a cold should I wait to get my immunizations?
    You can get immunizations if you have a mild illness, such as a cold, low-grade fever, or slight diarrhea. However, if you have a moderate or severe illness, you should wait until you recover to get immunizations to maximize the effectiveness of the vaccination. Another reason for postponing an immunization is because illness can mask any vaccine side effects. You should contact a IHB healthcare provider regarding the risk/benefits of delaying a vaccination due to illness.

  4. I have a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome. Are there some vaccines that I should not get?
    Only one meningitis vaccine manufacturer lists Guillain-Barré Syndrome as a contraindication to further vaccination with that particular vaccine (alternatives are available). Other manufacturers list GBS as a precaution when considering further vaccination. This means that you and your provider must weigh the potential risks of vaccination (possible recurrence of GBS and other symptoms potentially associated with the vaccine) with the potential risks of not vaccinating (risk of contracting the vaccine-preventable disease causing the possible recurrence of GBS as well as the illness and potential death associated with the disease). You and your provider may contact IHB to assist in your decision process.

  5. Is it safe to donate blood or plasma after getting immunizations?
    There are different guidelines for donating blood or plasma, depending on which immunization you received. While some immunizations have no restrictions for blood donation, others require a 12-month deferral. Please contact the Armed Services Blood Program Office for details on the deferral period for a particular immunization.

  6. I am taking steroids. Are there vaccines that I should not get?
    You need to discuss your steroid use with your health care provider. Based on your health condition, some vaccines will be recommended and some should be avoided.

    If you have been taking high doses of steroids for longer than 2 weeks (i.e., more than 2mg of prednisone per kg/day for 14 days or longer) you should avoid live vaccines. Also, you will need to wait a certain amount of time after you stop taking the steroids before live vaccines will be safe for you. This is because the steroids suppress your immune system and put you at risk for infection from live vaccines.

    High-dose steroids also can decrease your immune response to inactivated vaccines, so you may get limited protection from the vaccine.

    Please contact us if you would like to discuss your questions about steroid use with a IHB healthcare provider. Or you may visit the CDC for more information on this subject.

  7. I care for someone who has a weak immune system. Which vaccines should I avoid?
    As a caretaker, there are some live vaccines that you should avoid. There are other vaccines that are especially important for you to receive. Live vaccines, such as MMR, varicella, zoster, rotavirus, and yellow fever are generally safe for you to get when you are caring for a person with a weak immune system. For protection against influenza, you can request an influenza shot, which contains no live vaccine.

    Smallpox vaccine should not be given to anyone who will be in close contact with a person who is immunosuppressed. Please contact the IHB if you have additional questions.

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Side Effects

  1. What side effects are considered normal after getting an immunization?
    In general, mild side effects are common and go away on their own. They can include a low grade fever (usually lasting less than 24 hours), and soreness, redness, or slight swelling where the injection was given. Contact your health care provider if your side effects are severe, last longer than one week, or if you have concerns. For more information, please see our Adverse Reactions page or contact the IHB.

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Benefits

  1. Why do adults need vaccinations?
    You need vaccinations because they protect you from illness and death caused by vaccine-preventable diseases. Although these diseases are at a record low in the United States, the viruses and bacteria that cause them still exist. As you get older, the protection that you got from being vaccinated earlier in life may wear off. Getting a booster dose keeps you protected. Also, new vaccines have been discovered that you may not have received earlier in life. Staying up to date with vaccines will help to protect you and those around you.

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Allergies

  1. Can I get immunizations if I am allergic to penicillin?
    Generally, yes you may receive vaccines, because no licensed vaccine contains penicillin. However, it is very important to tell your healthcare provider about all of your allergies before you get any immunization. Some vaccines contain tiny amounts of other antibiotics (e.g., neomycin) that some people might be allergic to.

  2. Can I get immunizations if I am allergic to latex?
    The issue with most latex allergies and immunizations is the container not the vaccine ingredients themselves. Sometimes vaccine vial stoppers contain rubber latex. Most newer vaccines containers do not contain latex so this is becoming less and less of a problem.

    Whether you receive immunizations or not will depend on the severity of your allergy which should be evaluated by your healthcare provider or allergist. Please contact the IHB if you have questions or concerns.

  3. Is it true that I cannot receive anthrax vaccine because I am allergic to latex?
    Whether or not you can receive anthrax vaccine depends on the type of latex allergy you have. If you have a history of latex sensitivity or latex allergy, always inform the person who is vaccinating you before you are given a vaccine. The degree of your reaction to latex products in the past will guide your provider's decision as to whether or not you should receive the vaccine. In addition, your provider may recommend that you get further allergy testing before making a recommendation.

    A history of severe life-threatening anaphylactic reaction to latex is a contraindication to anthrax vaccination.

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Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

  1. Is it safe for me to get vaccinations while I am pregnant?
    You should not receive live virus vaccine while you are pregnant. There are some vaccines that can be given safely during pregnancy. For more information, please refer to the CDC website.

  2. Can I get vaccinations if I am breastfeeding my child?
    It depends on the kind of vaccine. Some vaccines may be recommended for breastfeeding mothers, such as influenza vaccine. Other vaccines have precautions associated with them for breastfeeding. For some vaccines, there is not yet enough scientific data to know whether it is safe to breastfeed after vaccination. Two vaccines that nursing mothers should avoid are smallpox and yellow fever. For more information from the CDC, go to: www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/recommendations/vaccinations.htm. You may also contact a IHB healthcare provider if you have a question.

  3. My wife is pregnant. Should I receive smallpox vaccine?
    You should not receive the smallpox vaccine if you will have close contact with a pregnant woman because of the small risk of spreading the vaccine virus to another person. Fetuses of pregnant women who inadvertently receive the vaccine or receive a contact transmission of the vaccine are at risk for a rare complication called fetal vaccinia. The military offers options for military personnel in these circumstances such as temporary exemption or alternative housing. For further questions, see our pregnancy page or contact the IHB.

  4. I received smallpox vaccine and now I found out that I'm pregnant. Should I terminate the pregnancy?
    When a pregnant woman receives smallpox vaccine, there is a very rare but serious complication that can occur in the fetus called "fetal vaccinia." It is so rare that according to CDC there have been fewer than 50 cases ever reported in the world. Because fetal vaccinia is so rare, smallpox vaccination during pregnancy should not be a reason to consider termination of the pregnancy Smallpox vaccination of pregnant women has not been linked with prematurity, low birth weight, or other serious birth problems.

    As with any pregnancy, make sure you receive regular prenatal care and inform your healthcare provider about the vaccination. You may also contact the Naval Health Research Center for information about the DoD Birth and Infant Health Registry.

  5. I got the anthrax vaccine and then found out that I am pregnant. What should I do?
    You should discuss your anthrax vaccination with their healthcare provider and/or obstetrician. As with any pregnancy, you should receive regular prenatal care. the IHB is available to help answer your questions about pregnancy and vaccine adverse events research. Please contact the IHB with further questions. The Naval Health Research Center is another resource for pregnancy-related vaccine questions.

  6. Will anthrax vaccine affect my ability to have children?
    Current research shows that anthrax vaccine does not affect pregnancy rates. Please contact the IHB if you are interested in this research or if you would like to discuss this issue with one of our healthcare providers. The Naval Health Research Center is another resource for pregnancy-related vaccine questions.

Adapted from the Immunization Action Coalition (with permission)
and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).