Fewer Reactions from DTap Vaccine when Given in Thigh, Study Finds

vaccination needleWhile considered a normal and vital part of protecting your children from potentially fatal illnesses, immunizations do have some potential side effects. Some can be downright petrifying, but most are minor; pain, swelling and redness at the injection site being the most common. Even though these reactions tend to go away within just a day or two, they can be concerning for parents and painful for children.

To hopefully ease the pain for children, and concern for parents, Lisa A Jackson, MD, MPH, senior investigator at Group Health Research Institute, and her colleagues recently decided to test if injection site side effect risks, like swelling and redness, would be lower if the injection was given in the thigh (the current recommendation for children under 3 years) rather than the arm.

“These local reactions are the most common side effects of vaccinations. But we have known relatively little about how to prevent them,” Jackson told Medical News Today.

Focusing on “medically attended” local reactions (reactions that resulted in a visit with a doctor, nurse or emergency room attendant), the study tracked the local reactions in 1.4 million vaccinated children. Children between the ages of 12 and 35 months were found to be half as likely to be brought in for medical attention for an injection site reaction when given the vaccine in their thigh. However, no significant risk difference was found for children between the ages of 3 and 6. This was true, not just for the DTaP injection, but also the influenza and hepatitis A vaccination, which the authors also followed over the course of the study.

“Our findings support current recommendations to give intramuscular vaccinations in the thigh for children younger than three,” Jackson said.

This isn’t the first study to find a lower risk of site injection reactions when immunizations are given in the thigh muscle rather than the arm muscle. A previous study, conducted on children between 4 and 6 years of age who had already received five DTaP injections, found that children who received the vaccine in their thigh had fewer reactions than those who’d received the immunization in their thigh.

And for those parents who use ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) to help with immunization pain or fevers, you may find it beneficial to know that Dr. Jackson previously tested to see if these medications would help with local reactions after vaccination. While they may be effective at helping with the pain or fever, the study did not find any indication that these medications helped with local reactions like swelling and redness.

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About the author


Kate Givans is a wife and a mother of five—four sons (one with autism) and a daughter. She’s an advocate for breastfeeding, women’s rights, against domestic violence, and equality for all. When not writing—be it creating her next romance novel or here on Growing Your Baby—Kate can be found discussing humanitarian issues, animal rights, eco-awareness, food, parenting, and her favorite books and shows on Twitter or Facebook. Laundry is the bane of her existence, but armed with a cup of coffee, she sometimes she gets it done.

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