Common reactions

Some children could feel a little unwell or unsettled for a day or two after they get their vaccinations. Most of the common reactions will last between 12 and 24 hours and then get better, with just a little bit of love and care from you at home.

If your baby doesn’t seem to be getting better, or you are worried about your baby, you can get help from:

  • your doctor

  • your nearest emergency department

  • or by calling Health Direct on 1800 022 222.

Check list

Local pain, redness and swelling

Some babies and children have a sore, red spot where the needle went in for a few days after they get their vaccinations. It can feel hot and it could be a bit swollen. Sometimes it feels itchy.

What to do at home

Putting a cool, damp cloth on the spot where the needle went in can help children feel more comfortable. Cuddling or breastfeeding really do relieve pain, too.

Small, hard, painless bump (nodule)

Sometimes a small, hard, painless lump, also called a ‘nodule’, develops at the spot where the needle went in. The nodule may last for weeks or even months, but will eventually disappear on its own.

What to do at home

Nodules usually don't hurt and they usually go away after a few days or weeks without any treatment.

Loss of appetite

For a few days after a vaccination, some babies and children don't want to eat as much as they usually do.

What to do at home

Babies who aren't feeling well often want to breastfeed more often, and older babies sometimes refuse to eat solids for a day or two. Bottle-fed babies may prefer to have smaller bottles, more often than they usually do. Older babies and children may prefer to eat small meals throughout the day instead of at regular mealtimes. Reminding older children to drink water throughout the day will help them feel better, too.

Mild fever

It is not unusual for babies and children to have a mild fever for a day or two after vaccination. A mild fever is a low-grade temperature of around 38.5C or less. Babies or children with a mild fever may be sweaty and warm to the touch and will sometimes look a bit red in the face. Fever on its own will not harm your child, but it can make them feel uncomfortable and unhappy.

What to do at home

If your baby or child has a fever, it helps to dress them in light (summer) clothes. Babies who aren't feeling well often want to breastfeed more often, and older babies sometimes refuse to eat solids for a day or two. Bottle-fed babies may prefer to have smaller bottles more often than they usually do. Reminding older children to drink water during the day, or offering crushed ice to suck, can help them feel a little better. Holding your baby or child really does make them feel better, so if your child does have a mild fever plan for a few quiet, cuddly days if you can. Paracetamol (Panadol, Dymadon) can also help to ease a fever and relieve soreness. (Always follow the instructions on the packet.) Call your doctor if you feel like your child is getting worse, or if the fever lasts for more than three days.

Grizzly or unsettled behaviour

Even when they are not showing any particular symptoms, babies and children can feel a little unsettled and unhappy after vaccination.

What to do at home

Medical research has shown that cuddles actually trigger the release of pain-relieving hormones in children’s bodies1, so keep your child close and give them lots of extra cuddles.

Vomiting or diarrhoea

Babies who have had the rotavirus vaccine may develop vomiting and diarrhoea up to seven days after their vaccination.

What to do at home

Most babies recover within a few days. In the meantime, keep up breastfeeds or bottle feeds as normal, and offer additional clear fluids such as water. It is important for babies to keep on drinking fluids to make up for the fluids they lose through vomiting and diarrhoea. Dehydration can be dangerous for small babies.

See a doctor if your baby is sick with vomiting and diarrhoea and you think they are not drinking enough, or if the vomiting and diarrhoea lasts for more than a few days without any sign of getting better.

Around 59 babies in every one million who get the rotavirus vaccine experience a blockage of the intestine called an ‘intussusception’2. The blockage gives babies strong bouts of pain in their abdomen which can make them look pale, weak and very sick. They may vomit. Babies who look pale and distressed and are drawing their legs up could have intussusception and should be taken to hospital quickly so they can get the help they need. Babies who are treated for intussusception usually don’t have any long-term health problems.

Faint rash

Some children develop a faint rash seven to ten days after they get the MMR vaccine which is given at 12 and 18 months.

What to do at home

The rash isn’t usually uncomfortable and is not infectious. It doesn’t need any treatment.

Red lumps or blisters

Around five to 26 days after they get the MMRV vaccine at 18 months of age, some children develop a few small red lumps and blisters (no more than five) that look like a mild form of chicken-pox, usually near the spot where the injection went in.

What to do at home

The rash isn’t usually uncomfortable and is not infectious. It doesn’t need any treatment.

Cold-like symptoms

Some children develop cold-like symptoms around seven to ten days after they get the MMR vaccine at 12 months or the MMRV vaccine at 18 months. They may have a runny nose, a cough, puffy eyes or swollen glands.

What to do at home

These symptoms usually get better after a day or two. In the meantime, you can offer your child clear fluids, like water, and let them have plenty of rest. If they have a fever, you may want to give them an age-appropriate dose of paracetamol such as Panadol or Dymadon (always follow the instructions on the packet).

  1. Taddio A, et al. Reducing pain during vaccine injections: clinical practice guideline. Canadian Medical Association Journal 2015;187:975-982 http://www.cmaj.ca/content/cmaj/187/13/975.full.pdf
  2. Australian Immunisation Handbook 10th Edition (Updated June 2015). Australian Government Department of Health: Canberra http://www.immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/7B28E87511E08905CA257D4D001DB1F8/$File/Aus-Imm-Handbook.pdf