Food Allergies Can Make You Allergic to Some Vaccines

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Millions of routine childhood vaccinations are given every year in the United States. They are safe and effective, and the occurrence of severe allergic reactions from these vaccines is extremely rare.

Yet some people with food allergies may be at higher risk for allergic reactions from vaccines containing certain food proteins, including egg proteins found in influenza and other vaccines. There is a possibility of anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction, but most vaccines may be given under the direct supervision of a healthcare provider.

This article discusses certain food allergies and the vaccines related to them. It will help you to be informed about how the benefits of needed vaccines outweigh the risks, and how to safely access them.

a young person getting immunized by a nurse
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Egg Allergies

Much of the concern surrounding food allergies and childhood vaccines has focused on egg allergies. This is a common allergy in young children in the United States, affecting 1.3% of children ages 5 and under, according to a study from 2016.

It's during these same years that young children receive their childhood vaccines, which heightens the concern over vaccines that contain egg proteins, such as ovalbumin. Common vaccines that contain these egg or egg-related proteins include:

Other vaccines contain egg proteins but aren't considered routine childhood vaccinations, including:

It's best to discuss your child's vaccinations with your pediatrician or other healthcare provider, as additional precautions may be necessary for a child with an egg allergy. Recommendations on these vaccinations may include:

  • An allergy test before vaccination
  • Close monitoring by a professional to watch for signs of allergic reaction after vaccines are given and ensure immediate care if it's needed

Typhoid vaccines are not considered routine in the U.S. If you have an egg allergy and plan travel to a region where it's recommended, speak to your healthcare provider about the risks and benefits.

Flu Vaccines

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that influenza vaccines be given to people with egg allergies, as the benefits of the vaccine typically outweigh the risks even though there are small amounts of egg protein in the vaccine.

Research studies from the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom all have demonstrated that influenza vaccines did not cause severe reactions and are safe for children with egg allergies.

The CDC recommends flu vaccines for all people ages 6 months and older. It's not necessary for someone with an egg allergy to be monitored for 30 minutes after getting their dose, although close supervision may still be needed for people who have severe allergic reactions to egg products.

Egg-Free Influenza Vaccines

Two influenza vaccines approved for use in the United States are made without any egg products. These vaccines are:



MMR Vaccine

Though the MMR vaccine is produced in chick embryo fibroblast cultures, the vaccine likely does not contain egg proteins to which a person with egg allergy would react.

That's been repeatedly demonstrated in the research, including a 2020 study that confirms the absence of severe allergic reaction and the safety of MMR vaccines in children with egg allergies. The researchers concluded that only children with a known history of egg-related anaphylaxis, or to an MMR vaccine itself, should be monitored by healthcare providers.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children with egg allergies be given the MMR vaccine without any special precautions. Ask your healthcare provider if your egg-allergic child should be monitored in the office if you still have concerns.

Yellow Fever Vaccine

Many people who live in the Global South, including sub-Saharan Africa and South America, are at risk of yellow fever. In the U.S., vaccination to protect against it is typically only given when people plan to travel to affected nations. It is recommended for those ages 9 months and older.

Historically, yellow fever vaccines have contained the highest amounts of egg protein of all the egg-based vaccines. It is made using embryonated chicken eggs, so it's not recommended for people with egg allergies and, in some cases, those with allergies to chicken meat. That's because of a higher risk of anaphylaxis.

The CDC does not recommend the yellow fever vaccine for anyone with an egg allergy. However, providers may be able to administer it to egg-allergic people in small amounts over many hours, under close supervision.

Researchers continue work on developing new types of yellow fever vaccines, but they haven't yet produced a next-generation product that will reduce the risks for people with egg allergies.

Gelatin

Some people have what's called an alpha-gal allergy. This means they are allergic to some meats and many of the products derived from them. Gelatin is one such product, and it's used as a heat stabilizer in a number of vaccines.

Vaccines made with these products include common childhood vaccines such as:

Others that may include gelatin or related products include vaccines used for:

In many cases, an allergic reaction to the MMR is far more likely to be caused by gelatin rather than egg protein. People who have these allergies should speak to a healthcare provider about their vaccines and the safest way to receive them.

Baker’s Yeast

Certain vaccines are made by using Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is the common baker's yeast used for making bread. Routine childhood vaccines containing baker’s yeast include hepatitis B and any combination vaccine that contains hepatitis B.

Gardasil-9, the vaccine approved for use against the human papillomavirus (HPV), also is made with yeast. The CDC recommends that people with a yeast allergy avoid these vaccines.

People who have experienced an allergic reaction after eating food products containing baker’s yeast should not be given the hepatitis B vaccine. However, yeast-containing vaccines may be given to yeast-allergic people under the direct supervision of a physician.

What About COVID Vaccines and Food Allergy?

There is still much to learn about the COVID-19 vaccines. To date, the CDC notes only two allergies, both of them involving additives. If you have an allergy to the food additive polysorbate, you should avoid the Johnson & Johnson and Novavax vaccines. If you are allergic to polyethylene glycol, you should avoid any of the mRNA vaccines, including the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

Summary

Food allergies can sometimes be a concern when administering certain vaccines, including some routine childhood vaccines.

This is because some vaccines are made with or contain small amounts of egg, baker's yeast, or gelatin, which may trigger allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to these substances. In most cases, it is safe for you or your child to have the flu vaccine, MMR, or other vaccines even with an allergy, though you will need to discuss your specific situation with your healthcare provider.

A Word From Verywell

Keep in mind that the benefits of vaccination against specific diseases nearly always will outweigh the risks. There's a lot of misinformation about vaccines, so be sure to seek out trusted sources if you have questions about vaccine safety and food allergies.

13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  10. Montalvo Zurbia-Flores G, Rollier CS, Reyes-Sandoval A. Re-thinking yellow fever vaccines: fighting old foes with new generation vaccinesHuman Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics. 2022;18(1):1895644. doi: 10.1080/21645515.2021.1895644

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By Daniel More, MD
Daniel More, MD, is a board-certified allergist and clinical immunologist. He is an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and currently practices at Central Coast Allergy and Asthma in Salinas, California.