The DPT vaccine, now commonly called the DTaP vaccine, is given to American children five times during their early lives, according to the National Institutes of Health website, MedlinePlus. The normal vaccination schedule is at the ages of 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15 to 18 months, and 4 to 6 years. It protects the child against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, also called whooping cough. Each of these bacterial infections can be fatal. Like all vaccines, the DtaP vaccine can cause side effects--these are usually mild in nature.
Some children experience a mild fever one to three days after receiving the vaccine. Chills may accompany the fever. This fever can be treated with acetaminophen at an appropriate dose for the child, if desired. Most cases of mild fever resolve without treatment; an untreated fever should be checked frequently to ensure that it remains mild.
Injection Site Soreness
Injection site soreness is another common side effect. It may be accompanied by redness, swelling or hardening of the area where the shot was administered. This usually resolves within a week. The “2010 Lippincott’s Nursing Drug Guide" recommends treatment with warm soaks to the area to ease discomfort. Frequent moving of the limb often eases the soreness as well. Occasionally, a small, hard nodule will appear for several weeks at the injection site. Some children experience swelling of the arm or leg where the vaccine was administered that can last for up to a week.
Children receiving the DTaP vaccine may become irritable, fretful, fussy or cranky. They may cry and need frequent comforting. Parents or caregivers can help the child by maintaining a quiet, comfortable environment and providing frequent reassurance. This irritability usually resolves within a few days.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains that some children vomit one to three days after receiving the vaccine. This may be an isolated incident or it may last for one to three days. The child may lose her appetite and refuse to eat or drink for a short period of time. Fluids should be encouraged when the vomiting has subsided and the pediatrician should be contacted if the vomiting is severe or continues for more than a day.
Some children respond to the DTaP vaccine by becoming drowsy or feeling ill. These children should be allowed to rest for a day or so; this side effect usually resolves on its own within a few days. Unusual tiredness in a child should be reported to the pediatrician.
Less Common Reactions
Allergic or hypersensitivity reactions are rare and usually occur within a few hours of administration of the shot. They require immediate medical evaluation and treatment as they can lead to breathing difficulties and shock. Early symptoms that parents may notice include hives, hoarseness, weakness and pale skin. Other rare side effects include high fever, seizure and inconsolable crying for several hours. These side effects necessitate immediate medical attention as well.