Gelatin is contained in some vaccines to protect vaccine viruses from adverse conditions such as freeze-drying or heat (see table below). Gelatin is a protein formed by boiling skin or connective tissue. Gelatin is used to stabilize vaccines so that they remain effective after manufacture. All gelatin contained in vaccines is porcine in origin.
|Vaccine||Trade Name||Quantity (per dose)|
|measles, mumps, rubella||MMR II||14.5 mg|
|rabies||Rabavert||< 12 mg|
In 1993, Kelso and co-workers reported the case of a 17-year-old girl in California who developed a severe allergic reaction (hives, low blood pressure, runny nose and lightheadedness) within five minutes of receiving an MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine. Her symptoms resolved after treatment with epinephrine. When later describing the event, the girl stated that it was “kind of like what happens when I eat Jell-O.” Subsequent testing found that the only component of the vaccine to which this girl was allergic was gelatin.
Studies in Japan confirmed the findings of Kelso and colleagues that severe allergic reactions to MMR vaccine were associated with the presence of antibodies in the blood directed against gelatin. Although the incidence of anaphylaxis to gelatin is extremely low (about one case per 2 million doses), gelatin is the most common identifiable cause of severe allergic reactions to vaccines.
Some people with severe allergic reactions to gelatin have a history of allergies to foods that contain gelatin. This is explained, in part, by similarities between the bovine gelatin contained in many foods and the porcine gelatin contained in vaccines. Therefore, it would be of value to know about possible allergies to gelatin before getting a vaccine that contains gelatin. People with severe allergies to gelatin should avoid gelatin-containing vaccines.
Nakayama T, Aizawa C. Change in gelatin content of vaccines associated with reduction in reports of allergic reactions. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2000;106:591-592.
Sakaguchi M, Nakayama T, Fujita H, et al. Minimum estimated incidence in Japan of anaphylaxis to live virus vaccines including gelatin. Vaccine 2001;19:431-436.
Sakaguchi M, Nakayama T, Inouye S. Food allergy to gelatin in children with systemic immediate-type reactions, including anaphylaxis, to vaccines. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 1996;98:1058-1061.
Sakaguchi M, Yamanaka T, Ikeda K, et al. IgE-mediated systemic reactions to gelatin included in the varicella vaccine. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 1997;99:263-264.
Sakaguchi M, Hori H, Ebihara T, et al. Reactivity of the immunoglobulin E in bovine gelatin-sensitive children to gelatins from other animals. Immunology 1999;96:286-290.
Sakai Y, Yamoto R, Onuma M, et al. Non-antigenic and low allergic gelatin produced by specific digestion with enzyme-coupled matrix. Biol Pharm Bull. 1998;21:330-334.
Reviewed by: Paul A. Offit, MD
Date: April 2013
Materials in this section are updated as new information and vaccines become available. The Vaccine Education Center staff regularly reviews materials for accuracy.You should not consider the information in this site to be specific, professional medical advice for your personal health or for your family's personal health. You should not use it to replace any relationship with a physician or other qualified healthcare professional. For medical concerns, including decisions about vaccinations, medications and other treatments, you should always consult your physician or, in serious cases, seek immediate assistance from emergency personnel.