Smallpox Vaccine, Vaccinia Vaccine

March 21, 2017

Smallpox Vaccine, Vaccinia Vaccine injection

What is Smallpox Vaccine, Vaccinia Vaccine injection?

SMALLPOX VACCINE, VACCINIA VACCINE (Dryvax® and others) protects against infection with the virus that causes smallpox (variola virus). The vaccine is made from vaccinia which is a 'pox'-type virus related to smallpox. The smallpox vaccine contains 'live' vaccinia virus. Vaccination sites must be cared for properly to prevent the virus from spreading. Because the vaccine does not contain smallpox, you cannot get smallpox from the vaccine. After receiving the vaccine, immunity is high for 3—5 years and decreases thereafter. If a person is vaccinated again later, immunity lasts even longer. The vaccine has been effective in preventing smallpox in 95% of those vaccinated. Additionally, it has been proven to prevent or substantially reduce infection when given within a few days of exposure to smallpox. The smallpox vaccine can only be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

What should my health care professional know before I receive Smallpox Vaccine, Vaccinia Vaccine?

They need to know if you or anyone in your household have any of these conditions:

  • cancer or receiving cancer treatments or radiation therapy

  • currently sick with a moderate or severe short-term illness or infection

  • eczema or atopic dermatitis (even if the condition is not currently active, mild, or was experienced as a child)

  • HIV-infection or AIDS

  • organ transplant

  • receiving high-dose corticosteroid therapy

  • skin conditions such as burns, chickenpox, herpes, impetigo, herpes, psoriasis, severe acne, or shingles

  • weakened immune system

  • an unusual reaction to smallpox vaccine, vaccinia vaccine, other medicines, foods, dyes, or preservatives

  • pregnant or trying to get pregnant within one month of vaccination

  • breast-feeding

How should this medicine be used?

The smallpox vaccine is only administered by qualified healthcare professionals. It is not given as a shot. The smallpox vaccine is usually given in the upper arm using a two-prong needle that is dipped in the vaccine solution. When the needle is removed from the solution, it retains a droplet of the vaccine. The needle is then used to prick the skin a number of times within a few seconds. The pricking is not deep but will cause a sore spot and one or two droplets of blood to form. The vaccination site is then covered to prevent spreading the virus.

The use of this vaccine must be officially recorded. Federal law requires that the manufacturer's name and lot number; name, address, and phone number of the person giving the vaccine; and the date of administration be recorded in the patient's permanent medical record.

Your health care professional will give you written information on the smallpox vaccine at the time of the vaccination. Be sure to read this information.

If the vaccination is successful, a red and itchy bump develops in 3—4 days at the vaccination site. Within the first week, the bump becomes a large blister, fills with pus, and begins to drain. In the second week, the blister begins to dry up and a scab forms which falls off in the third week. A small scar remains at the site. A stronger reaction to the vaccine occurs in people who are being vaccinated for the first time.

Contact your pediatrician or health care professional regarding the use of this medicine in children or infants under 12 months of age. Special care may be needed.

What if I miss a dose?

This does not apply.

What drug(s) may interact with Smallpox Vaccine, Vaccinia Vaccine?

  • chemotherapy (some drugs for treating cancer)

  • corticosteroids (examples: dexamethasone, prednisone, prednisolone, and others)

  • radiation treatments

Tell your prescriber or health care professional about all other medicines you are taking, including non-prescription medicines, nutritional supplements, or herbal products. Also tell your prescriber or health care professional if you are a frequent user of drinks with caffeine or alcohol, if you smoke, or if you use illegal drugs. These may affect the way your medicine works. Check with your health care professional before stopping or starting any of your medicines.

What should I watch for while taking Smallpox Vaccine, Vaccinia Vaccine?

After vaccination, there is live virus present at the site. This live virus can be spread to other parts of the body or to other people through contact. To avoid this, the vaccination site should be cared for carefully until the scab that forms falls off on its own (in 2 to 3 weeks). The following instructions should be followed:


  • Cover the vaccination site loosely with a gauze bandage, using medical tape to keep it in place. Keep it covered until the scab has separated on its own. This bandage will provide a barrier to protect against spread of the vaccinia virus. (Health care workers involved in direct patient care should cover the gauze with a semi-permeable dressing as an additional barrier.

  • You can wear a shirt that covers the vaccination site as an extra precaution to prevent spread of the vaccinia virus. This is particularly important in situations of close personal contact.

  • Change the bandage every 1—2 days. This will keep skin at the vaccination site from softening and wearing away. Put the contaminated bandages in a sealed plastic bag and throw them away.

  • Wash hands with soap and warm water after direct contact with the bandage or after direct contact with the vaccination site. This is vital in order to remove any virus from your hands and prevent contact spread.

  • Keep the vaccination site dry. Cover the vaccination site with a water-resistant pad, such as a waterproof band-aid when you bathe. Remember to change back to the loose gauze bandage after bathing.

  • Wash clothing or other any material that comes in contact with the vaccination site. Use hot water with detergent and/or bleach.

  • When the scab comes off, throw it away in a sealed plastic bag (remember to wash your hands afterwards).


  • Don't use a bandage that blocks all air from the vaccination site. This may cause the skin at the vaccination site to soften and wear away. Use loose gauze secured with medical tape to cover the site.

  • Don't put salves or ointments on the vaccination site.

  • Don't scratch or pick at the scab.

If you are a female who is receiving this vaccine, ask your health care professional about preventing pregnancy. It is recommended that you do not get pregnant in the first month after you receive this vaccine.

What side effects may I notice from receiving Smallpox Vaccine, Vaccinia Vaccine?

Side effects that you should report to your prescriber or health care professional immediately:

  • difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, wheezing, or difficulty swallowing

  • infection that spreads from vaccination site (progressive vaccinia)

  • muscle aches or paralysis

  • rash or outbreak of sores limited to one area such as genitals or face

  • swelling of the face or eyes

  • serious skin rash (eczema vaccinatum); usually in people with history of eczema or other chronic skin condition

  • seizures

  • widespread vaccinia rash

Call your health care provider immediately if any of these symptoms occur.

Side effects that usually do not require medical attention (report to your prescriber or health care professional if they continue or are bothersome):

  • armpit glands large and sore

  • chills

  • difficulty sleeping

  • fatigue

  • general bad feeling

  • mild fever

  • vomiting

Where can I keep my medicine?

This does not apply. You will not store smallpox vaccine at home.


March 21, 2017


U.S. FDA-approved Package Insert