Vaccination for kidney transplant patients

This leaflet will give you straightforward advice about vaccination if you have had a kidney and or pancreas transplant. It will give you essential advice on what to take and what not to take, general advice on immunisation and travel overseas and finally, a brief explanation of vaccination, what it is and how the different types work.

It is important to remember that vaccines and vaccination advice is constantly being updated. For this reason, you should always check with your doctor before travelling abroad or having a vaccination.

1. What you cannot take

It is recommended that kidney and pancreas transplant patients on immunosuppressant medication do not receive live attenuated vaccines. These are:

MMR – measles, mumps and rubella

BCG – tuberculosis

Polio (by mouth)

Yellow fever

It is recommended that oral polio vaccine should not be given to the families of kidney and pancreas transplant patients

2. What you can take

Kidney and pancreas transplant patients may have inactivated or ‘dead’ vaccines. However, these should not be taken during acute illness and should be discussed with your consultant or GP prior to arranging vaccination. These vaccines are:

Influenza – it is recommended that transplant patients on immunosuppressant medication receive this vaccine annually

Polio – inactivated form exists as an injection


HiB - Haemophilus Influenzae type B

Meningococcal - meningitis

Pertussis - whooping cough

Pneumoccal - pneumonia




Varicella - chicken pox/shingles

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis B

Inactivated vaccines are not dangerous but may not be effective in patients on immunosuppressant medication

You may also receive vaccines made from human immunoglobulin. These include:


Hepatitis A

Hepatitis B



Varicella - chicken pox

3. General information on immunisation and travel

Countries where no specific immunisation is required:

USA, Europe, Australia & New Zealand – however, childhood immunisations should be up to date

Countries where vaccination may be required:

Non-European areas of the Mediterranean, Africa, Middle East, Asia, Central and South America

other vaccine notes:

Yellow fever Recommended for travel to Africa and South America

Meningococcal Recommended for travel to areas around and including Delhi, Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan, Mecca – especially during and prior to Haj, and areas of central Africa.

Rabies may be required for Central/South America, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean.

Cholera Vaccine is no longer available

Further information is available from ‘Health Advice for Travellers’, a booklet produced by the Department of Health and available from travel agents and post offices or ringing 0800 555 777.

4. What is vaccination?

The aim of vaccination is to give a person protection (immunity) against specific diseases. There are two types of protection – active and passive.

Active immunity

A person is given active immunity by getting the body to react to a vaccine in a way that when it meets the real disease it will recognise it immediately and be able to fight it before that disease can become established.

Two types of vaccines are used to give active immunity: live attenuated vaccines and inactivated vaccines.

a. Live attenuated vaccines

These vaccines consist of a very small amount of live disease organisms that have been specially altered to make sure that they cannot cause illness, although a patient may have mild symptoms of the disease after vaccination. The body is able to recognise these weakened organisms, destroy them but remember them so that should it meet the real thing it will be able to fight it off.

It is recommended that kidney and pancreatic transplant patients DO NOT receive these kinds of vaccines. This is because there is a risk that even though the vaccines contain weakened organisms these could still cause serious illness in a person whose immune system is suppressed by medication. For this reason, too, it is recommended that children of patients do not receive oral polio vaccine (an injected form does exist) because of the risk of exposure of transplant patients to droplet infection of the weakened organism from the child.

b. Inactivated vaccines

These are vaccines made up of dead disease organisms. Again, the body is able to recognise these dead organisms and responds to them. However, because they are dead the response is not as vigorous and several doses of an inactivated vaccine may be necessary to give immunity.

Kidney and pancreas transplant patients may be given these. However, because of the immunosuppressants that you are taking, your response will not be as good and you may not receive adequate protection.

Passive immunity

Another way of giving a resistance to an illness is to use vaccines of human antibodies (immunoglobulins) that are prepared from donated blood. Antibodies are produced by the body. They recognise foreign substances, bind to them to either inactivate them or mark them so that other parts of the human defence system can dispose of them.

Antibodies for specific illnesses can be collected and given as injections. The protection they give is temporary, the length of time depends on the specific type. Vaccines exist for measles, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, tetanus, rabies and chicken pox. As they do not involve exposure to the organism causing the disease in anyway, transplant patients can receive this type of vaccine.

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