The combination measles–mumps–rubella–varicella (MMRV) vaccine currently used in Canada (Priorix-Tetra) may increase the risk of febrile seizures relative to the separate vaccines (MMR and varicella) previously administered. We determined the risk of febrile seizure after the first dose of MMRV, as well as any additional risk for children at high risk for seizures because of pre-existing medical conditions.
In this retrospective, population-based cohort study, we compared the risk of seizures after the first dose of MMRV with the risk after same-day administration of separate MMR and varicella vaccines (MMR+V) in children 12 to 23 months of age in the province of Alberta. We deterministically linked vaccination data to health service utilization data for seizures. We used Poisson regression, with adjustment for age and calendar year, to determine the risk for the full cohort and for high-risk children.
The risk of seizures 7 to 10 days after vaccination was twice as high with MMRV as with MMR+V (relative risk [RR] 1.99, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.30–3.05). The excess absolute risk of seizures was 3.52 seizures per 10 000 doses of MMRV relative to MMR+V. In high-risk children, the risk was not differentially higher for MMRV (RR 1.30, 95% CI 0.60–2.79).
Despite an increased risk of febrile seizures following MMRV (compared with MMR+V), the absolute level of risk was small. Policy-makers need to balance these findings with the potential benefits of administering the combination vaccine or determine whether the choice of vaccine rests with clinicians and/or parents.