Injection Site Necrosis and Ulceration Following Vaccination in an Adult Patient

March 2018 | Volume 17 | Issue 3 | Case Reports | 364 | Copyright © March 2018

Stephanie Donaldson BS, Theresa Canavan MD, Peter G. Pavlidakey MD, Wendy C. Cantrell DNP CRNP, and Boni E. Elewski MD

University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL

Post-vaccination delayed hypersensitivity reaction to aluminum salts can result in injection site adverse reactions like erythema, subcutaneous nodules, and sterile abscess formation.7,8 The formation of granulomas in patients with local vaccine reactions has been reported and supports a delayed-type hypersensitivity reaction.4,5,9 Previous articles have also shown an association between positive aluminum patch tests and post-vaccination subcutaneous nodules.9,10 Lehman et al describes an infant with recurrent sterile abscesses at vaccination sites who also had a positive aluminum patch test.11 Further studies are needed to confirm the association between aluminum allergy, delayed hypersensitivity reaction, and formation of persistent nodules following vaccination. Though our patient had frank necrosis rather than an itchy subcutaneous nodule, a delayed type hypersensitivity reaction should be a consideration in the etiology of her ulcer.Correct vaccine placement and proper needle length and size can minimize vaccine reactions to aluminum salts and improve patient outcomes. Placement of vaccines into subcutaneous tissue rather than deep into muscle can cause irritation and decreases efficacy of the vaccine.3,12 Frederiksen et al describes a child with an itching granuloma at vaccine injection site on the second shot in a series; however, no granuloma formed when the third shot was carefully placed intramuscularly.13 A longer needle and larger gauge may facilitate deep intramuscular injection and greater vaccine dispersion, respectively.3 The blood supply to muscle is larger than subcutaneous tissue, facilitating faster absorption of the vaccine into the circulation. Thus, deep intramuscular injection may reduce local reaction to aluminum salts and improve integration of vaccine components into the blood. Ipp et al demonstrated that a longer needle reduced local redness and swelling in children given the diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis-polio vaccine.14 A wider bore injects the vaccine over a larger surface area and prevents concentration of vaccine contents in one localized area. Muscles also have fewer pain fibers than the skin and subcutaneous tissue, indicating that intramuscular injection using a longer needle may actually reduce pain at the injection site.3 To prevent local adverse reactions to aluminum adjuvants, healthcare providers should evaluate each patient prior to vaccination and select an appropriate needle size and gauge to accomplish deep intramuscular injection.The previous report of necrotizing granulomatous reaction to subcutaneous aluminum salts warrants evaluation for this same condition in our patient.1 Her current biopsy shows no evidence of granulomatous inflammation, only nonspecific necrosis of the epidermis and dermal appendages. The absence of granulomas in our patient is extremely unique, although it is possible that granulomas were present but missed due to sampling error from the biopsy.Improper placement and subsequent inflammatory reaction to aluminum salts is the likely cause of our patient’s current condition; however, allergic reaction to aluminum or other vaccine components should be considered. The Pneumovax vaccine contains the preservative phenol, a potential allergen. Neomycin is a known contact allergen, and application at the ulcer site may have elicited a delayed-hypersensitivity; however, neomycin-induced granulomatous reaction has not previously been reported. It is also possible that this represented a hypersensitivity reaction to aluminum. However, even in aluminum-allergic patients, proper intramuscular injection reduces local adverse reactions and allows these patients to safely receive aluminum-adjuvant vaccines.15 Infection was thought to be unlikely given our patient’s negative cultures, afebrile state, and normal leukocyte count. It is imperative that healthcare professionals recognize the importance of proper vaccine placement, needle size, and needle length in the placement of vaccines. Proper placement not only reduces adverse local reactions but also improves vaccine efficacy and patients’ trust in their healthcare providers.


Local necrosis at the site of vaccination is a rare adverse event, with only one case reported to date. Aluminum salt toxicity was thought to be the likely culprit in this case, especially if injected subcutaneously rather than intramuscularly. Proper intramuscular placement and appropriate needle size and length may prevent this severe vaccine reaction and improve patient outcomes.


Drs. Canavan, Pavlidakey, Cantrell, and Ms. Donaldson have no conflicts of interest to disclose. Dr. Elewski receives support from the following companies for clinical research at UAB: Amgen, Abbvie, Boehringer Ingelheim, Celgene, Incyte, Lilly, Merck, Novartis, Pfizer, Viamet, and Valeant. She has also received honorarium from the following companies: Anacor, Celgene, Lilly, Novartis, Pfizer, and Valeant. There was no funding source for this case report.Statement of Ethics:Informed consent was obtained from the patient.


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Stephanie Donaldson BS