Safety and Immunogenicity of Live Viral Vaccines in a Multicenter Cohort of Pediatric Transplant Recipients

JAMA Netw Open. 2023 Oct 2;6(10):e2337602. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.37602.


Importance: Live vaccines (measles-mumps-rubella [MMR] and varicella-zoster virus [VZV]) have not been recommended after solid organ transplant due to concern for inciting vaccine strain infection in an immunocompromised host. However, the rates of measles, mumps, and varicella are rising nationally and internationally, leaving susceptible immunocompromised children at risk for life-threating conditions.

Objective: To determine the safety and immunogenicity of live vaccines in pediatric liver and kidney transplant recipients.

Design, setting, and participants: This cohort study included select pediatric liver and kidney transplant recipients who had not completed their primary MMR and VZV vaccine series and/or who displayed nonprotective serum antibody levels at enrollment between January 1, 2002, and February 28, 2023. Eligibility for live vaccine was determined by individual US pediatric solid organ transplant center protocols.

Exposures: Exposure was defined as receipt of a posttransplant live vaccine. Transplant recipients received 1 to 3 doses of MMR vaccine and/or 1 to 3 doses of VZV vaccine.

Main outcome and measure: Safety data were collected following each vaccination, and antibody levels were obtained at 0 to 3 months and 1 year following vaccination. Comparisons were performed using Mann-Whitney U test, and factors associated with development of postvaccination protective antibodies were explored using univariate analysis.

Results: The cohort included 281 children (270 [96%] liver, 9 [3%] kidney, 2 [1%] liver-kidney recipients) from 18 centers. The median time from transplant to enrollment was 6.3 years (IQR, 3.4-11.1 years). The median age at first posttransplant vaccine was 8.9 years (IQR, 4.7-13.8 years). A total of 202 of 275 (73%) children were receiving low-level monotherapy immunosuppression at the time of vaccination. The majority of children developed protective antibodies following vaccination (107 of 149 [72%] varicella, 130 of 152 [86%] measles, 100 of 120 [83%] mumps, and 124 of 125 [99%] rubella). One year post vaccination, the majority of children who initially mounted protective antibodies maintained this protection (34 of 44 [77%] varicella, 45 of 49 [92%] measles, 35 of 42 [83%] mumps, 51 of 54 [94%] rubella). Five children developed clinical varicella, all of which resolved within 1 week. There were no cases of measles or rubella and no episodes of graft rejection within 1 month of vaccination. There was no association between antibody response and immunosuppression level at the time of vaccination.

Conclusions and relevance: The findings suggest that live vaccinations may be safe and immunogenic after solid organ transplant in select pediatric recipients and can offer protection against circulating measles, mumps, and varicella.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Chickenpox Vaccine / adverse effects
  • Chickenpox* / prevention & control
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Humans
  • Measles* / prevention & control
  • Mumps*
  • Rubella* / prevention & control
  • Transplant Recipients
  • Vaccines, Attenuated / adverse effects
  • Vaccines, Combined
  • Viral Vaccines*


  • Viral Vaccines
  • Chickenpox Vaccine
  • Vaccines, Combined
  • Vaccines, Attenuated