In recent years, vaccines have been blamed as the cause of autism, Type 1 diabetes and other illnesses and conditions. A new report from the National Academy of Sciences‘ Institute of Medicine has found that “few health problems” are caused by vaccines. According to a press release, an IOM committee reviewed over 1,000 research studies about possible adverse effects from a number of vaccines including the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), which was linked to autism by now-discredited research.
The 667-page report did find “convincing evidence” that, in rare causes, certain vaccines can causes 14 health outcomes including seizures, inflammation of the brain and fainting. Evidence linking vaccines to effects including allergic reactions and joint pain was “less clear.” “No links” between serious conditions including autism and vaccines were found and the flu shot, says the report, does not causes Bell’s palsy or worsen asthma.
The report takes pains to spell out the possible effects of certain vaccines in some but hardly most cases (my emphases in italics):
Convincing evidence shows that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine can lead to fever-triggered seizures in some individuals, although these effects are almost always without long-term consequences, the report says. The MMR vaccine also can produce a rare form of brain inflammation in some people with severe immune system deficiencies. In a minority of patients, the varicella vaccine against chickenpox can induce brain swelling, pneumonia, hepatitis, meningitis, shingles, and chickenpox in immunocompromised patients as well as some who apparently have competent immune function, the committee found. The majority of these problems have occurred in individuals with immunodeficiencies, which increase individuals’ susceptibility to the live viruses used in MMR and varicella. Six vaccines — MMR, varicella, influenza, hepatitis B, meningococcal, and the tetanus-containing vaccines — can trigger anaphylaxis, an allergic reaction that appears shortly after injection. And, in general, the injection of vaccines can trigger fainting and inflammation of the shoulder, the committee noted.
The evidence suggests that certain vaccines can lead to four other adverse effects, although the data on these links are not as convincing, the report says. The MMR vaccine appears to trigger short-term joint pain in some women and children. Some people can experience anaphylaxis after receiving the HPV vaccine. And certain influenza vaccines used abroad have resulted in a mild, temporary oculo-respiratory syndrome characterized by conjunctivitis, facial swelling, and mild respiratory symptoms.
Those who contend that vaccines or something in vaccines cause health problems, including Barbara Loe Fisher of the National Vaccine Information Center are, not surprisingly, critical of the report. In the Washington Post, Fisher made a familiar call for “more and higher quality vaccine safety science” to provide more evidence that vaccines are not connected to autism, lupus and other conditions.
The National Academy of Science’s press release specifically notes that the report‘s findings “will help the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) administer the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP).” In the wake of British doctor Andrew Wakefield publishing a now-retracted study linking autism to the MMR, over 4,800 families filed lawsuits in the Autism Omnibus Proceeding in the hopes of receiving compensation from the VICP by contending that the MMR and thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative formerly used in vaccines, had caused their children to become autistic. After court proceedings from 2007 to 2010, the court dismissed both the MMR and thimerosal theories; for the proceedings to continue, the petitioners would have to demonstrate another causal theory, which they are unlikely to do. The new report provides further scientific evidence disputing claims of an autism-vaccine link.
With students starting school across the country, it’s even more important to make sure children are up-to-date with their immunizations, says committee chair Ellen Wright Clayton, professor of pediatrics and law, and director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society, Vanderbilt University. Indeed, a recent Los Angeles Times article notes that one Pennsylvania family decided to stop giving their son Matthew his shots after his first round of immunizations; Kelly and Dan Lacek knew a family who thought their child had become autistic from a vaccine:
But on a Saturday evening three years later, Matthew complained of a sore throat. In a few hours, his temperature spiked to 105 degrees and his breathing was labored. In the emergency room, doctors discovered that his airway was nearly swollen shut. One of them asked Lacek if her son had been vaccinated for Hib. “He said, ‘If this is what I think it is, we don’t have much time,’” she says.
Matthew spent six days in the hospital, including two days in a drug-induced coma. Then the antibiotics began to work. He recovered without any lasting complications. “The doctor said he was one in a million,” Lacek says.
Now she makes a point of sharing her story with parents who haven’t vaccinated their kids so that they don’t lose sight of the relative risks. “My husband and I were so focused on [Matthew] not getting autism, I totally missed the fact that he could get anything else,” she says.
Vaccines are not without their side effects as the National Science Academy’s report spells out. But not having your child immunized carries plenty of risks that are backed up by plenty of scientific evidence to take note of.
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