Vaccines and Side Effects
Amy Movius, MD
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
There has been a lot of attention in the press lately regarding a certain vaccine. Unfortunately, what should be a cut and dried health issue can be politicized and otherwise distorted; bluntly stated, politicians and newscasters are probably not the best dispensers of medical advice (sorry WABI!).
In approaching the subject of vaccinations, I opted to start with what I believe to be 2 undisputed truths:
1. We all want what is best for the children in our lives.
2. Doctors and other health providers come from a variety of political, religious and cultural backgrounds.
Starting from these two assumptions, there is really very little controversy among medical professionals about the benefit and safety of vaccines. A quick look back in time illustrates the benefits. For example, before vaccine availability in the United States in the 1940s, there was an average of 175,000 cases/year of pertussis (whooping cough) or 150 cases/100,000 population. In the 1980s, there was an average of 2,900 cases per year or 1 case/100,000. In 2008 this was up to 13,278 cases. This is in part due to decreased vaccination rates. Unfortunately, in this example, the youngest among us suffer the most from severe illness and even death. Of the 181 pertussis deaths from 2000-2008, 166 were in children less than 6 months of age. All infants of this age are vulnerable to pertussis as vaccine immunity is not fully established until after 6 months of age (vaccine given at 2, 4, and 6 months). These most fragile among us must rely on not being exposed to avoid disease, which in turn depends on the immunity and vaccination status of the population at large.
This does not mean that side effects from vaccines don’t exist. They do, and fortunately most of them are mild (pain/swelling at site). Also, some health problems coincidentally overlap with receiving a vaccination - they are unrelated except in time. However, in the US it is not expected that we vaccinate our children on faith alone. There is an organization that REQUIRES reporting of all possible adverse vaccine effects by health professionals and vaccine manufacturers. However, ANYONE can choose to make a report, including a patient (or a parent). Also, the results are public, so EVERYONE can access this information. The sole function of this organization, VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System), is to constantly process and analyze this data for the purpose of public safety. Because of this process, in 1999 the rotavirus vaccine was removed and then replaced. VAERS receives about 30,000 reports every year; 85% involve mild symptoms, 15% of the reports are more serious. Both of these numbers reflect possible vaccine related events, NOT definite vaccine caused events.
Vaccinating yourself and your family is not a small matter. It can be very confusing with all the information – and misinformation –available. Consider discussing it with a health provider you know and trust. The goals you share should be simple: to keep you and your family happy and healthy.