Vaccines Are Much Safer than the Diseases They Prevent

red bumpy rash

A child develops a fever of 104 ⁰F, cough, runny nose and red eyes. A few days later she develops a red bumpy itchy rash as in this photo. Any guesses as to the diagnosis? Many of us would be stumped, having never seen this disease. This is the classic presentation of measles, which prior to the development of the measles vaccine in the 1960s affected hundreds of thousands of U.S. children annually. There is no treatment. Complications from measles caused 3 fatalities for every one thousand cases.

With the near disappearance of vaccine-preventable illnesses a full generation ago, today’s parents don’t have personal memory of the misery and fear that illnesses such as mumps, polio and rubella caused. Instead, fueled by a simmering mistrust of modern medicine and of science generally, some anti-vaccine groups have raised concerns about possible side effects of vaccines. The best known such concern was fueled by the fraudulent scientific study linking the MMR vaccine with autism. (I posted about this paper, its retraction, and the damage it did in January.)

A report released by the Institute of Medicine this week analyzed over 1,000 studies and detailed what is currently known about vaccine side effects. The report is over 600 pages long, and I promise you that I’m not going read it all. The report concludes that “while no vaccine is 100% safe, very few adverse events are shown to be caused by vaccines.” The report also highlighted that vaccines do not cause some of the side effects that have been receiving much attention. The MMR vaccine was again found not to cause autism or childhood diabetes. Flu shots also do not cause asthma exacerbations or Bell’s palsy.

Vaccines do sometimes cause adverse events, and the report identifies 14 such adverse events that are known to be vaccine related. Febrile seizures in children, severe allergic reactions and fainting are some of them.

But none of them are as dangerous as polio, or measles, or tetanus or a handful of other diseases I hope to never see.

Learn more:

Vaccine Cleared Again as Autism Culprit (NY Times)

Report Finds Few Health Problems Tied to Vaccines (Wall Street Journal Health Blog)

Study Linking Vaccines to Autism not Just Wrong, Intentionally Fraudulent (My last post about vaccine safety, which at the bottom has more links to my previous posts on the anti-vaccine movement and vaccine refusal)

Measles (Wikipedia article)

Adverse Effects of Vaccines: Evidence and Causality (Institute of Medicine publication)

Photo credit: Centers for Disease Control Public Health Image Library, CDC/Dr. Heinz Eichenwald (ID 3168)

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