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Study: Vaccines Safe, Problems ‘Extremely Rare’


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LOS ANGELES — Public health experts have taken a fresh look at the safety records of childhood vaccines and once again pronounced them safe.

A systematic review published this month by the journal Pediatrics notes some evidence of “adverse effects” from 11 vaccines. But the authors of the 13-page report emphasize that such problems are “extremely rare” and that the benefits of routine childhood immunizations far outweigh the risks.

“Vaccines are considered one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th century for their role in eradicating smallpox and controlling polio, measles, rubella and other infectious diseases in the United States,” wrote the study authors, a group of experts from RAND Corp. in Santa Monica, Calif., the University of California, Los Angeles, and Boston Children’s Hospital.

However, some parents falsely believe that these vaccines cause autism and other health problems, and they are opting out in increasing numbers. “Parental refusal of vaccines has contributed to outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and pertussis,” the study authors wrote.

At the request of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the researchers scoured the medical literature for the most scientifically rigorous studies on vaccine safety in kids. In addition to the studies examined in a comprehensive 2011 report from the Institute of Medicine, they identified 67 more studies involving controlled trials. Studies using versions of vaccines that aren’t available in the U.S. were not included in the analysis.

Here’s what the researchers found about each vaccine:

DTaP: The vaccine against diptheria toxoid, tetanus toxoid and acellular pertussis does not cause Type 1 diabetes, according to the available evidence. Likewise, there’s no evidence to suggest the DTaP vaccine causes any other medical conditions.

Hib: The Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine can cause redness and swelling but not high fevers, diarrhea, fungal infections, gastroesophageal reflux disease, convulsions or other conditions serious enough to require hospitalization.

Hepatitis A: One of the studies reviewed demonstrated a “moderate association” between this vaccine and purpura, a short-term condition in which leaky blood vessels cause purple spots to appear on the skin. The link was found only in children between the ages of 7 and 17.

Hepatitis B: A 2010 study reported a heightened risk of autism for boys who got this vaccine in their first month of life, but it had methodological flaws that left the authors of the new report unconvinced. They also said that the evidence suggests there is no link between this vaccine and new or relapsing cases of multiple sclerosis. However, children who are sensitive to yeast did have an increased risk of anaphylaxis.

Inactivated polio virus: Although one study found that children who got this vaccine as newborns had a heightened risk of food allergies, the authors of the new report found the evidence too weak to be conclusive.

Influenza: Most studies find no link between flu vaccines and any adverse events, though a few did reveal that kids who got a flu shot (either the live attenuated vaccine that is given through the nose and the inactivated vaccine that’s injected into muscle) were more likely than kids who didn’t to develop short-term gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea and vomiting. In addition, young children who got the inactivated vaccine had a small increased risk of febrile seizures, especially when they got their flu shots along with the pneumococcal vaccine.

MMR: The vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella does not cause autism, the report authors wrote. However, some versions the vaccine have been linked to an increased risk of febrile seizures, short-term joint pain and purpura.

Meningococcal: The vaccine against meningococcal disease can cause anaphylaxis in children who are allergic to its ingredients, the research team found. However, there is no link between the vaccine and fevers, malaise, hives, muscle pain, headache, changes in eating habits, severe irritability, persistent crying or severe sleepiness.

PCV13: The vaccine against 13 pneumococcal strains does seem to increase the risk of febrile seizures, especially when given in conjunction with a flu shot.

Rotavirus: The primary risks associated with the Rotarix or RotaTeq vaccines were cough, runny nose and irritability. The report authors found moderately strong evidence that the vaccine is linked to intussusception, “a serious disorder in which part of the intestine slides into an adjacent part of the intestine” like a telescope, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, these adverse events are “extremely rare,” according to the Pediatrics report.

Varicella: The Institute of Medicine report said this vaccine can cause children to get viruses that cause chickenpox or shingles; those infections can progress to pneumonia, meningitis, hepatitis, encephalitis or anaphylaxis. In addition, the researchers found evidence that the vaccine can cause purpura in children between the ages of 11 and 17.

The researchers also examined combinations of vaccines and found that they did not increase the risk of leukemia. In fact, one study from Texas suggested that vaccines may reduce the risk of acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

In sum, “evidence was found for an association of several serious AEs (adverse events) with vaccines; however, these events were extremely rare,” the researchers wrote. “Our findings may allay some patient, caregiver and health care provider concerns.”

A commentary also published in Pediatrics underscored that point.

Its author, Dr. Carrie Byington of the University of Utah’s department of pediatrics, noted that the benefits of vaccines — including 42,000 premature deaths and 20 million illnesses averted in children born in a single year — far outweigh the risks.

“Fortunately, the adverse events identified by the authors were rare and in most cases would be expected to resolve completely after the acute event,” Byington wrote. “This contrasts starkly with the natural infections that vaccines are designed to prevent, which may reduce the quality of life through permanent morbidities, such as blindness, deafness, developmental delay, epilepsy, or paralysis and may also result in death.”

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Comments (11 Responses)

  1. Robin S says:

    For the vast majority of children, vaccines do not have adverse effects, but if you are the parents of a child that has a life altering event after have a vaccination and that is the only event that can be traced back to before the life altering event, all the studies in the world cannot change their mind. My son had the Hep A vaccine and developed GBS that almost killed him. He now has a leg that is partially paralized and a reduce immune system. There were no other illnesses or other event that would have caused this rare disease except for the vaccination. The public health people can say that there are few side effects from the vaccines, but I firmly believe that if my son had not gotten the Hep A vaccines he would not have gotten GBS and changed his life forever.

  2. Michele D says:

    We believed our doctor, that vaccines are safe. Well, define safe. My child had a severe reaction to MMR. She developed PDD-NOS, a form of autism. The only way to determine if vaccines will destroy a child’s life is to vaccinate them. Who gets to decide what are acceptable losses? Even the CDC admits vaccines are not safe for everyone.

  3. Autism parent says:

    After a young man died lastvyear after getting the flu shot, I emailed the FDA vaccine safety office to ask if they ever followed up on individual cases of serious adverse reaction or death. The answer is they don’t. The look at vaccine safety in the context of population as a whole so if the majority getting a shot are okay then the shots are deemed safe. They could do a million populations studies on vaccine safety and the results will always be the same. Apparently following up on documented cases of serious adverse reaction is not a priority.

  4. Autism Parent says:

    I think the key is whether the child has a high number of mitochondria with hidden imperfections in the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) that could be aggravated by vaccines leading to a dysfunction. UC Davis researchers found that many kids with ASD have an underlying mitochondrila dysfunction. Mitochondria supply energy to the brain amd all body organs so a dysfnction can be catestrophic. I do not think Hannah Poing is alone. I think there could be many kids like Hannah who suffered a mitochondrial dysfunction after recieving multiple vaccines. The problem is noone has ever studied and CDC has never funded stuides to look into a connection. It’s an attitude of “Dont ask, don’t tell and don’t fund”.

  5. Cathy says:

    I find it interesting that these different entities keep saying the same thing over and over. I think most parents have made up their minds one way or another already. Seriously, anymore they don’t do the proper research/testing and rush all this stuff and its changes to the market so they can start reaping the benefits. Government entities making my decisions? Not if I have a choice.

  6. Lyelle Palmer, Ph.D. says:

    While rare, the effect of the change in one day that lasted for 6 months (unable to speak) was devastating for our family with helpless, hopeless and denial that seemed uncaring if not a cruel response by professionals. The simplest policy that was followed with other children and grandchildren in our family was simply to spread out the shots over several visits. Some children simply cannot tolerate the combined effects of biological threat in these combinations of sera. Side effects occur in most drugs, but the unpredictable and alarming impact on the brain for some children is problematic. If/when parents show concern, denial should be replaced with the simple alternative of giving these vaccines is series rather than all at once. Children must have immunity, so tell parents to spread out the schedule. In regard to statistics, the population means, standard deviations and proportions are meaningless for any particular child. Statistics are for groups, not individuals. Publicize the sequential administration of vaccines so that parents have a way to trust the system. Otherwise, too many children are not receiving the protection they need. Let parents know that the system can supply alternative scheduling.

  7. autism parent says:

    Combined effects including the age, number, order, number and frequency at which shots are given are not well understood in existing research according to the IOM.

    CDC says :” However, as with any medical procedure, vaccination has some risks as well as substantial, proven benefits. Individuals react differently to vaccines, and there is no way to absolutely predict the reaction of a specific individual to a particular vaccine. Anyone who takes a vaccine should be fully informed about both the benefits and the risks of vaccination. Any questions or concerns should be discussed with a physician or other health care provider”

    if the CDC says they cannot predict how an individual will react to vaccines, then how can CDC say they are safe for everyone. They can’t!

  8. KA101 says:

    I suppose that lottery winners would be more likely to feel that lottery tickets are a good investment than non-winners, and from what I’m reading here the proportions (winner:non-winner :: antivax:provax) are about the same.

    My condolences on your having experienced either extremely unfortunately-timed coincidences, or extremely low-probability negative events.

  9. Anonymous says:

    What about the effects of ALL OF THESE vaccines together? I see an analysis of literature looking at all the separate vaccines and not what they do all together! An EXPERIMENTAL STUDY LOOKING AT ALL VACCINES TOGETHER NEEDS TO BE DONE AND UNTIL THEN, it’s not safe!

  10. ASD parent says:

    As a parent with a child with ASD, I am so tired of this “cover up”. Agreed that not all children are at risk by being vaccinated but many are. I don’t know the answers but I sure wish it could be found. I do think it comes down to the number of vaccines given at one time as well as the bio/chemisty of the child as someone just mentioned about mito issues. I also believe there could be a connection with giving tylenol with the vaccines. Interesting how there is now a link with tylenol with ASD in pregnancy…why not with the vaccines. We gave it before the vaccine and after as the peditrician recommended. Our child showed no problems and progressed well as a baby during the first two years of vaccines. We just had our 6 yr well check and we did the titers. Our new Ped (not the one that gave the vaccines and MMR) could not get over the MMR titers for our son…she was shocked. And I quote “clearly he had a reaction.”. We gave MMR at 12 months. And well folks, that reaction was a diagnosis of ASD at 2 1/2 yrs old.

  11. Curah Beard says:

    It doesn’t indicate and it makes me question whether these evaluations also took into consideration the preservatives used in these vaccines and their affect on children — especially since many of these vaccines are given in combination. ie: my son who has autism was administered DPT+MMR+2 more shots at ONE SETTING, and then a few months later given another 7 shots (in combination). So what is the cumulative and combining effect of these vaccines. Perhaps that is what we should be re-evaluating as well .. the methodology of “accelerated” administration.

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