Vaccines and SIDS

Rates of most causes of sudden infant death, including SIDS, have dropped since the mid-1990s.
Rates of most causes of sudden infant death, including SIDS, have dropped since the mid-1990s.

Long before Andy Wakefield scared parents with the idea that vaccines could be linked to autism, we had the myth that vaccines caused SIDS or sudden infant death syndrome.

SIDS

SIDS is the “cause assigned to infant deaths that cannot be explained after a thorough case investigation, including a scene investigation, autopsy, and review of the clinical history.”

Like other types of sudden unexpected infant death (SUID), including sleep related deaths, the incidence of SIDS decreased dramatically in the mid-1990s after the American Academy of Pediatrics introduced their safe sleep recommendations.

These recommendations have evolved over the years, which is now called Safe to Sleep, and now include advice about room sharing instead of bedsharing, the protective role of breastfeeding and getting immunized, avoiding overheating, using pacifiers, and getting regular prenatal care, etc.

Vaccines and SIDS

The fact that getting immunized is thought to have a protective role against SIDS should help folks understand that vaccines do not cause SIDS.

“There is no evidence that there is a causal relationship between immunizations and SIDS. Indeed, recent evidence suggests that vaccination may have a protective effect against SIDS.”

AAP Task Force on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

It is very easy to see why some would think they could be linked though. The highest risk of SIDS coincides with the ages of the two and four month well child checks, when infants are vaccinated. But as many of us understand, correlation does not imply causation. Just because two things happen at the same time doesn’t mean that one caused the other.

It also didn’t help that in 1999, ABC’s 20/20 did a misleading episode, “Who’s Calling the Shots?,” which claimed that the hepatitis B vaccine could cause SIDS.

But it is easy to see that they were wrong.

For one thing, even as we are giving infants more vaccines and protecting them from more diseases, fewer infants are dying of SIDS. How can that be if vaccines are linked to SIDS?

And why is the infant mortality rate in the United States continuing to go down, recently reaching a record low?

Also, many studies, such as this one, “Probability of Coincident Vaccination in the 24 or 48 Hours Preceding Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Death in Australia,” showed that coincident vaccination and SIDS can be expected to occur by chance alone. In fact, for the infants in this study, they showed that “if a child experienced an illness at the age of 8 weeks, then there is a 7% chance (or probability of 0.07) that the child would have been vaccinated in the preceding 24 hours.”

“…when a number of well-controlled studies were conducted during the 1980s, the investigators found, nearly unanimously, that the number of SIDS deaths temporally associated with DTP vaccination was within the range expected to occur by chance. In other words, the SIDS deaths would have occurred even if no vaccinations had been given.”

WHO Six Common Misconceptions About Immunization

And other studies actually showed that getting vaccinated reduced an infant’s risk of dying of SIDS.

What To Know About Vaccines and SIDS

Vaccines do not cause SIDS.

In fact, getting vaccinated is now thought to have a protective effect against SIDS!

For More Information on Vaccines and SIDS

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