Can Vaccines Cause Transverse Myelitis?

Transverse myelitis is not common, so most people probably haven’t heard of it.

“The term myelitis refers to inflammation of the spinal cord; transverse refers to the pattern of changes in sensation—there is often a band-like sensation across the trunk of the body, with sensory changes below.”

Transverse Myelitis Fact Sheet

The symptoms of transverse myelitis depend on where the inflammation occurs and sometimes, on the cause. They can include back pain, weakness or paralysis of the legs and arms, paresthesias (sensory alterations in the neck, arms, or legs), and bowel and bladder dysfunction.

What Causes Transverse Myelitis?

An MRI of a teen with transverse myelitis.
An MRI of a teen with transverse myelitis that resolved after total body irradiation therapy was stopped.

Many things can cause transverse myelitis.

Possible triggers can include:

  • infections – following bacterial, viral, fungal, and parasitic infections
  • immune system disorders
  • inflammatory disorders
  • vascular disorders

Unfortunately, it isn’t usually known what causes someone to develop transverse myelitis.

There are treatments though and many people with transverse myelitis have at least a partial recovery, although it may take months to years.

Transverse myelitis is not thought to be genetic and rates are highest in two age groups – those between 10 and 19 years (when many preteens and teens get vaccinated) and those between 30 and 39 years.

Can Vaccines Cause Transverse Myelitis?

Have you heard that vaccines can cause transverse myelitis?

“Vaccines currently routinely recommended to the general population in the U.S. have not been shown to cause transverse myelitis.”

Institute for Vaccine Safety on Do Vaccines Cause Transverse Myelitis?

While there are some case reports that tell of a temporal association between getting a vaccine and later developing transverse myelitis, the evidence does not support any association.

Why do we see these case reports?

Just like SIDS, autism, type 1 diabetes, and many other conditions, transverse myelitis has a background rate of disease or a number of cases that you can expect to occur in a given population. Once you know this background rate, you can then predict how many people will coincidentally develop transverse myelitis within one, seven, forty-two, or more days after they are vaccinated.

With a background rate of about 0.36 per 100,000 people, if one million get a vaccine, you would expect:

  • at least 1 to 2 of them to develop transverse myelitis coincidentally after 1 day
  • at least 1 to 2 of them to develop transverse myelitis coincidentally after 7 days
  • at least 2 to 4 of them to develop transverse myelitis coincidentally after 42 days

If the rate is higher than that, it could indicate a problem.

Let’s do the math.

There are about 1,400 new cases of transverse myelitis in the United States each year.

How many vaccines are given? About 286 million doses – each year. Some of those are given on the same day, but that would still mean that 100s of people should be getting transverse myelitis within 1 to 7 days if vaccines were a cause.

They aren’t.

“Correlation does not imply causation.”

In fact, an Institute of Medicine report, Adverse Effects of Vaccines: Evidence and Causality, dismissed most of the evidence for an associated between vaccines and transverse myelitis as insufficient and lacking.

And further studies found no association:

  • A Vaccine Safety Datalink study, Acute Demyelinating Events Following Vaccines: A Case-Centered Analysis, looked at nearly 64 million vaccine doses of vaccines and also “found no association between TM and prior immunization.”
  • Another study, Maternal safety of trivalent inactivated influenza vaccine in pregnant women, used “a large, geographically diverse, retrospective cohort of pregnant women” and found no cases of transverse myelitis.

Not only do vaccines not cause transverse myelitis, but many vaccine-preventable diseases can. So vaccines can likely protect you from developing transverse myelitis by protecting you from these diseases!

What to Know About Transverse Myelitis

Vaccines do not cause transverse myelitis, although many vaccine-preventable diseases can.

More on Transverse Myelitis

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