Tag: risks

The Unvaccinated Child

We know that your unvaccinated child is not healthier than vaccinated children.

And we know that among pediatric flu deaths, most are unvaccinated.

What else do we know about unvaccinated children?

Who’s Who Among Unvaccinated Children

Many children with cancer and other medical conditions benefit from herd immunity.
Many children with cancer and other medical conditions have medical exemptions to getting vaccinated and benefit from herd immunity. (CC BY 2.0)

Although it seems like unvaccinated kids all get grouped together, it is important to remember that not all unvaccinated kids are intentionally unvaccinated.

Some are too young to be vaccinated or fully vaccinated, some have medical exemptions, usually to just one or a few vaccines, and sometimes just temporary, and some have skipped or delayed one or more vaccines because of a lack of access to health care.

Whatever the reason, they are all at risk because they are unvaccinated.

The intentionally unvaccinated child poses the bigger risk though, because they tend to cluster together and are more likely to be either completely unvaccinated or to have skipped multiple vaccines. A child with a medical exemption because she is getting chemotherapy, on the other hand, very likely lives with a family who is completely vaccinated and protected. Similarly, a child with an allergy to a vaccine likely isn’t missing multiple vaccines.

Risks to the Unvaccinated Child

Of course, the main risk to the unvaccinated child is that they will get a potentially life-threatening vaccine-preventable disease.

While many vaccine-preventable diseases are no longer endemic in the United States and other developed countries, they have not been eradicated.

People do still get vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States.

And tragically, people do still die of vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States.

Can’t you just hide in the herd, depending on everyone else to be vaccinated and protected to keep these diseases away from your unvaccinated child? While that ends up being what happens most of the time, as there are no real alternatives to getting vaccinated, that strategy doesn’t always work. And it is a gamble that’s not worth taking and won’t keep working if more parents skip or delay getting their kids vaccinated.

Risks of the Unvaccinated Child to Everyone Else

Unvaccinated kids are also a risk to those around them, as they are more likely to get sick with a vaccine-preventable disease, since they have no immunity. No, they are not an instant danger if they don’t actually have a vaccine-preventable disease, but since you can be contagious a few days before you have symptoms, you are not always going to know when your child is sick and a risk to others.

Why does that matter if everyone else is vaccinated and immune?

Well, obviously, everyone else is not vaccinated and immune, including those with medical exemptions and those who are too young to be vaccinated. And since vaccines aren’t perfect, some people who are vaccinated can still get sick.

That’s why it is critical that if your unvaccinated child is sick or was exposed to someone who is sick, you are sure to:

  • notify health professionals about your child’s immunization status before seeking medical attention, as they will likely want to take precautions to keep you from exposing others to very contagious diseases like measles, mumps, and pertussis
  • follow all appropriate quarantine procedures that may have been recommended, which often extends up to 21 days after the last time you were exposed to someone with a vaccine-preventable disease
  • seek medical attention, as these are not mild diseases and they can indeed be life-threatening, even in this age of modern medicine

Hopefully you will think about all of these risks before your unvaccinated child has a chance to sick.

Getting Your Unvaccinated Child Caught Up

Fortunately, many unvaccinated kids do eventually get caught up on their vaccines.

It may be that they had a medical exemption that was just temporary and they are now cleared to get fully vaccinated.

Or they might have had parents who were following a non-standard, parent-selected, delayed protection vaccine schedule, but they have now decided to get caught up to attend daycare or school.

Others get over their fears as they get further educated about vaccines and vaccine myths and decide to get caught up and protected.

Is it ever too late to get vaccinated?

Actually it is.

In addition to the fact that your child might have already gotten sick with a particular vaccine preventable diseases, some vaccines are only given to younger kids.

For example, you have to be less than 15 weeks old to start the rotavirus vaccine. And you should get your final dose before 8 months. That means that if you decide to start catching up your fully unvaccinated infant at 9 months, then you won’t be able to get him vaccinated and protected against rotavirus disease. Similarly, Hib vaccine isn’t usually given to kids who are aged 5 years or older and Prevnar to kids who are aged 6 years or older, unless they are in a  high risk group.

Still, you will be able to get most vaccines. And using combination vaccines, you should be able to decrease the number of individual shots your child needs to get caught up. An accelerated schedule using minimum age intervals is also available if you need to get caught up quickly.

You should especially think about getting quickly caught up if there is an outbreak in your area or if you are thinking about traveling out of the country, as many vaccine-preventable diseases are still endemic in other parts of the world.

What to Know About The Unvaccinated Child

The main things to understand about the unvaccinated child is that they aren’t healthier than other kids, are just at more risk for getting a vaccine preventable disease, and should get caught up on their vaccines as soon as possible.

More on The Unvaccinated Child

We Don’t Know How To Talk About Vaccines

There is a dirty little secret about vaccines that people don’t seem to like to talk about.

No, it’s not about toxins or autism.

“Our systematic review did not reveal any convincing evidence on effective interventions to address parental vaccine hesitancy and refusal. We found a large number of studies that evaluated interventions for increasing immunization coverage rates such as the use of reminder/recall systems, parent, community-wide, and provider-based education and incentives as well as the effect of government and school immunization policies.

However, very few intervention studies measured outcomes linked to vaccine refusal such as vaccination rates in refusing parents, intent to vaccinate, or change in attitudes toward vaccines.

Most of the studies included in the analysis were observational studies that were either under-powered or provided indirect evidence.”

Sadaf et al on A systematic review of interventions for reducing parental vaccine refusal and vaccine hesitancy

It’s that we don’t really know how to talk about vaccines to vaccine hesitant parents, at least not in a way that we know will consistently get them to vaccinate and protect their kids.

Understanding Studies About Vaccine Hesitancy

Sure, a lot of studies have been done about talking to vaccine hesitant parents.

We have all seen the headlines:

  • Study: You Can’t Change an Anti-Vaxxer’s Mind
  • Pro-vaccine messages can boost belief in MMR myths, study shows
  • UWA study shows attacking alternative medicines is not the answer to get parents to vaccinate kids
  • Training Doctors To Talk About Vaccines Fails To Sway Parents

Does that mean that you shouldn’t try to talk to vaccine hesitant parents?

Of course not.

“How providers initiate and pursue vaccine recommendations is associated with parental vaccine acceptance.”

Opel et al on The Architecture of Provider-Parent Vaccine Discussions at Health Supervision Visits

Just understand that these headlines are usually about small studies, which if they were about treating a child with asthma or strep throat,  likely wouldn’t change how you do things.

Why do anti-vaccine websites still post misinformation about fake recommendations to stop breastfeeding?
Why do people continue to believe misinformation about fake recommendations to stop breastfeeding?

In one study that concluded that “physician-targeted communication intervention did not reduce maternal vaccine hesitancy or improve physician self-efficacy,” the physicians got a total of 45 minutes of training!

So they shouldn’t have so much influence about how you might talk to parents about vaccines that you throw up your hands at the thought of talking to a vaccine hesitant parent and won’t even think about learning how to use the CASE method, why presumptive language might work, or about vaccination-focused motivational interviewing techniques.

The bottom line is that no matter what the headlines say, we just haven’t found the best way to talk to vaccine-hesitant parents and help them overcome their cognitive biases. And until more studies are done, none of the existing studies about anti-vaccine myth-busting should likely overly influence how you do things.

“Physicians should aim for both parental satisfaction and a positive decision to vaccinate. Researchers must continue to develop conceptually clear, evidence-informed, and practically implementable approaches to parental vaccine hesitancy, and agencies need to commit to supporting the evidence base. Billions of dollars fund the research and development of vaccines to ensure their efficacy and safety. There needs to be a proportional commitment to the “R&D” of vaccine acceptance because vaccines are only effective if people willingly take them up.”

Leask et al on Physician Communication With Vaccine-Hesitant Parents: The Start, Not the End, of the Story

If you spend any time talking to vaccine hesitant parents, especially those who are on the fence, you quickly learn that many are eager to get good information about vaccines and all want to do what is best for their kids.

It’s just hard for many of them to do what is best when their decisions are getting influenced by vaccine scare videos and many of the 100s of myths about vaccines that are out there.

“…while the drivers of vaccine hesitancy are well documented, effective intervention strategies for addressing the issue are sorely lacking. Here, we argue that this may be because existing strategies have been guided more by intuition than by insights from psychology and by the erroneous assumption that humans act rationally.”

Rossen et al on Going with the Grain of Cognition: Applying Insights from Psychology to Build Support for Childhood Vaccination

So while we need more studies on the best ways to talk to vaccine hesitant parents, don’t dismiss all of the ways that might be effective, such as:

It is also important to become familiar with the myths and anti-vaccine talking points that may be scaring your patients away from getting vaccinated on time.

Why is this important?

If a parent is concerned about glyphosate, you might not sound too convincing telling them not to worry if you don’t even know what glyphosate is.

What to Know About Vaccine Hesitancy Studies

While we learn better ways to talk about vaccines, so that vaccine-hesitant parents can more easily understand that vaccines are safe and necessary, don’t dismiss current strategies because of small studies and attention grabbing headlines.

More on Vaccine Hesitancy Studies

 

Is It a Vaccine Reaction?

Why do anti-vaccine folks think that there are so many vaccine reactions?

It is mostly because they think that anything bad that happens after someone is vaccinated, even if it is weeks or months later, must have been caused by the vaccine.

“Differentiation between coincidence and causality is of utmost importance in this respect. This is not always easy, especially when an event is rare and background rates are not available.”

Heininger on A risk-benefit analysis of vaccination

Of course, this discounts that fact that most people have a basic risk, often called the background rate, for developing most of these very same conditions, and they can just coincide with getting vaccinated.

Put more simply, the “reaction” would have happened whether or not they had been vaccinated.

“…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 on Six Common Misconceptions About Immunization

That doesn’t mean that everything automatically gets blamed on coincidence though.

Is It a Vaccine Reaction?

Vaccine adverse events can be reported to VAERS online or using a downloadable form.
Vaccine reactions can be reported to VAERS online or using a downloadable form.

When trying to determine if a child has had a vaccine reaction, experts typically go through a series of questions, looking at the evidence for and against :

  • How soon after the vaccine was given did the reaction occur? Was it minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, or years later?
  • Is there any evidence that something else could have caused the reaction?
  • Is there a known causal relation between the reaction and the vaccine?
  • Is the reaction a table injury?
  • Is there evidence that the vaccine does not have a causal association with the reaction?
  • Do any lab tests support the idea that it was a vaccine reaction?

Why is it important to consider these and other questions?

Because most of us are very good at jumping to conclusions, are quick to place blame, and like to know the reasons for why things happen.

We don’t like to think that things are just caused by coincidence.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore, because of this).

We are especially good at linking events and often automatically assume that one thing caused another simply because it occurred afterwards.

It is incident to physicians, I am afraid, beyond all other men, to mistake subsequence for consequence.

Dr Samuel Johnson

But we also know that correlation does not imply causation. And because of the great benefits of vaccines, it is important to find strong evidence for a correlation before we blame vaccines for a reaction.

Too often though, the opposite happens. Despite strong evidence against a correlation, parents and some pediatricians still blame vaccines for many things, from SIDS and encephalitis to autism.

Background Rates vs Vaccine Reactions

Although anti-vaccine folks are always calling for vaccinated vs unvaccinated studies to further prove that vaccines are indeed safe, much of that work is already done by looking at the observed rate of possible reactions and comparing them to the background rate of reactions and conditions.

We often know how many people are expected to develop certain conditions, from seizures and type 1 diabetes mellitus to acute transverse myelitis and juvenile and rheumatoid arthritis.

“On the basis of the reviewed data, if a cohort of 10 million individuals was vaccinated in the UK, 21.5 cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome and 5.75 cases of sudden death would be expected to occur within 6 weeks of vaccination as coincident background cases. In female vaccinees in the USA, 86.3 cases of optic neuritis per 10 million population would be expected within 6 weeks of vaccination. 397 per 1 million vaccinated pregnant women would be predicted to have a spontaneous abortion within 1 day of vaccination.”

Black et al on Importance of background rates of disease in assessment of vaccine safety during mass immunisation with pandemic H1N1 influenza vaccines

Intussusception is a good example of this.

This might surprise some folks, but we diagnosed and treated kids with intussusception well before the first rotavirus vaccines were ever introduced. And then, it was only after the risk of intussusception after vaccination exceeded the background rate that experts were able to determine that there was an issue.

Background rates also explain why unvaccinated kids develop autism. It’s not a coincidence.

“Knowledge of the background incidence rates of possible adverse events is a crucial part of assessing possible vaccine safety concerns. It allows for a rapid observed vs expected analysis and helps to distinguish legitimate safety concerns from events that are temporally associated with but not necessarily caused by vaccination.”

Gadroen et al on Baseline incidence of intussusception in early childhood before rotavirus vaccine introduction, the Netherlands, January 2008 to December 2012

Fortunately, studies have never found an increased risk above the background rate for SIDS, non-febrile seizures, and other things that anti-vaccine folks often blame on vaccines. So when these things happen on the same day or one or two days after getting vaccinated, it almost certainly truly is a coincidence. It would have happened even if your child had not been vaccinated, just like we see these things happen in the days before a child was due to get their vaccines.

For example, using background incidence rates in Danish children, one study found that if you vaccinated a million children with a new flu vaccine, you could expect that naturally, after seven days, you would see:

  • facial nerve palsy – one case
  • seizures – 36 cases
  • multiple sclerosis – one case
  • type 1 diabetes – three cases
  • juvenile and rheumatoid arthritis – three cases

After six weeks, those numbers of course go up. In addition to 4 kids developing MS, 20 develop diabetes, 19 develop arthritis, and 218 have seizures, and there would have been at least two deaths of unknown cause.

Would you blame the flu shot for these things?

What flu shot?

This was a “hypothetical vaccine cohort” that used 30 years of data from the Danish healthcare system to figure out background rates of each condition.

“In addition, the expected number of deaths in Japan following an estimated 15 million doses of H1N1 vaccine administered would be >8000 deaths during the 20 days following vaccination, based on the crude mortality rate.”

McCarthy et al on Mortality Rates and Cause-of-Death Patterns in a Vaccinated Population

Looking at background rates is especially helpful when folks report about vaccine deaths.

Using the Japan example that McCarthy studied, if they had looked at background rates, then all of a sudden, the 107 deaths they found after 15 million doses of H1N1 vaccine were given in 2009 would not have been so alarming. Background rates would have predicted a much, much higher number of deaths to naturally occur in that time period simply based on crude mortality rates.

Again, none of this means that possible vaccine reactions are dismissed as being coincidences. They just aren’t immediately assumed to have been caused by vaccines, because vaccines are necessary and a lot of research has already gone into demonstrating that vaccines are safe and vaccines continue to go through routine safety monitoring to make sure they stay safe.

What to Know About Evaluating Vaccine Reactions

Vaccines are safe and many of the things that folks think are vaccine reactions can be explained by looking at the background rates for these conditions and understanding that they would have happened anyway.

More on Evaluating Vaccine Reactions

How Many People Die in the USA Every Year from Being Vaccinated?

We know that vaccines work to save lives from vaccine-preventable disease.

If you are at all hesitant about vaccines and are doing your research, you have likely come across the myth that vaccines are more dangerous than the diseases they protect us against though.

This is only because most people don’t remember the pre-vaccine era when measles, polio, small pox, and diphtheria, etc., were big killers. So even though vaccine side effects are about the same as they always have been, they can become a much bigger focus for some people because they don’t see any of the mortality or morbidity from the diseases that the vaccines have gotten so good at preventing.

immunization-program-stages
As more people are vaccinated and diseases disappear, they forget how bad those diseases are, skip or delay getting their vaccines, and trigger outbreaks. Photo by WHO

It is at this crossover point that anti-vaccine folks are able to get away with pushing myths, such as like more people die from the MMR vaccine than from measles.

They don’t.

How Many People Die in the USA Every Year from Being Vaccinated?

Although vaccines are not perfectly safe, it is extremely rare for a vaccine reaction to be deadly.

“As for vaccines causing death, again so few deaths can plausibly be attributed to vaccines that it is hard to assess the risk statistically.”

WHO on Six common misconceptions about immunization

So why do anti-vaccine folks think that they are more common than they really are?

That’s an easy question to answer.

“Differentiation between coincidence and causality is of utmost importance in this respect. This is not always easy, especially when an event is rare and background rates are not available.”

Heininger on A risk-benefit analysis of vaccination

They often believe than anything and everything that happens after someone is vaccinated, even if it is weeks or months later, must have been caused by the vaccine. This discounts that fact that most people have a basic risk, often called the background rate, for developing these conditions that can coincide with getting vaccinated. It also explains why they believe in so many so-called vaccine induced diseases.

Another reason is that they also misuse VAERS reports when talking about vaccine deaths.

“In a review of reports of death following vaccination submitted to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) from the early 1990s, the Institute of Medicine concluded that most were coincidental, not causally associated.”

Moro et al on Deaths Reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, United States, 1997–2013

Not surprisingly though, studies have shown that most of the deaths in VAERS are not actually related to vaccines.

In fact, most of the things that anti-vaccine folks blame on vaccines, including things you see in many of their vaccine-injury stories, are not related to vaccines.

How Many People Die in the USA Every Year from Vaccine-Preventable Diseases?

Fortunately, most people are vaccinated, and deaths from  vaccine preventable diseases are tremendously below what they were in the pre-vaccine era.

Most people will be surprised to know that they aren’t zero though.

People do still get vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States.

And tragically, people do still die of vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States.

For example, in 2015:

  • there were at least 37 cases of perinatal hepatitis B infections
  • five infants and children less than age 5 years died of rotavirus disease
  • a 14-month-old died of Hib meningitis
  • an infant died of pneumococcal meningitis
  • a 3-year-old with congenital rubella syndrome died
  • at least two teens died of meningococcal meningitis
  • a woman in Washington died of measles – the immunosuppressed women was exposed to an outbreak in Clallam County that mostly included intentionally unvaccinated kids
  • 85 kids died of the flu

Of course, worldwide, especially in developing countries, the number of deaths are much higher, which is a good reminder of what would happen if more of us stopped vaccinating!

And it is an even better reminder that you have to look at the number of deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases today in the context that most people are vaccinated and protected.

If you are truly looking at a risk vs benefit analysis of whether or not to get vaccinated, it is still the great benefit of avoiding vaccine preventable diseases vs the very small risks of getting vaccinated that you should think about.

“I also warn them not to share their fears with their neighbors, because if too many people avoid the MMR, we’ll likely see the diseases increase significantly.”

Dr. Bob Sears in The Vaccine Book

It is also the small risks of getting vaccinated vs the much greater risk of going back to the pre-vaccine era if you decided to skip or delay any vaccines.

It is not that you have been scared into thinking that the risks of  vaccines outweigh their benefits.

“Millions of vaccinations are given to children and adults in the United States each year. Serious adverse reactions are rare. However, because of the high volume of use, coincidental adverse events including deaths, that are temporally associated with vaccination, do occur. When death occurs shortly following vaccination, loved ones and others might naturally question whether it was related to vaccination. A large body of evidence supports the safety of vaccines, and multiple studies and scientific reviews have found no association between vaccination and deaths except in rare cases.”

Miller et al on Deaths following vaccination: What does the evidence show?

It is not that the risk of getting a vaccine preventable disease is low because you might be able to get away with hiding in the herd.

It is not that the risk of getting a vaccine preventable disease is low because you are counting on everyone else in the world to get vaccinated and eliminate or eradicate the disease and your risk.

If too many parents who are on the fence start believing that their kids have zero risk of getting polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases and continue to skip or delay vaccines, then boom, we are back to the days when outbreaks would close schools and kids would suffer from the devastating effects of these diseases.

Even the schools were closed in San Antonio when polio came to Texas in 1946.
Even the schools were closed in San Antonio when polio came to Texas in 1946.

While anti-vaccine folks won’t have such an easy time convincing people that these diseases are mild anymore, none of us want to wait for more outbreaks to occur before folks get the message that vaccines are safe and necessary.

What to Know About Vaccine Deaths

Despite what anti-vaccine folks would have you believe as they try to scare you away from vaccinating and protecting your kids, vaccines are safe and necessary and vaccine deaths are very rare.

More on Vaccine Deaths

Vaccines are Safe

Vaccines have side effects.

Fortunately, they are usually very mild.

And understanding that vaccines are safe, makes getting their kids vaccinated an easy decision for most parents, as they understand that the many benefits of vaccines far outweigh any possible risks.

How Do We Know Vaccines Are Safe?

If you are on the fence about vaccines, simply saying they are safe might not be enough for you.

“​Over the previous 40 years the IOM has conducted over 60 vaccine safety studies, including this comprehensive review of the immunization schedule. The IOM committee did not find any evidence of major safety concerns related to receiving on-time vaccinations according to the Recommended Immunization Schedule for children. They concluded that this should help to reassure stakeholders. Further, they noted that while the receiving on-time vaccines was not harmful, it was strongly associated with reducing vaccine-preventable diseases. ​”

American Academy of Pediatrics on Vaccine Safety: Examine the Evidence

How do we really know vaccines are safe?

A 2013 report about vaccines from the Institute of Medicine uncovered no evidence of major safety concerns.
A 2013 report about vaccines from the Institute of Medicine uncovered no evidence of major safety concerns.
  • vaccines go through a long period of pre-licensure testing and evaluation when being developed to make sure they are safe and that they work before they are approved
  • vaccines are tested together
  • vaccines are continually monitored after they are made, to make sure they maintain their potency, are kept at the proper temperature, and other quality testing
  • several post-licensure vaccine safety systems monitor for safety issues, including VAERS, the Vaccine Safety Datalink, and the Clinical Immunization Safety Assessment (CISA) Project and other global vaccine safety systems
  • 40 years of safety reports from the Institute of Medicine (IOM)
  • reports from the Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety, which has reviewed and commented on everything from aluminum adjuvants and the potential for immunogenic overload (too many too soon) to the safety of HPV vaccines

And it is important to know that much of the information that you hear and read that is trying to scare you about vaccines and vaccine ingredients is simply not true and easily debunked.

What to Know About Vaccine Safety

From years and years of pre-licensure vaccine safety testing to continual post-licensure vaccine safety monitoring, we can be confident that vaccines are safe.

More on Knowing Vaccines are Safe

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What Are the Risks of Vaccines?

Vaccines are very safe, but they are not 100% risk free.

They are certainly not as high risk as some anti-vaccine folks will have you believe though.

“Vaccine hesitation is associated with perceived risk. Since vaccine-preventable diseases are rare, an adverse event from a vaccine is perceived by the parent to be of greater risk. Risk perception is critical.”

AAP on Addressing Common Concerns of Vaccine-Hesitant Parents

And when you consider their great benefits, it is easy to see why the great majority of parents get their kids fully vaccinated and protected against all recommended vaccine-preventable diseases.

Risk Perception and Vaccine Hesitancy

Even though the risks and side effects of vaccines are very low, some people think that they are much higher. This is often amplified because of vaccine scare stories and the misinformation found on anti-vaccine websites.

“No intervention is absolutely risk free. Even the journey to a physician’s office with the intention to receive a vaccination carries the risk of getting injured in an accident. With regards to risks of vaccination per se, one has to distinguish between real and perceived or alleged risks.”

Heininger on A risk–benefit analysis of vaccination

Other problems with risk perception include that some people:

  • can be more likely to avoid risks that are associated with an action or having to do something vs. those that involve doing nothing or avoiding an action, even if inaction (skipping or delaying a vaccine) is actually riskier
  • often think about risks based on their own personal experiences (you remember someone’s vaccine injury story), rather than on scientific evidence

These biases in the way we think about risk can actually lead us to make risky choices and they help explain why some people are still so afraid of vaccines. Parents might think the risk of a possible side effect, some of which don’t even exist, is worse than the risk of getting a vaccine-preventable disease, getting someone else sick, or starting an outbreak. Parents also often underestimate the risk of their decision to not vaccinate their child.

“As much previous research claims, this study confirms that individuals characterized by greater trust of healthcare professionals and the possession of more vaccine-related knowledge perceive higher levels of benefits and lower levels of risks from vaccinations.”

Song on Understanding Public Perceptions of Benefits and Risks of Childhood Vaccinations in the United States

So what’s the answer? It is likely for folks to get better educated about vaccines, including getting a good understanding of both their benefits and risks.

What Are the Risks of Vaccines?

Again, vaccines are not 100% safe or risk free.

Most vaccines have some common, mild side effects, which might include (depending on the vaccine):

Vaccine Information Statements from the CDC highlight the risks of each vaccine.
Vaccine Information Statements from the CDC highlight the risks of each vaccine.
  • fever, typically low-grade
  • redness or swelling where the shot was given
  • soreness or tenderness where the shot was given
  • fussiness
  • headache
  • tiredness or poor appetite
  • vomiting
  • mild rash
  • diarrhea
  • swollen glands

How commonly do they occur?

It depends on the vaccine and side effect, but they range from about 1 in 50 to 1 in 3 people. These side effects are typically mild and only last a day or two. And they don’t cause lasting problems.

While not all possible side effects are mild, those that are more moderate or severe are much more uncommon. Febrile seizures, for example, only happen after about 1 out of 3,000 doses of MMR and some other vaccines. And while scary, febrile seizures, crying for 3 hours or more, or having a very swollen arm or leg, some other uncommon vaccine side effects, also don’t cause lasting problems.

Fortunately, the most severe side effects, including severe allergic reactions, are only thought to happen in less than 1 out of a million doses. And although these types of severe reactions can be life threatening, they are often treatable, just like severe allergic reactions to peanuts. For others, like encephalitis, although they are table injuries, it isn’t clear that they are even side effects of vaccines, since they occur so rarely.

All of these side effects can be reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), either by your doctor or yourself.

“No medical product or intervention, from aspirin to heart surgery, can ever be guaranteed 100% safe. Even though we will never be able to ensure 100% safety, we know that the risks of vaccine-preventable diseases by far outweigh those of the vaccines administered to prevent them.”

World Health Organization

In addition to side effects, some other risks of getting vaccinated might include that your vaccine didn’t work, after all, although vaccines work very well, they are not 100% effective. You might also, very rarely, be given the wrong vaccine or the right vaccine at the wrong time.

Many other things, including so-called vaccine induced diseases, aren’t actually a risk of vaccines at all. Remember, autism, SIDS, multiple sclerosis, and shaken-baby syndrome, etc., are not a risk of vaccines.

What to Know About the Risks of Vaccines

Any small risks of getting vaccinated, including side effects that are often mild, are not a good reason to think about skipping or delaying a vaccine, especially when you thoughtfully consider all of their great benefits.

More About the Risks of Vaccines

What Are the Benefits of Vaccines?

Vaccines are safe, effective, and necessary.

They are neither 100% safe nor 100% effective.

That doesn’t make them any less necessary though.

It’s easy to see why when you look at all of the benefits that vaccines have given us.

Perceptions of Risks vs Benefits of Vaccines

One of the reasons that some parents become vaccine-hesitant is that they forget about the many benefits of vaccine.

That’s not surprising, as the better vaccines work, the less obvious their benefits are to everyone. After all, few people remember what it was like in the pre-vaccine era.

A measles epidemic hit New York City in 1951, as this front page NYTimes article reports.
A measles epidemic hit New York City in 1951, as this New York Times article reports.

That makes it easy to for some people to downplay the benefits of vaccines.

Unfortunately, at the same time, some parents might over-estimate the risks of vaccines. And that makes it even easier for them to justify a decision to skip or delay their child’s vaccines.

What Are the Benefits of Vaccines?

For most of us, the greatest benefit of any vaccine is that it keeps us from worrying that our kids will get a vaccine-preventable disease. If they do get sick, we don’t worry that every fever is measles or that every cough is pertussis either.

“It is also much cheaper to prevent a disease than to treat it. In a 2005 study on the economic impact of routine childhood immunization in the United States, researchers estimated that for every dollar spent, the vaccination program saved more than $5 in direct costs and approximately $11 in additional costs to society.”

NIH: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Among the other benefits of available vaccines are that:

The benefits of vaccines become more obvious when folks stop vaccinating.

immunization-program-stages
As more people are vaccinated and diseases disappear, they forget how bad those diseases are, skip or delay getting their vaccines, and trigger outbreaks. Photo by WHO

What happens?

Invariably, we start to see outbreaks.

Then they quickly remember why vaccines are necessary, vaccines rates go up, and the outbreaks get under control.

And everyone understands that all of great benefits of vaccines far outweigh any of their small risks. They also begin to hopefully understand that not everyone can attempt to hide in the herd or follow an alternative immunization schedule. That too can simply lead to more outbreaks, as the number of unvaccinated folks increases, at least temporarily.

What to Know About the Benefits of Vaccines

The great benefits of vaccines, which include that they have saved millions of lives, far outweigh any small risks.

More About the Benefits of Vaccines

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