Are Vaccines Really Safe? Looking at Safety Differently

In my first blog, I mentioned that I’m attempting to find as much information as I possibly can about vaccines. I welcome any questions that you might have; you can either leave them in the comments below, visit the forums where we were discussing this, or send me a private message.

It seems like one of the first questions we need to address is whether or not vaccines are actually safe. It’s a disturbing question to answer because if you read the medical literature you walk away with the idea that there are absolutely no risks involved whatsoever, or at least that they’re sigificantly low. If you read the other side of the debate, you get the idea that all vaccines are unsafe and you should be wary.

Redefining “Safe”

When people ask whether or not vaccines are safe, what they’re generally asking is whether or not they are harmless (as in “free from harm”). The answer is no. Vaccines are not always ‘free from harm’. Some vaccines can cause anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction), or seizures. There is also a body of medical research out there that suggests that vaccines can be related to autoimmune disorders as well as autism. So the answer is that no vaccine is always 100% safe.

However, the real question that needs to be evaluated by parents is what is the relative risk? In other words, how likely is my child to get, let’s say the chicken pox if he’s not vaccinated verses how likely is he to have problems with a chicken pox vaccine. And what are the long term complications of either choice?

One Example: The Old Pertussis Vaccine

The old pertussis vaccine was discontinued because it had a high (like one in three hundred infants) rate of side effects such as high fever, seizures, and inconsolable crying. It got a lot of negative publicity and so many countries stopped using it. In Japan for example, they stopped its use in 1975. In the three years before the vaccine was discontinued, there were 400 cases of whooping cough and 10 deaths from whooping cough in Japan. In the three years after the pertussis vaccine was discontinued, there were 13,000 cases of pertussis and 113 deaths! When it’s viewed in the ‘whole picture’, clearly, it was much better to vaccinate.

It should also be noted that although the side effects of the pertussis vaccine were high, children didn’t die from pertussis vaccine, they died from the infection that the vaccine would’ve prevented.

Looking at relative risk for a population versus your child is difficult though. I hate to see my children in pain, even with things like skinned knees that I completely accept as a part of childhood. Nonethless, I think looking at the whole picture in addition to your own family is an important aspect of considering this question.

Look soon for more on the topic–we’ve barely scratched the surface!