In very rare cases, immunizations can trigger more serious problems, such as seizures or severe allergic reactions. If your child has a history of allergies to food or medication, or has had a problem with a vaccine previously, make sure to let the doctor know before any vaccines are given. Every year, millions of kids are safely vaccinated and very few experience significant side effects.
Meanwhile, research continually improves the safety of immunizations. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now advises doctors to use a diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (Whooping Cough) vaccine that includes only specific parts of the pertussis cell instead of the entire killed cell. This vaccine, called DTaP, has been associated with even fewer side effects.
Do immunizations or thimerosal cause autism?
Numerous studies have found no link between vaccines and autism (a developmental disorder that's characterized by mild to severe impairment of communication and social interaction skills). Likewise, a groundbreaking 2004 report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) found that thimerosal (an organic mercury compound that's been used as a preservative in vaccines since the 1930s) does not cause autism. Still, some parents have opted not to have their children immunized, putting them at great risk of contracting deadly diseases.
The MMR vaccine, especially, has come under fire despite many scientific reports indicating that there's no clear evidence linking the vaccine to autism. In fact, in 2004 a long-disputed 1998 study that suggested a possible link between autism and the MMR vaccine was retracted. Even before the retraction, not only had other studies found no link, but the controversial 1998 study was rejected by all major health organizations, including the AAP, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO). ( And the doctor responsible had his license revoked).
There's also no reason to believe that thimerosal is linked to autism, according to the 2004 IOM report. Nevertheless, in an effort to reduce childhood exposure to mercury and other heavy metals, thimerosal began being removed from kids' vaccines in 1999. Now, vaccines for infants and young children contain no or very little thimerosal. And recent studies have not shown any cognitive and behavioral problems in babies who might have received these thimerosal-containing vaccines.
So what could explain the increased rates of autism in recent years? For one thing, there's a broader definition of autism that can be applied to more kids who show varying degrees of symptoms. A greater awareness of the condition among health professionals also has led to more diagnoses.
And although the number of children diagnosed with autism may be increasing, the rates of MMR vaccination are not. In London, diagnoses of autistic disorders have been on the rise since 1979 but rates of MMR vaccination haven't increased since routine MMR vaccination began in 1988.
In addition, the average age of diagnosis of autism has been found to be the same both in children who have and who have not received the MMR vaccine. What many researchers are discovering is that subtle symptoms of autism are often present before a child's first birthday — sometimes even in early infancy — but often go unnoticed until the symptoms are more obvious to parents.
Wasn't there a problem with the rotavirus vaccine?
Rotavirus is one of the most common causes of diarrhea in young children. In 1999, a rotavirus vaccine was taken off the market because it was linked to an increased risk for intussusception, a type of bowel obstruction, in young infants.
However, two new, different rotavirus vaccines called RotaTeq and Rotarix are now available and neither has been found to have this increased risk. These vaccines have been shown to prevent the majority of cases of rotavirus infection and almost all of the severe cases.
The vaccine is now on the regular immunization schedule to be given orally to infants as a liquid during standard vaccination visits — RotaTeq at ages 2 months, 4 months, and 6 months, and Rotarix at ages 2 months and 4 months. Your doctor will have the most current information.
Do immunizations cause SIDS, multiple sclerosis, or other problems?
There are concerns, many of which circulate on the Internet, linking some vaccines to multiple sclerosis, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and other problems. To date, several studies have failed to show any connection between immunizations and these conditions. The number of SIDS cases has actually fallen by more than 50% in recent years, whereas the number of vaccines administered yearly has continued to rise.
How long does immunity last after getting a vaccine?
A few vaccines, like the two for measles or the series for hepatitis B, may make you immune for your entire life. Others, like tetanus, last for many years but require periodic shots (boosters) for continued protection against the disease.
The whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine also does not give lifelong immunity, and that may be one reason why there are still outbreaks of the disease. And although pertussis isn't a serious problem for older kids and adults, it can be for infants and young children. Because of this, adolescents and adults now receive a pertussis booster along with the tetanus and diphtheria booster (Tdap) — an important step in controlling this infection.
It's important to keep a record of vaccinations so the doctor knows when your child is due for a booster. Also make sure your kids get the flu vaccine each year, if it isn't in short supply. Having been immunized last year won't protect someone from getting the flu this year because flu viruses constantly change. That's why the vaccine is updated each year to include the most current strains of the virus.
The flu vaccine reduces the average person's chances of catching the flu by up to 80% during the season. But because the flu vaccine doesn't prevent infection by all of the viruses that can cause flu-like symptoms, getting the vaccine isn't a guarantee that someone won't get sick during the season. But even if someone who's gotten the shot gets the flu, symptoms will usually be fewer and milder.
National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) Adjudication Categories by Vaccine for Claims Filed Calendar Year 2006 to 20141
1The date range for this table was selected to reflect the status of the current Program since the inclusion of influenza in July 2005, which now constitutes the majority of all VICP claims.
2This is the first vaccine listed by the petitioner in the claim, and other vaccines may be alleged or may form the basis of compensation.
3Vaccine doses are self-reported distribution data provided by US-licensed vaccine manufacturers. The data provide an estimate of the annual national distribution and do not represent vaccine administration. In order to maintain confidentiality of an individual manufacturer or brand, the data are presented in an aggregate format by vaccine type.
4Whole cell pertussis vaccines were not distributed during this time period.
5Flu doses are derived from CDC’s FluFinder tracking system, which includes data provided to CDC by US-licensed influenza vaccine manufacturers as well as their first line distributors.
6Claims filed for vaccines which are not covered under the VICP.
7Insufficient information submitted by petitioner to make an initial determination. The concession was for multiple unidentified vaccines that caused abscess formation at the vaccination site(s), and the settlements were for multiple vaccines later identified in the Special Master’s Decisions.
Vaccine Injury Table a
a Effective date: July 22, 2011 (see Revisions to the Vaccine Injury Table) or http://www.hrsa.gov/vaccinecompensation/vaccinetable.html
(1) Anaphylaxis and anaphylactic shock mean an acute, severe, and potentially lethal systemic allergic reaction. Most cases resolve without sequelae. Signs and symptoms begin minutes to a few hours after exposure. Death, if it occurs, usually results from airway obstruction caused by laryngeal edema or bronchospasm and may be associated with cardiovascular collapse. Other significant clinical signs and symptoms may include the following: Cyanosis, hypotension, bradycardia, tachycardia, arrhythmia, edema of the pharynx and/or trachea and/or larynx with stridor and dyspnea. Autopsy findings may include acute emphysema which results from lower respiratory tract obstruction, edema of the hypopharynx, epiglottis, larynx, or trachea and minimal findings of eosinophilia in the liver, spleen and lungs. When death occurs within minutes of exposure and without signs ofrespiratory distress, there may not be significant pathologic findings.
(2) Encephalopathy. For purposes of the Vaccine Injury Table, a vaccine recipient shall be considered to have suffered an encephalopathy only if such recipient manifests, within the applicable period, an injury meeting the description below of an acute encephalopathy, and then a chronic encephalopathy persists in such person for more than 6 months beyond the date of vaccination.
(3) Seizure and convulsion. For purposes of paragraphs (b)(2) of this section, the terms, "seizure" and "convulsion" include myoclonic, generalized tonic-clonic (grand mal), and simple and complex partial seizures. Absence (petit mal) seizures shall not be considered to be a condition set forth in the Table. Jerking movements or staring episodes alone are not necessarily an indication of seizure activity.
(4) Sequela. The term "sequela" means a condition or event which was actually caused by a condition listed in the Vaccine Injury Table.
(5) Chronic Arthritis. For purposes of the Vaccine Injury Table, chronic arthritis may be found in a person with no history in the 3 years prior to vaccination of arthropathy (joint disease) on the basis of:
For purposes of the Vaccine Injury Table, the following shall not be considered as chronic arthritis: Musculoskeletal disorders such as diffuse connective tissue diseases (including but not limited to rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, systemic sclerosis, mixed connective tissue disease, polymyositis/dermatomyositis, fibromyalgia, necrotizing vasculitis and vasculopathies and Sjogren's Syndrome), degenerative joint disease, infectious agents other than rubella (whether by direct invasion or as an immune reaction), metabolic and endocrine diseases, trauma, neoplasms, neuropathic disorders, bone and cartilage disorders and arthritis associated with ankylosing spondylitis, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease, Reiter's syndrome, or blood disorders.
Arthralgia (joint pain) or stiffness without joint swelling shall not be viewed as chronic arthritis for purposes of the Vaccine Injury Table.
(6) Brachial neuritis is defined as dysfunction limited to the upper extremity nerve plexus (i.e., its trunks, divisions, or cords) without involvement of other peripheral (e.g., nerve roots or a single peripheral nerve) or central (e.g., spinal cord) nervous system structures. A deep, steady, often severe aching pain in the shoulder and upper arm usually heralds onset of the condition. The pain is followed in days or weeks by weakness and atrophy in upper extremity muscle groups. Sensory loss may accompany the motor deficits, but is generally a less notable clinical feature. The neuritis, or plexopathy, may be present on the same side as or the opposite side of the injection; it is sometimes bilateral, affecting both upper extremities. Weakness is required before the diagnosis can be made. Motor, sensory, and reflex findings on physical examination and the results of nerve conduction and electromyographic studies must be consistent in confirming that dysfunction is attributable to the brachial plexus. The condition should thereby be distinguishable from conditions that may give rise to dysfunction of nerve roots (i.e., radiculopathies) and peripheral nerves (i.e., including multiple mononeuropathies), as well as other peripheral and central nervous system structures (e.g., cranial neuropathies and myelopathies).
(7) Thrombocytopenic purpura is defined by a serum platelet count less than 50,000/mm3. Thrombocytopenic purpura does not include cases of thrombocytopenia associated with other causes such as hypersplenism, autoimmune disorders (including alloantibodies from previous transfusions) myelodysplasias, lymphoproliferative disorders, congenital thrombocytopenia or hemolytic uremic syndrome. This does not include cases of immune (formerly called idiopathic) thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) that are mediated, for example, by viral or fungal infections, toxins or drugs. Thrombocytopenic purpura does not include cases of thrombocytopenia associated with disseminated intravascular coagulation, as observed with bacterial and viral infections. Viral infections include, for example, those infections secondary to Epstein Barr virus, cytomegalovirus, hepatitis A and B, rhinovirus, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), adenovirus, and dengue virus. An antecedent viral infection may be demonstrated by clinical signs and symptoms and need not be confirmed by culture or serologic testing. Bone marrow examination, if performed, must reveal a normal or an increased number of megakaryocytes in an otherwise normal marrow.
(8) Vaccine-strain measles viral infection is defined as a disease caused by the vaccine-strain that should be determined by vaccine‑specific monoclonal antibody or polymerase chain reaction tests.
(9) Vaccine-strain polio viral infection is defined as a disease caused by poliovirus that is isolated from the affected tissue and should be determined to be the vaccine-strain by oligonucleotide or polymerase chain reaction. Isolation of poliovirus from the stool is not sufficient to establish a tissue specific infection or disease caused by vaccine-strain poliovirus.
This information reflects the current thinking of the United States Department of Health and Human Services on the topics addressed. This information is not legal advice and does not create or confer any rights for or on any person and does not operate to bind the Department or the public. The ultimate decision about the scope of the statutes authorizing the VICP is within the authority of the United States Court of Federal Claims, which is responsible for resolving claims for compensation under the VICP.