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What is the risk of side effects from childhood vaccines?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
There's no doubt that vaccination can cause some injuries. For example, supporters believe (based on the studies) that the original polio vaccine, which prevented polio in 1 out of every 245 children immunized, caused polio in 1 out of every 1 to 2 million children back when the vaccine was made from a live weakened virus. The rate is even less for the inactivated vaccine currently used. Measles vaccine causes about 4 cases of serious brain dysfunction a year in the United States, but it prevents 2,000 to 4,000 cases of such brain dysfunction and several hundred deaths from the actual disease. The rotavirus vaccine, before it was reformulated, used to cause intussusception -- a serious condition often requiring surgery or a radiologic procedure -- in 1 out of every 10,000 to 14,000 kids immunized. This spurred development of a new vaccine that has not been associated with intussusception risk. However, rotavirus vaccine prevents hospitalization for diarrhea in about 1 out of every 200 kids who receive it. (These statistics come from the "Vaccine Injury Table" of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, which lists side effects acknowledged by the government or courts.) Anecdotal information (examples from individuals), even when disproved by large studies, can feel emotionally wrenching, but it is important to remember that when two things happen at the same time in a population, this does not prove that one causes the other.
YOU: Raising Your Child: The Owner's Manual from First Breath to First Grade

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YOU: Raising Your Child: The Owner's Manual from First Breath to First Grade

There’s little doubt that parenting can be one of the most rewarding and satisfying experiences you’ll ever have. But it can be plenty tough, too: Around the clock, you’re working to keep your...
Vaccines may cause side effects. However, if they occur, they are usually minor. The most likely side effects are soreness at the injection site or a mild fever. Either can be treated with over-the-counter acetaminophen (Tylenol), and go away after a few days. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a web page that discusses the potential side effects of each vaccine.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.