Are vaccines safe?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
People who are opposed to vaccination say vaccines are not safe. According to them, large European studies showing no adverse effects from vaccines in more than 2.5 million kids were epidemiological, meaning that the studies examined patterns in the population rather than biological cause and effect in the individual. Large studies also ignore the significant number of anecdotal stories by parents who have witnessed sudden declines in the health of their children after vaccination.

Of course, "safe" does not mean without risk. It means that the benefit of a vaccine, or any medical procedure, is greater than the risk involved for the general population. Vaccines save lives and prevent disease, but all seventeen childhood vaccines combined may carry serious risks for anywhere from 1 child in 2,000 to 1 child in 10,000. The chance that childhood vaccines benefit the typical child is at least twenty times greater than the chance of serious injury. Some of us think that it is not just the vaccine but its interaction with another factor -- specifically, with a gene turned on by a virus, for instance -- that underlies many a bad reaction. One way for parents to "play it safe" is not to immunize their child while he or any family member is sick but to wait a week until he's healthy. In other words, I agree with vaccinating, just not when your child is sick. This is the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the federal government as well, so make sure that your child is healthy when vaccines are given. Bottom line for us, immunizing your healthy child against the diseases preventable by currently licensed vaccines is one of the best ways of keeping your child healthy.
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Vaccines are tested stringently, and research consistently indicates that they are extremely safe and effective. The benefits of vaccines far outweigh the risks. In fact, there are so few deaths that could plausibly be connected to vaccines, and the risk is so small, that risk is hard to assess statistically. One of the primary jobs of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is to monitor the population for any possible reactions, no matter how rare, to vaccinations.

On the other hand, no vaccine is 100% safe or effective. Vaccines often cause minor reactions such as redness and swelling at the site of injection. Vaccines also can cause fever and rash and, very rarely, seizures, swelling of the brain, or severe allergic reactions. In some instances, a child may seem to have a severe reaction to a vaccine because he or she becomes ill soon after vaccination. However, data on large populations indicate no increased risk of ill health from vaccination, and that almost all illness near the time of vaccination occurs only by chance.

Vaccines are generally considered safe and are constantly monitored for adverse reactions by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, the benefit of being protected from a serious -- even life-threatening -- childhood disease like hepatitis B or polio is far greater than the small risk for problems, such as serious allergic reactions, that might be caused by vaccines. And studies have yet to find a link between any childhood vaccination and autism.

There are some children who should not get certain shots, however, such as those with certain types of cancer or other conditions. Kids under 2 should not receive the nasal mist version of flu vaccine because it's made with the live flu virus (but all children over 6 months should get a seasonal flu shot each year).
Vaccines are extremely safe. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) operates an Immunization Safety Office, which continuously monitors vaccine safety, including side effects. Part of its mission is managing the vaccine adverse event reporting system, which serves as an "early warning" system to detect vaccine-related problems.

About 30,000 adverse event reports are filed annually, but just 10% to 15% are classified as serious (causing disability, hospitalization, life-threatening illness or death) -- and most of the incidents are ultimately not linked to vaccination. Anyone can file a report, including healthcare providers, manufacturers, personal injury lawyers and vaccine recipients or their parents or guardians.
Some parents have expressed concern about the safety of vaccines, especially combination vaccines that protect children against several diseases with one shot. But the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Institute of Medicine agree that vaccines are not responsible for the number of children now recognized to have autism or ADHD. Moreover, they conclude that the benefits of immunization outweigh the risks.

In most cases, side effects are very mild and may include redness, soreness or slight swelling at the injection site. Rarely, a child may have a reaction to a shot, in which case the physician will recommend whether to continue with the rest of the series. Parents who have questions or concerns should talk with their child’s physician.

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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.