Over the years, sensational newspaper headlines have linked different childhood vaccines with serious diseases like asthma, autism, permanent brain damage, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), diabetes and AIDS. These reports get wide publicity, and serve to undermine parents' confidence in this life saving intervention.
The consequences can be terrible. Parents withhold essential vaccines from their children, and some later succumb to these preventable diseases. Worse, diseases that had been almost extinct, again get a foothold in the community as a result of the availability of susceptible hosts (unprotected children). What is the truth behind the murk?
Do vaccines cause permanent brain damage in children? Millions of dollars have been consumed in research, litigation, compensation, and legislation around this vexed question. Enough high quality research has been done, and published, to put this question to rest several times over, but the fear lives on in people's mind.
Brain damage often occurs during the birth process, or even before this time. However, it is not usually detected till the child is a few months old. Since this is also the time when most childhood vaccines are being given, they were convenient scapegoats.
The MMR vaccine got a lot of bad publicity about brain damage as a result of a single published paper. Research involving thousands of children has proved that there is no causal link between the vaccine and brain damage in children. The researcher was found to have a strong conflict of interest, the research was found to be falsified, and The Lancet withdrew the paper itself, but public fear lives on. This sometimes gets in the way of children being protected against these important diseases.
Vaccines do have adverse effects, of course. These are usually minor and short lived (vaccines with serious and long term side effects would not be accepted for childhood immunisation).Most vaccines cause local soreness at the site of the injection, which usually lasts less than a day.
Some vaccines, like the measles and chicken pox vaccines, cause a very mild form of the disease they protect against. This is usually not very troublesome in healthy children, and does not require treatment. The DTP vaccine can cause significant pain and fever, rarely even causing febrile seizures. This rarely lasts beyond 24 hours of the injection, and can be easily treated with fever medicine like paracetamol.
Childhood vaccines save lives. The small pox vaccine, for example, has totally eradicated the disease from our world, and children today no longer need be given the vaccine. We hope and pray for the day when a newborn baby will face a world free of infectious diseases, but till then, immunisation is necessary.
Vaccines are tested rigorously before being used in children, and surveillance for adverse effects continues even after commercial use is allowed. The vaccines in use today have been proved to be safe and beneficial, but some children will suffer some adverse effects. A completely effective, completely safe vaccine has not been made yet. The adverse effects of modern vaccines are minor and short lived, and are the price we pay for protection against diseases that cause permanent handicaps and threaten life.
Last Revision: February 11, 2016
Vaccine scares have a pattern:
The consequences of this sequence are that the community has a fear of vaccines, and children are deprived of much needed protection against dangerous infectious diseases.
Many victims are claimed by media attitudes that care little about misleading the public, and put commerce and excitement above accuracy and responsibilty.
Dr. Parang Mehta,
Opposite Putli, Sagrampura,
Surat, India. Tel: +91 9429486624.