Are Vaccines Safe?

The MEASLES outbreak has again rekindled the fires of passion that surround VACCINES in the United States. As a family physician and mom, to me there is no debate. VACCINES SAVE LIVES. Are there risks with vaccines? Yes, (mostly transiently sore arms) but they are minor compared to the risks of the diseases that they minimize or prevent. Does my family vaccinate our children and ourselves? YES. We also wear seat belts, exercise, and try to make healthy food choices…but I digress.

In our country, we are fortunate to have extensive health monitoring systems in place, particularly in regards to VACCINE SAFETY. Three major organizations gather data:

  • VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System)- which is open to the public; ANYONE can and should file any concerns about a vaccine-related event.
  • VSD (Vaccine Safety Datalink)- cooperative effort between the CDC and 9 Major Health Care Organizations (such as Kaiser, simplified with data collection through Electronic Medical Records)
  • CISA (Clinical Immunization Safety Assessment Network)- A CDC Project coordinated through 7 Major Medical Academic/Research Centers

All of these organizations gather data from adverse events after vaccines, and then the data is analyzed to look for patterns. If one person in, let’s say, ten thousand develops a problem after a vaccine, that pattern will be recognized and more information gathered to try and determine if there is a true link with the vaccine. It’s important to recognize that there are medical problems (including rare cancers or blood disorders) that will be diagnosed in time proximity with someone receiving a vaccine. Obviously, if I get a flu vaccine on Monday and am diagnosed with Disease X on Friday, that does not mean that my flu vaccine CAUSED my disease X. The difficulty, of course, is determining when a vaccine does indeed CAUSE a medical problem, and for that, scientists look for consistent patterns.

I recognize that if MY family member were diagnosed with a difficult, awful, or rare disease, I would absolutely look for a cause…and if there had been a recent vaccine, I understand why fingers point that direction. However, for myself, my family and my patients, I trust that our vaccines are thoroughly monitored. I know that these vaccines SAVE LIVES and save countless sick days, expense and heartache, and I feel very fortunate to live in a country where vaccinations are recommended as routine health promotion.

BOTTOM LINE: Vaccines save lives. Period.

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