In a 667-page report released Thursday, the 16-member committee found convincing evidence that vaccines can cause 14 health problems, including seizures, brain inflammation, rashes and fainting, but said those complications appeared to be very uncommon. The committee also concluded there was evidence that some vaccines could cause other complications, such as allergic reactions and temporary joint pain.
But the committee found no link between being immunized and the most serious health problems that have raised concern, including autism and Type 1 diabetes.
“We have a lot of evidence that vaccines save lives and avert a lot of suffering,” said Ellen Wright Clayton, a professor of pediatrics and law at Vanderbilt University who chaired the committee. “The side effects we’re talking about here are really relatively rare . . . and the majority of the ones we found are either short-term or easily treated. That would be the take-home message.”
The safety of vaccines has become the subject of intense debate in the United States and elsewhere in recent years. Some parents have expressed concern that the rising number of inoculations recommended for children might be causing complications, leading some to refuse to get their children vaccinated against diseases such as measles, mumps and whooping cough.
Many public health authorities, however, have become increasingly alarmed that the refusals have led to a resurgence of infectious diseases that were once common killers but had been largely eliminated through wide-scale vaccination. In fact, a large outbreak of measles occurred in Europe this year, and the number of cases being reported in the United States this year has surged. This week, Maryland and Virginia health officials warned passengers who took an Amtrak train from Boston to Virginia last week that they may have been exposed to measles from an infected passenger. California has reported a resurgence of whooping cough.
Many prominent medical groups have repeatedly concluded that the benefits of vaccines outweigh the risks, and the purported link between autism and childhood vaccines has been uniformly disputed by leading authorities. But the new report is the most comprehensive look at the subject by one of the most prestigious scientific organizations. Vaccine proponents hoped that it would encourage more parents to get their children vaccinated.
“Although vaccines can cause certain problems rarely, on balance they are remarkably safe,” said Paul A. Offit, chief of infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.