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Vaccine Safety
Vaccine Safety:
Plumas County Public Health Agency Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Question: I have heard vaccines are more dangerous than the diseases they protect against. Isn’t it safer for my child to get the disease?

  • Results of a study published in the June, 2010 issue of Pediatrics show that the biggest risk among children who are not vaccinated is the disease itself, as well as the risk of spreading the disease to more vulnerable populations who, for age or medical reasons, are unable to get vaccinated. (1) 
  • A recent 2010 pertussis outbreak in California resulted in 10 deaths. (2) 
  • According to pediatrician Dr. Randy Bergen, a number of large vaccine safety studies have been published in the last 10 years. “None of these studies have proven any association between a vaccine, a preservative in a vaccine, or a combination of vaccines, and significant adverse problems.” Vaccines in this country are safe, he adds, the, “prevent diseases that can maim and kill”. (3) 
  • Even one serious adverse event from a vaccine cannot be justified if there were no benefit from vaccines. But vaccines prevent serious complications from illness and death. (10)

Question: Can vaccines cause encephalitis (brain inflammation) and other severe consequences?

Answer: All vaccines and medication come with some amount risk, just as all diseases present risk. Parents should weigh the risk vs. benefit.
  • There is a 1 in 1,000,000 risk of encephalitis from MMR vaccine. Comparatively, the risk of encephalitis from contracting measles is 1 in 1,000. 
  • There is a 0-10.5 in 1,000,000 risk of encephalitis from Dtap; Comparatively, there is a 1 in 20 risk of death from diphtheria; 2 in 10 risk of death from tetanus; and 1 in 20 risk of enchaphalitis/1 in 1,500 risk of death from pertussis. 
  • The fact is that a child is far more likely to be seriously injured by the disease that could be prevented by the vaccine than the vaccine itself. 
  • Many parents say they will only vaccinate their children if there is zero risk. Unfortunately, the risk of their child getting a preventable disease, or being seriously injured or dying from that disease, is not zero. 
  • The risk of encephalitis or severe allergic reaction from MMR vaccine is 1 in 1,000,000;
                    The risk of pneumonia from measles: 6 in 100
                    The risk of death from measles: 2 in 1,000
(4, 10)

Question: If vaccines are safe, why has the federal government paid more than $2 billion to children and adults injured by vaccines?

Answer: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resource Services Administration acknowledges that no vaccine, medication, medical procedure, or device is completely without risk. It administers compensation under the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act as a means to compensate families and individuals who have experience adverse events from vaccines.
  • Since 1989, 14,523 total petitions have been filed and studied for scientific and medical basis; 3,166 have been found to be compensable. 
  • Some compensable cases were originally filed and process as autism related cases, but the final adjudication did not include a finding of vaccine-related autism. 
  • HHS has never concluded in any case that autism was caused by vaccination. 
  • This HHS program pays families for all costs of filing and pursuing a claim, regardless of if the claim is ever compensated. (5)

Question: Is it possible that aluminum in vaccines could be harmful to normal, healthy babies?

Answer: No. Minute amounts of aluminum salts, less than from breast feeding or formula feeding, are in some vaccine formulations as an adjuvant to enhance the immune response.
  • During the first 6 months of life, infants could receive about 4 milligrams of aluminum from vaccines. That’s not very much: a milligram is one-thousandth of a gram and a gram is the weight of one-fifth of a teaspoon of water. During the same period, babies will also receive about 10 milligrams of aluminum in breast milk, about 40 milligrams in infant formula, or about 120 milligrams in soy-based formula. 
  • The quantity of aluminum in vaccines is tiny compared with the quantity required to cause harm. Here’s another way to think about this: All babies are either breast-fed or bottle fed. Because both breast milk and infant formula contain aluminum, all babies have small quantities of aluminum in their bloodstreams all the time. The amount is very small: about 5 nanograms (billionths of a gram) per milliliter of blood (about one-fifth of a teaspoon). Indeed, the quantity of aluminum in vaccines is so small that even after an injection of vaccines; the amount of aluminum in a baby’s blood does not detectably change. In contrast, the amount of aluminum in the bloodstreams of people who suffer health problems from aluminum is at least 100 times greater than the amount found in the bloodstreams of healthy people. (6)

Question: Is it true many as 50% of vaccines used in the U.S. contain mercury, which has been linked in the media with autism?

Answer: No
  • Thimerasol is a preservative used in a few adult vaccines, and is 50% mercury by weight. 
  • Nearly all of the vaccines routinely recommended for childhood vaccination up to age 6 have never contained thimerasol. In addition, these vaccine formulations have been further studied by the FDA and approved as thimerasol free. Plumas County Public Health Agency does not provide any childhood vaccines containing thimerasol, with the exception of flu vaccine. There are thimerasol-free flu vaccines available for pediatric patients and pregnant women. 
  • See the FDA site for vaccine safety for a table of thimerasol contact in vaccines. (7)

Question: I have heard about the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS). The CDC states: “Limitations of passive surveillance systems include variability in reporting standards, reporter bias and significant under-reporting of events.” Does this mean there are more dangers from vaccines than are being reported to VAERS?

Answer: No.

  • VAERS receives only a portion of the total number of events (“numerator”) which occur after vaccination. Computing reporting rates from VAERS may be misleading, since there is no “denominator” or total doses administered. These limitations make incidence rates unreliable. 
  • A report made to VAERS does not mean that the vaccine caused the event. VAERS is a national system for reporting health problems that happen around the same time of the vaccination. Only some of the reported health conditions are side effects related to vaccines. A certain number of VAERS reports of serious illnesses or death do occur by chance alone among persons who have been recently vaccinated. 
  • VAERS reports have many limitations since they often lack important information, such as laboratory results, used to establish a true association with the vaccine. For all serious and other clinically significant events (life-threatening events, hospitalization, permanent disability, death), follow-up with the health care provider and/or the parent or vaccinated individual is conducted in an attempt to collect supplemental information on the reports. Because of the limitations of this type of reporting system, causality is difficult to determine. Regardless of the cause, VAERS is interested in hearing about any health concerns that happen around the time of vaccination. Scientists are not able to identify a problem with a vaccine lot based on VAERS reports alone without scientific analysis of other factors and data. (4, 8)

Question: Why should I vaccinate my child when vaccines are not 100% effective and don’t always last a lifetime?

Answer: No vaccine is 100% effective. Most childhood vaccines are effective in 85-95% of recipients. In the US and Plumas County, more people are vaccinated than are not, though that could change.

  • If in a high school of 1,000, all but 5 kids are vaccinated against measles and all the children are exposed to an outbreak, the 5 unvaccinated will be infected. Of the 995 remaining students of have been vaccinated, let’s say less than 1%, or 7 students, did not respond to the vaccination. They will get ill also. So, 12 kids got sick. If nobody in the class got vaccinated, there probably would have been 1,000 cases of measles. With a risk of the following complications:
                 6 cases of pneumonia
                 1 encephalitis
                 2 deaths
(4, 10)

Question: Is it difficult to get legal exemptions to vaccination for school enrollment?

Answer: No. California law allows for medical and personal belief exemptions to its student immunization requirement. Schools have standardized procedures for parents and guardians who request a personal beliefs exemption. (9)  See your school nurse if you have any questions.



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