In response to this morning’s post, a reader reports:

Vaccine court just awarded millions of dollars to 2 children with injuries as a result of vaccines. Obviously they found enough scientific evidence to support their cases and win them.

Evidently.  I wouldn’t say obviously because, unfortunately, the public will never know the details and the whole truth concerning these two young children.

Look.  Vaccines are extraordinarily effective and safe.  However, they are not 100% effective and they are not 100% safe.  Increased immunization rates lessens the impact of non-universal efficacy.  But even though nothing lessens the impact of even one adverse reaction to a vaccine, one must recognize how rare these adverse reactions are.

In fact, severe reactions such as the ones described by David Kirby in the HuffPo article, are so rare that pediatricians like myself lull ourselves into a place of certainty that such reactions don’t occur.  Although I’ve never seen a patient have such a profound (and disastrous) adverse reaction, nor have I known colleagues who have seen such an event happen in their practices, adverse events to vaccines can occur.  Even though encephalopathy is horrible, it is exceedingly rare in young people, even if the exact cause isn’t known.  In contrast, before vaccines were so readily available and administered, bacterial meningitis from Haemophilus Influenza and Pneumococcus was (and potentially can be again without an immunized population) relatively common.  Those lucky enough to survive have severe sequela, including deafness, blindness, and (sometimes profound) developmental delays (referred to in previous generations as mental retardation).  Measles continues to kill many children worldwide, especially in India, Pakistan, and Africa where the vaccine is either not available or shunned by local populations.  Eradication of polio worldwide  continues to be a stubborn goal.  Pertussis is still occurring in epidemic numbers in the United States today, with the potential of infecting and killing young infants in every case.  These as well as the other bacterial and viral diseases modern vaccines prevent caused immense amounts of pain and suffering and death to children and their families in the pre-vaccine era of human history.  As most (not all) of these infections have disappeared in the United States, have we become so complacent as to conclude we don’t need vaccines anymore?

For many people, scarily, the answer is yes.

But physicians have their own complacency to deal with.  Because severe and profound adverse reactions to vaccines are so exceedingly rare, it’s easy to present vaccines to parents as 100% safe.  We hand out VIS forms (Vaccine Information Sheets) that clearly spell out the possible adverse reactions that can occur, but who really reads them?  I don’t even encourage parents to read them.  Is that wrong?  Am I complacent?  Have I become arrogant?

Perhaps.  Maybe this complacency and arrogance is why parents get so fired up about this issue.  Maybe it’s why the science and its messengers aren’t trusted by so many.  Maybe it leads to these words by Emily’s mom:

And it’s a constant fight when you have a vaccine-injured child. It’s not just the disability, it’s the ignorance. The hatred from the medical community towards families like ours is intense.”


Vaccines are safe.  They are effective.  The odds of good health are stacked in your child’s favor if you immunize them versus leaving them unprotected.  Having seen first-hand the devastation to children caused by measles, rubella, polio, haemophilus, pneumococcus, hepatitis B,  varicella, and influenza, twenty-five years of pediatric experience informs me to advise you to take those odds.  In a heart-beat.