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Vaccines-Vaccinations: Issues Debates Risks Dangers

© Donald Reinhardt, February 22, 2013
Vaccines can prevent and control the potential spread of dangerous infectious diseases which may be injurious or life-threatening. Those are important and noble goals, but vaccines also can be dangerous.
Vaccine for Diphtheria, Pertussis, Tetanus – Label from Vial. Photo Credit: NLM of NIH
Vaccines have enabled humans to eradicate smallpox, and greatly reduced the incidence of diphtheria, polio, tetanus, whooping cough and measles among a number of very important diseases.  Vaccination has potential health hazards and may cause allergies, autoimmune disease, tissue and organ damage and, rarely, death. These anomalies and rare events generate controversies, movements and organizations opposed to vaccines and immunization.  A scientific inquiry and overview follows here.

Vaccines, Historical and Current Controversies

Before vaccination, smallpox, diphtheria, whooping cough and polio were significant infectious diseases. Millions became ill and many died of these afflictions. Researchers discovered and used distinctive vaccines for the protection of animals and humans from infectious diseases.

Some, especially defenders of “animals’ rights”, object to the use of animals and their tissues for vaccine development. Others fear allergic, anaphylactic, autoimmune reactions, vaccine-induced disease and occasional deaths of humans associated with injected vaccines. Vaccination typically begins about 3 months after birth and continues in a defined and sequential medical way for the first 20 years of life. By the time someone is 21 they have been inoculated and vaccinated dozens of times.

Vaccine and Vaccination Problems, Examples and Controversies

Bad things may happen with good vaccines and although the potential dangers are rare they include:
  • Potential and accidental contamination with undesirable, viable microbes that may cause illness and death.
  • Thimerosol toxicity. This organic mercury compound is added to some vaccines to kill and inhibit potential contaminants. Toxic mercury levels may damage nerves and other body tissues.
  • Autoimmune and anaphylactic reactions. Vaccinees (vaccinated people) may react to vaccine components followed by damage to normal tissues/organs. The original pertussis (whooping cough) whole cell vaccine was a problem before the recent substitution of Japanese modified toxoids. Pertussis whole cell vaccine was associated with autoimmune reaction  to brain nerve cells of some vaccinees. Some pertussis- immunized babies suffered permanent brain damage and even death.
  • Guillian-Barre Syndrome is associated with some vaccines and also occurs, on occasion, in children with flu or viral diseases who have been given aspirin.

How Safe Are Vaccines and Can Vaccines Be Improved?

Vaccination and vaccines involve some potential risks. For example, removal of the antimicrobial inhibitor thimerosol increases the risk of undesirable microbial contamination.However, leaving thimerosol in a vaccine may be toxic to host tissues and organs.

Manufacturers must prevent contamination to avoid expensive legal actions.  Liability funds cover unintended, vaccine bad events. Despite multiple levels of vaccine manufacturing quality and control, unintended negative consequences still occur. If state laws require vaccination, then child safety also must be emphasized and required. A lifetime of disability in a wheelchair or even death is a liability no one desires.

The issue of vaccine rights, to vaccinate or not, is critical. Unvaccinated children and people risk infectious disease and its transmission.  Personal rights and societal rights intersect here. Not vaccinating children exposes them to diseases preventable by vaccination and children who are ill with a disease may pass it on to others by infecting them. Parents have rights in making decisions for their children. Society has rights and authority to weigh the risk and the benefits of vaccination and more often than not the evidence supports vaccination.

The future of vaccination is promising, but issues remain. No one can predict currently, who might react in a strange, harmful manner to a particular vaccine. Tests for these incompatibilities are needed and could be discovered by scientists who inquire. The current trend to tailor certain medications to patients with defined and known genetic profiles is good. Doctors can determine potential drug effectiveness or ineffectiveness and this helps helping move medicine more and more in the genetic-testing direction.

 Currently, vaccination is needed to protect individuals and society.  Vaccines’ successes have removed many fears of preventable diseases such as polio, diphtheria and whooping cough. It may take major infectious epidemics to cause some to rethink their refusal to vaccinate themselves and their children and their strong opposition to vaccines.

Medical research, basic and applied research, and forensics are exciting fields of science with bright futures. Consider a career in scientific inquiry. It is well worth the effort.

To learn more about vaccines research and studies the following books can serve as useful sources and resources:


Meyers, M.A.  2007. Happy Accidents.  Arcade Publishing, New York. 390 pp
Engdahl,  S. 2009. Vaccines.  Greenhaven  Press,    Farmington Hills, MI. 221 pp