Vaccines: Are They Safe?

Are Vaccines Safe?

Each year, especially as influenza season approaches, official statements about immunization and vaccination assure us that they are safe, and that any risks are outweighed by the benefits. But tales of vaccine-related reactions give pause to would-be consumers, who wonder if the risks actually outweigh the benefits.

Safety SignThose risks and reactions are not well understood. For example, the National Institute for Health and Welfare of Finland found that the risk of narcolepsy among people aged 4–19 years old who had received pandemic influenza vaccine in 2009–2010 was nine times higher than that among unvaccinated youth. The World Health Organization (WHO) released this official statement: “The National Institute for Health and Welfare of Finland considers it probable that the Pandemrix vaccine was a contributing factor to this observed increase, and has called for further investigation of other co-factors that may be associated with the increased risk. They consider it most likely that the vaccine increased the risk of narcolepsy in a joint effect in those genetically disposed with some other, still unknown, genetic and/or environmental factors.” (See for more information.) 

A report published in the British Medical Journal backs up these findings, concluding, “The increased risk of narcolepsy in children and young people . . . is not confined to Scandanavian populations. The magnitude of the increased risk found in English young people is similar to that reported from Finland.” Some researchers point to a genetic predisposition, while others focus on the immune system’s role in the onset of narcolepsy—along with other autoimmune diseases.

Concerns about neurotoxic mercury poisoning due to thimerosal (or thiomersal in some countries)—a preservative containing ethylmercury—in vaccines has prompted the removal of all but trace amounts of this substance from most vaccines in the United States. Although ethylmercury is thought to be “safer” then methylmercury, the US Food and Drug Administration admits that there isn’t much information about this preservative, so they base their vaccine recommendations on the safety levels of methylmercury instead.

Scientists in the UK, the US, and Canada have raised concerns about the aluminum used as an adjuvant (a substance that stimulates the immune response) in vaccines today. Aluminum is a known neurotoxin, and studies indicate that a causal relationship may exist between children’s exposure to aluminum from vaccines and the rising prevalence of autism in the Western world. But scientists admit that there is a lack of knowledge on the subject, and recommend that more research be conducted.

Other concerns involve the way vaccines are made. Whether the virus is incubated in chicken embryos—the traditional method—or in vats of DNA derived from cells (sometimes canine, caterpillar, or insect—or even human fetal tissue), there is a strong possibility of some sort of reaction to the broad range of ingredients.

So do the risks outweigh the benefits? For those with a compromised immune system, or for young children, pregnant women, and the elderly, this can be a complicated question. Making an informed decision involves examining factors that vary with each individual, and takes careful thought and consideration.


For more information, see “Influenza Vaccines: The Other Side of the Story” by Judd Handler in the Winter 2012-2013 Price-Pottenger Journal of Health and Healing. Become a member today to receive access to this journal along with many other health and nutrition resources.  


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