To vaccinate or not: This is the question bandied about in news stories, on the Web and on the minds of parents and other adults. It’s good to research and weigh your options before taking action. It’s good to base decisions on credible, rational facts vs. fear or blind trust. But it’s not always easy to find straight, uncomplicated answers to questions about serious, life-threatening events associated with vaccines—until now.
Adverse Reactions to Vaccines is a special supplement to Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (October 2009, Volume 103, Number 4, Supplement 2) that’s just been released by the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI). World-renowned allergists and immunologists wrote and edited this supplement for primary care physicians and allergists/immunologists who encounter patients (or parents of patients) like those of us with an elevated risk or history of adverse reactions to vaccines.
Timing could not be more perfect. Parents and expectant mothers wondering whether to get vaccines are seeking tangible evidence. As surely as they will nod in agreement with their physicians, these patients will immediately Google or Bing and read everything—but they won’t find anything more precise, documented and well-written than the parameters.
This newly published set of guidelines features an algorithm for assessing adverse events, as well as reference tables that list vaccine ingredients (and amounts) and other important details, including any possible risk of latex exposure. It addresses questions relevant to children and adults with egg allergy, and it tackles the Internet’s plethora of urban legends.
Vaccine controversy and fears are nothing new. Interesting reading –as I researched this article, I flashed back to my childhood and receiving the pink sugarcube polio vaccine followed a couple of years later with a booster shot. While vaccine fears ran rampant, my parents never hesitated.
My Aunt Jeanette had succumbed to polio, leaving my four cousins virtually without a mom. After a long hospital stay in an iron lung, she returned home to live out her days in a rocking bed. (Picture a seesaw with her head at one end and her feet at the other. As her head dipped down, she exhaled. Head up, she inhaled, spoke a couple of words and then exhaled waiting literally to come back up for air and finish her sentence.)
It was 1988 when chicken pox ravaged the body of Rita Cole’s 12-year-old son a week after he was hospitalized with his first asthma attack. Rita began a seven-year crusade—that resulted in the approval of a varicella vaccine in the U.S. I remember her courage when she contacted AANMA asking for our help, and later her persistence when we served together on an FDA advisory panel on vaccines. The initial general lack of enthusiasm to bring a vaccine to market centered on chicken pox as being a nuisance virus and killed “only 145 children and adults each year.” Today, fewer than 50 die, half of whom are adults despite the fact that the vast majority of chicken pox cases occur in children younger than 15. Read Rita’s testimony before Congress here and you’ll see what a difference one person can make.
As life-saving and cost effective as vaccines may be, there are people who experience adverse reactions. Thankfully, there are immunologists who study the reactions, conduct research, write papers and engage in scientific inquiries (some call these debates) until questions are answered. It’s not a perfect process, but it has served us well!
CDC has established an independent committee of experts to monitor and study the effects of the H1N1 pandemic and mass vaccinations closely. Check our Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics (AANMA) website [link to http://www.aanma.org ] often, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook. We’ll keep you posted.