Do People In the U.S. Actually Die from Vaccines?

Vaccine deaths aren’t nearly as common as you think. But many people quickly associate unexpected deaths with things that occurred around the incident — such as a child dying of SIDS shortly after being vaccinated.

There are so many myths surrounding immunization that it’s often hard to sort fact from fiction. No matter how much health officials try to reassure the population that vaccines are safe and beneficial, because there’s always the slightest chance any procedure can lead to death, minds go unchanged.

Do as many people die as the result of vaccines as it often seems? The answer is more frustrating than you might expect.

Vaccines

Vaccines | iStock.com/DragonImages

The World Health Organization has published dozens of pages of information to counter the claims spread by what it calls “anti-vaccination publications.” Many of the things people believe about the risks and side effects of vaccines are either exaggerated, misunderstood, or untrue.

Vaccines don’t work. The truth is that no vaccine is 100% effective. But this does not mean vaccines do not work or that they aren’t worth getting. Most are at least 95% effective, if not 99% or above. During an outbreak of measles, for example, those who aren’t vaccinated will likely develop the disease. Most who are vaccinated will not, but because unvaccinated individuals are more susceptible, it’s much more likely that someone who has been vaccinated who is not immune will also get measles from an unvaccinated individual.

Vaccines often have harmful side effects. They sometimes do, but these effects are usually minor and are extremely rare. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccines tend to cause side effects such as a headache, sore throat, or low-grade fever. The severe effects listed are dangerous, but it’s still not clear whether or not they occured because of the vaccine or happened around the same time.

Vaccines cause conditions such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Many children who die of SIDS happen to do so around the time they receive vaccines. But as WHO puts it, “You might as well say that eating bread causes car crashes, since most drivers who crash their cars could probably be shown to have eaten bread within the past 24 hours.” 

Also, the original research paper that claimed there was a link between vaccines and autism has since been redacted. The physician who published the “research” can no longer legally practice medicine. The information he produced was false.

Vaccine-preventable diseases have been eliminated in the U.S., so immunizations aren’t necessary. Actually, they haven’t. Mumps, measles, the flu, and other less common but vaccine-preventable diseases are still around. Plus, people traveling to and from the U.S. can develop other dangerous diseases around the world and expose others to them.

Giving kids multiple vaccines at once will hurt them. There is no evidence to support this claim. In fact, WHO states that there’s no difference in effectiveness between vaccines given in proven combinations and those same vaccines given individually. In children with normal immune systems, multiple vaccines given close together isn’t harmful.

How the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System works

Officials use this online reporting system to track data related to the possible adverse effects of vaccines. This ensures that all vaccines given to children and adults are safe and unlikely to cause unnecessary harm.

Anyone can submit an online form if they believe their symptoms or situations are the results of a recent vaccination.

If the FDA or CDC, through reviewing VAERS data, discovered a new safety issue with a certain type of vaccine, they would take action to avoid unnecessary harm to the public. Health officials wouldn’t allow the population to come into contact with a vaccine known to cause illness, injury, or death.

Vaccine deaths

Vaccine deaths | Scyther5/Getty Images

How many deaths can we attribute to vaccines?

Not many — at least not that experts can confirm. According to WHO, there’s no way to obtain a clear answer to this question: We just don’t know. Instead of trying to assess your risk of death when receiving a vaccine or having your child receive one, look at the evidence.

One research analysis examined data related to apparent deaths associated with vaccines and found that, for most vaccines, death rates hover around one or two deaths per million doses. In other words, your chances of dying from a smallpox or MMR vaccine are extremely low. Most people in the United States who receive vaccinations do not die from related complications.

Everything comes with a risk, especially when it comes to medicine and your health. But that doesn’t mean the risks of something outweigh the benefits. If they did, your doctor would have to tell you so.

In the case of vaccines, benefits far exceed potential harms, which are rare and, depending on the adverse effect, treatable. It’s not as easy to treat the effects of avoiding vaccination, such as the illnesses or disabilities that can result from vaccine-preventable diseases.

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