Answering some questions on vaccines

Anytime I post on vaccines, I seem to get inundated with email. Many of you have legitimate questions. I thought I’d answer some here.

1) Why should I trust a study of just 500 children when millions get vaccines?

It’s very expensive to do research. A well designed study that follows 500 children for a year or so would likely cost in the millions of dollars. We use statistics before we do a study to determine (1) how much of a difference we would consider significant and (2) how many participants we’d need to see a difference. We call that a “power calculation”. I know that it may surprise you, but 500 subjects is a pretty big study. Most drugs that you take likely involved studies of this size or smaller. No one ever tests millions of people to see if things work.

Let me put this another way. There’s a huge body of research that shows polling 600 people in the US can give you a pretty good estimate of how an election will go. People have spent a lot of time perfecting this stuff.

2) But if you only study a small number of people, how do you know that adverse, rare effects aren’t occuring?

You are correct that it’s important to do after-market monitoring for this. We do. That’s why we have the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System:

The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) is a national vaccine safety surveillance program co-sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). VAERS collects and analyzes information from reports of adverse events (possible side effects) following vaccination. Since 1990, VAERS has received more than 200,000 reports, most of which describe mild side effects such as fever. Very rarely, people experience serious adverse events. By monitoring these events, VAERS helps identify new safety concerns, and helps make sure the benefits of vaccines continue to be far greater than the risks. VAERS data are monitored to-

  • Detect new, unusual, or rare vaccine adverse events
  • Monitor increases in known adverse events
  • Identify potential patient risk factors for particular types of adverse events
  • Identify vaccine lots with increased numbers or types of reported adverse events
  • Assess the safety of newly licensed vaccines

3) Has this system picked up any adverse events?

Many. VAERS gets about 30,000 reports a year, with about 13% being reported as “serious”.

4) Are all those caused by vaccines?!?!?!

I’ll let VAERS answer this one:

No. VAERS receives reports of many adverse events that occur after vaccination. Some occur coincidentally following vaccination, while others may be caused by vaccination. Studies help determine if a vaccine really caused an adverse event. Just because an adverse event happened after a person received a vaccine does not mean the vaccine caused the adverse event. Other factors, such as the person’s medical history and other medicines the person took near the time of the vaccination, may have caused the adverse event. It is important to remember that many adverse events reported to VAERS may not be caused by vaccines.  Although VAERS can rarely provide definitive evidence of causal associations between vaccines and particular risks, its unique role as a national spontaneous reporting system enables the early detection of signals that can then be more rigorously investigated.

5) Can I look at that data?

Knock yourself out. You can download data here. Or, you can use their online tool to get them to make you some charts or tables.

6) Don’t vaccines cause autism? 

No. No no no no no.

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