The Institute of Medicine Report: What Does It Really Conclude? Part II

This post follows on our blog post earlier this week about the Institute of Medicine report.

Report Results

As the Safe Minds press release summarized:

The report considered 158 potential adverse outcomes from vaccines. Of these, 135 or 85% were found to have inadequate research to accept or reject a causal association. Of the 23 outcomes where the research was deemed adequate, 18 or 78% were found supportive of harm. Vaccines were cleared of safety concerns for just five of the outcomes considered. “These statistics are hardly reassuring to parents who are now asked to give their young children over 32 vaccinations,” noted Sallie Bernard, President of SafeMinds.

The committee concluded that the evidence supported 14 specific adverse vaccine event relationships, but in almost all of these relationships, the scientific evidence was rated insufficient. The committee did decide that enough studies and case studies supported following:

  • The MMR vaccine can cause febrile seizures
  • The MMR vaccine can cause measles inclusion body encephalitis in people with compromised immune systems.
  • The MMR, varicella, influenza, hepatitis B, meningococcal, and tetanus toxoid vacccines can cause anaphylaxis (a life-threatening allergic reaction)
  • The varicella zoster vaccine can cause infection by the vaccine virus strain that, in turn, can cause varicella infection, which can result in pneumonia, meningitis or hepatitis in immunodeficient people.
  • The varicella zoster vaccine can also, through infection by the vaccine virus strain, cause vaccine strain viral reactivation, which in turn can result in meningitis or encephalitis
  • Vaccine injections can result in fainting and shoulder pain or inflammation (7).

Meanwhile, the following relationships were favored by the evidence:

  • HPV vaccine may cause anaphylaxis (see above)
  • MMR vaccine may cause temporary joint pain in women and children
  • MMR vaccine does not cause type 1 diabetes or autism
  • DtaP vaccine does not cause type 1 diabetes
  • Influenza vaccine does not aggravate asthma or cause Bell’s palsy.

These conclusions are not very reassuring to the public, and, as Safe Minds pointed out, sometimes contradictory:

The report found likely causality of immune dysfunction, seizures and encephalopathy from some vaccines. These conditions are often found in individuals with autism. “It is plausible that a subset of children became autistic because of these adverse events from their vaccines. There are many cases of autism compensated by the vaccine court after having one of these conditions,” noted Lyn Redwood, RN, Director of SafeMinds.

With the small sample size of studies examined by the committee, it is possible that they never looked at some of the studies that have argued so persuasively for connections between, for example, the Hepatitis B vaccine and type 1 diabetes.

The IOM report was refreshing in that it did affirm a conclusion that the vaccine-safety movement reached years ago: that some individuals are more at risk for adverse reactions to vaccines than others. The committee admitted that people with “an acquired or genetic immunodeficiency” face a greater likelihood of having a negative reaction to live viral vaccines like MMR and varicella. The report also noted that age was a risk factor, saying specifically that “seizures after immunization, for example, are more likely to occur in young children” (9). At the same time, however, the report makes no connection between neurological adverse events like seizures and encephalopathy and neurological diseases like autism, which seems a little misleading.

Other issues:

The study from the IOM adds to our current pool of knowledge about vaccine safety. However, it is far from the last word on the subject. The report is the result of the committee’s discussion and debate, which, for the most part, took place behind closed doors. “Some of the conclusions were easy to reach … Some conclusions required substantial discussion and debate. Inevitably, there are elements of clinical and scientific judgment involved” (9). In other words, some of the decisions made reflect the beliefs of the people on the committee, more than science.

Not only this, but the committee’s neutrality is in question. The report itself was commissioned by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which also administers the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. The DHHS is thus the defendant against the vaccine-injured, and has a stake in ensuring that vaccines are judged safe. In addition, the IOM receives money not only from the government, but also from vaccine manufacturers, and therefore has several conflicts of interest, as documented by Natural News.

For the most part, the study did not reach any conclusions on the vast majority of adverse vaccine reactions: aside from the conclusions posted above, which may be flawed in themselves, “evidence is inadequate to accept or reject a causal link in another 135 possible associations.”

The committee themselves warned people from extrapolating based on their findings, pointing out that when they found that evidence was inadequate to accept or reject a causal relationship, as they did for most of the adverse vaccine reactions in the report, that meant that they could not come to a conclusion at this time, based on the evidence they had. It does not mean that vaccines are safe; nor does it mean that they are unsafe. Effectively, the committee admits that they just don’t know.

Much more research needs to be done before parents can be sure that vaccines are safe. We still do not know if the vaccine schedule is safe, nor did this study address ingredients like aluminum and mercury, which are neurotoxins yet are still injected into children along with vaccines.

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