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Immunization Awareness: Myths and Facts

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National Immunization Awareness Month is recognized during the month of August.  Dr. Kathryn Edwards and Dr. Sarah Elizabeth Williams explain the importance of vaccinations.  They also clear up some myths about vaccines.

Begin Transcript

Teera Wilkins: Welcome to this edition of the Vanderbilt University Health and Wellness Wellcast.  I am Teera Wilkins with Occupational Health Clinic.

The month of August is recognized as National Immunization Awareness Month.  Today, I will sit down with Dr. Kathryn Edwards, the director of the Vaccine Research Program here at Vanderbilt and Dr. Sarah Elizabeth Williams, a clinical instructor in pediatrics.  The two of them will provide us with a better understanding of the importance of vaccinations.

Dr. Edwards, let me start by asking you how do we know if vaccinations are safe.

Dr. Kathryn Edwards: Vaccines are generally tested first in healthy adults so that we can make sure that the vaccines work in terms of making immune responses and also that they are safe, and then, after they are found to be safe in a fairly large number of normal healthy people, then either if they are going to be tested in babies then studies are done with babies or if they are going be tested in older people, then it is a target population, but often, we start first with normal healthy people.

Teera Wilkins: How are vaccines monitored?

Dr. Kathryn Edwards: The vaccines then are studied in efficacy studies to see whether it will prevent disease.  During that whole time when we do efficacy studies, we also look at safety.  So, we see are there sore arms, are there fevers? And then the other thing is that once vaccines then are recommended and licensed, there also are ways to look at vaccine safety and by reporting events that happened after that, and then we have a large grant to look at vaccine safety if there are reactions after vaccine, then we study them.  So, that is sort of an overview of kind of how those go.

Teera Wilkins: If there was a problem with the vaccine, how would the public be notified?

Dr. Sarah Elizabeth Williams:  If there is some sort of problem with the vaccine or if there is any kind of contamination that we identified, that would be shared with the public and the authorities or public health agencies would let people know.

Dr. Kathryn Edwards: The CDC would issue a statement and FDA as well so   those are their responsibilities for public health centers.  They would discuss and  usually those would come from some Webcast or something like that and then it would be usually on the website or the MMWR something like that and then FDA.  Often, FDA will also issue warnings or more that may come as letters or some come as emails, so basically CDC and FDA.

Teera Wilkins: Okay.  Is there a linkage between vaccine and autism?

Dr. Sarah Elizabeth Williams:  This idea that vaccines were somehow connected with the onset of autism in children first came about with one paper that was published by a group of investigators in England and the lead author was the man named Dr. Andrew Wakefield, and the paper included eight children. Since that time, it has been found that the paper and the study included false data so he basically made-up data.  All of the authors on the paper basically asked to be removed from the paper, and he lost his medical license in England, and the paper was retracted from the journal.  Because of that article, everyone got very worried. There has been millions of dollars spent on studies trying to disapprove what he suggested. So over two dozen studies and they’ve all had the same finding that there is no link between vaccines that infants receive and autism.

Teera Wilkins: Some people are afraid that flu vaccine will cause them to have Guillain-Barré.  Is this true?

Dr. Sarah Elizabeth Williams:  In 1976, there was this swine variant flu vaccine administered to people and that there was a mass vaccination campaign and so 6 months in after they started this mass vaccination campaign, the public health system noticed that there were increased reports of Guillain-Barré, and they actually ended up stopping the vaccination program and found that there was an increased risk of Guillain-Barré in subjects who received this vaccine.  That was the first reported finding of increased Guillain-Barré following influenza, and so after that finding, every year, there has been a lot of careful monitoring to see if any other flu vaccines are associated, and in general, they are not.  There is a very small increased association, like one in a million, but since then, we have not seen it again.

Dr. Kathryn Edwards: It so rare.  It is one in a million.  There is a greater risk to not getting the vaccine than to getting the vaccine.

Dr. Sarah Elizabeth Williams:  Absolutely, and then the risk of getting Guillain-Barré following natural influenza, if you get actual flu is way higher than getting Guillain-Barré following the vaccine absolutely like hands down.

Teera Wilkins: Are there vaccines that are not safe during pregnancy?

Dr. Kathryn Edwards: When you are vaccinating the mother you are vaccinating the mother and the baby. There are a few vaccines that are live weakened vaccines, so the measles vaccines, the mumps vaccine, the rubella vaccine, those are all live vaccines, and we do not generally give those to pregnant women. The risk for influenza as a disease particularly in the third trimester is very high for hospitalizations and even mortalities.  So, the flu vaccine, not the nose drop one, not the live one, but the shot is recommended for pregnant woman.  The DTP vaccine is recommended for pregnant woman.  That is not a live vaccine.

Teera Wilkins: Can you receive too many vaccines at one time?

Dr. Sarah Elizabeth Williams:  This is another myth.  The babies are actually receiving less than what I received as an infant because we have actually refined what is in the vaccines.  They are receiving less proteins or what we call antigens.  So, the number of antigens that babies are exposed to in the first year of life is actually very small. Really, there is no concern about giving too many vaccines at one time.

Teera Wilkins: I definitely thank you both for taking the time to actually sit down and explain some of these concerns that not only I myself but also people in general should usually have.

Thanks for listening.  Please feel free to leave us any comments on this Wellcast on the form at the bottom of this page.  If you have any story suggestions, please email us at or you can use the “Contact Us” page on our website at

Posted on Friday, August 16, 2013 in Occupational Health Clinic, Wellcasts and tagged ,


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