Like any other medical procedure, vaccination comes with risks. Through careful research and experimentation, vaccine manufacturers and health care providers have reduced those risks to the point that vaccines are not approved for use until and unless those risks are minimal and nowhere near the risk of getting the diseases vaccines prevent. In fact, those risks are so rare that they make big news when something goes wrong.
This past week, ten people in Oklahoma had to be hospitalized when insulin was given to them instead of the influenza vaccine. According to CNN:
“Eight of the patients were residents of Jacquelyn House and two were employees, Sgt. Jim Warring, with Bartlesville Police Department told CNN. The facility serves intellectually and developmentally disabled people, according to the website of AbilityWorks, the company that owns the eight-resident site.
EMS and fire crews responding Wednesday afternoon “found … multiple unresponsive people,” police Chief Tracy Roles said during a news conference covered by CNN affiliate KTUL.
The pharmacist who injected the insulin was a contractor and went to the facility on Wednesday to administer the flu shot to residents and employees, Rebecca Ingram, CEO of AbilityWorks of Oklahoma, said in a statement.
Ingram said all people who received the injection had reactions and were taken to Jane Phillips Hospital in Bartlesville.
Several remained hospitalized Thursday due to the long-acting insulin that was administered, police said.”
Back in 2015, 2 infants died — and several others were hospitalized — shortly after the administration of several childhood vaccines. After an extensive investigation, the Mexican government and international health authorities aiding the investigation determined that bacterial contamination of the vaccine vials was responsible. As is the case in many parts of the developing world, improper re-use of injection equipment caused bacteria to enter the vials and multiply. As the bacteria multiplied, they produced toxins that were the likely causes of the injuries to the children. The toxins and bacteria were then inadvertently injected along with the hepatitis B vaccine. (You can read the full report in Spanish by clicking here. An English version, via Google Translate, can be read by clicking here.)
In 2017, a dengue vaccine program in the Philippines was shut down when the manufacturer of the vaccine announced that the vaccine may cause severe dengue disease in those who did not have dengue previously and received the vaccine. Why? The first immune reaction to dengue primes the body to have a more severe reaction upon a second contact with the virus. Children who were not previously infected were primed by the vaccine and, since dengue is very prevalent in the Philippines, they would come into contact with the virus again and have the severe reaction. As a result, confidence in vaccines — not just the dengue vaccine — dropped. Measles outbreaks spiked, and polio returned to the archipelago.
“It All Began When French Pharmaceutical Firm Sanofi Pasteur Released a Statement in November 2017 That Its New Dengue Vaccine, Denvaxia, Posed a Risk of More Severe Dengue for People Who Have Not Been Previously Infected by the Virus. It Led to a Congressional Investigation Into the Deaths of 600 Children Who Had Received the Vaccine and a Dramatic Drop in Public Confidence About All Vaccines, Including Measles and Polio. Whereas 93 Percent of Parents in the Philippines in 2015 “Strongly Agreed” That Vaccines Are Important, Only 32 Percent Thought So in 2018.”
These situations demonstrate the critical nature of properly researching and administering vaccines. Although rare, events like the ones above make the news and scare people away from vaccination… Or gives them pause. Certainly, CNN doesn’t interrupt its programming to proclaim that millions of lives were saved by vaccination. When a child in the United States doesn’t get polio and doesn’t end up in an iron lung, no one bats an eye. Such has been the public health success of vaccination.
In the United States, vaccine safety is monitored by several public and private agencies and organizations: from the governmental public health agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health or the 50+ state and territorial health departments; to the many academic institutions doing research and the pharmaceutical companies monitoring their vaccines and those of others. These groups help make sure that millions are protected from disease, and, when events like the one in Oklahoma happen, they aid in understanding what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again.