Vaccines and Neurologic Disease

James J. Sejvar, M.D.


Semin Neurol. 2011;31(3):338-355. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Vaccines have undoubtedly been a medical milestone, preventing immeasurable morbidity and mortality from infectious diseases worldwide. Modern vaccines have tremendously reduced the global impact of numerous infections; they have succeeded in eliminating smallpox completely. However, the nature by which vaccines confer their protection—by stimulation of the immune system—means that in rare cases, adverse often immunologically mediated events may occur following vaccination. Some of the most severe of these involve the nervous system. The author provides an overview of the mechanisms of vaccinology, and describes the various vaccines available for particular neurologic illnesses. Possible neurologic adverse events following vaccinations, and the possible mechanisms of these events, are also discussed. Finally, procedures in place to ensure vaccine safety are reviewed.


Among the medical milestones of human history, the discovery and implementation of vaccination has undoubtedly ranked among the top. The development of vaccines against various infectious diseases has ameliorated morbidity and mortality worldwide.[1] Despite its relatively recent development, vaccination has successfully controlled at least 12 major diseases in most of the world, and has successfully eradicated one, smallpox, from the globe.[2] The nature by which vaccines work, however—by stimulation of the innate immune system—carries with it the risk of rare adverse events associated with vaccination. Here I will explore the various neurologic infections that have been controlled by vaccines as well as the occurrence of rare neurologic adverse events associated with vaccination.


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