Vaccines and Neurologic Disease

James J. Sejvar, M.D.


Semin Neurol. 2011;31(3):338-355. 

In This Article


Immunizations have succeeded in preventing worldwide morbidity and mortality from infectious illnesses. Vaccination campaigns have succeeded in eliminating smallpox, once a worldwide source of tremendous mortality, and will eventually eliminate the poliovirus. It is difficult to argue that the vaccine era has not been associated with a tremendous improvement in quality of life for humankind.

However, some prevention measures have risks. The fact that immunizations, by their very nature, are intended to stimulate the human immune system raises the possibility of adverse events. In the past, there have been situations in which the risk of GBS, ADEM, and other demyelinating disorders has appeared to be increased in the setting of specific vaccines. These events, however, have proven to be singularly unusual, and essentially serve as the exception to the rule. Despite countless millions of doses of vaccine given over the years, there are limited data suggesting any significant association of a particular vaccine with a specific neurologic adverse event. Although specific incidents cannot be excluded, and the current available evidence cannot determine that particular host factors in predisposed individuals may not in some cases result in neurologic disease following a particular vaccine, the overwhelming evidence suggests that currently utilized vaccines are safe and not associated with increased risk of neurologic illness.[150,154–158]


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