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How safe are vaccines?

Because vaccines are generally given to healthy people, including infants, it is important that they be very, very safe. While we might tolerate a side effect such as drowsiness in a medicine given to patients who are sick — knowing that the medicine will help make them well — we expect only the highest level of safety from vaccines. There have always been worries about vaccines, because they are biological substances and they stimulate immunity, but vaccines accepted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and administered to people in this country meet rigorous safety standards. The purpose of the VSC and of the Immunization Safety Office of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is to ensure that our vaccine supply is safe.

When a disease is common, and everyone knows how bad it is, then most people are grateful to have a vaccine to prevent it. But once the vaccine is introduced and it becomes rare to see the disease anymore, people do not necessarily realize how harmful the disease is. Some may become concerned about getting a vaccine — perhaps it might cause a fever or a sore arm — or question the need for immunization, since the disease is not in evidence. It is important to continue giving vaccines and to maintain a high level of coverage in society, because, if we don’t, these diseases will come back, as occurred with measles in Great Britain in the 1990s.

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