The process by which vaccines are tested for safety and approved is long and rigorous. An overwhelming amount of research has proven the efficacy and safety of vaccination. Like various drugs and other medical treatments, vaccines do pose some risk of side effects or adverse reactions. Certain factors—such as being sick at the time of vaccination or a family history of allergic reaction to vaccines—can increase the risk of complications. However, negative reactions to vaccines are rare, and the potential risk and result of contracting a preventable disease far outweighs the risk posed by a vaccination.

Questions to Consider

Like medication, everyone responds differently to vaccines. Different types of vaccines each carry their own set of side effects, which can range in severity from mild to more serious reactions or an ineffective response, in which case the individual remains susceptible to the virus or bacteria for which he or she was vaccinated. 

If you’re concerned about vaccination, consider the answers to these questions:

  • Are you sick at the time you are supposed to be vaccinated?
  • Have you ever had a reaction to a vaccination?
  • Do you have a family history of vaccine reactions, allergies, or immune disorders?
  • Are you fully aware of vaccine side effects?
  • Do you understand how to recognize a reaction to a vaccine?

Symptoms of an Adverse Reaction

If you do get vaccinated, write down any health problems that might have developed following the vaccination. While these symptoms may have nothing to do with the vaccination, you don’t want to immediately rule out the possibility of a vaccine-related reaction either. It’s important to note any significant or even seemingly minor symptoms and alert your doctor.

Symptoms or complications of an adverse vaccine reaction include:

  • swelling, redness, or heat at the area of injection
  • rash or hives on the body
  • muscle weakness
  • joint pain
  • high fever
  • extreme fatigue
  • sleep disturbances
  • memory loss
  • weakness or paralysis in any area of the body
  • vision or hearing loss
  • restlessness or hyperactivity 

A Decade of Controversy

Despite the overwhelming success of vaccines in controlling and eliminating deadly diseases and despite the rigorous approval process they have to go to before released to the public, not everyone has championed vaccinations. During the past decade, there has been a swelling wave of controversy over the safety of vaccinations. Much of the negativity and questions were sparked by a 1998 study published in the British medical journal The Lancet, which linked the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine to the development of autism. After word of the study reached the media and after a handful of Hollywood and television celebrities came out against vaccinations, a series of mixed messages and misinformation left parents confused and panicked about the right choice to make for their children.

In 2009, a series of articles published in a British newspaper revealed that data in The Lancet study had been falsified to associate a link between the MRR vaccine and autism, and the journal retracted the article. The ultimate result or fallout from the panic and confusion surrounding this controversy might not be known for years. However, the controversy did scare plenty of parents away from getting their children vaccinated, which means the risk of developing an infection increases.