No vaccine is perfectly safe. As with any medication, serious side effects are possible. As long as there have been vaccines, the potential risk of nerve damage as a result of vaccination has existed. The history of vaccination actually begins with inoculation, which was the practice of scraping infected tissue from the victim of a specific disease and inserting those cells into a healthy individual, usually via a cut or scrape. Real vaccinations, via injections, did not start until much later.
In 1855, Massachusetts passed the first US law requiring vaccination for school children. The one and only vaccination required was for smallpox. This vaccine carried the risk of encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, which can lead to permanent brain damage. The resulting damage can and does affect any bodily function.
In the 1920s, diphtheria vaccine was introduced. Potential nerve damage resulting from this vaccine includes encephalopathy (coma, decreased level of consciousness, or prolonged seizures) and Guillain-Barrѐ syndrome. During the 1950s tetanus vaccine came on the scene, carrying with it the risk of paresthesia (burning, itching or tingling skin sensations associated with peripheral nerve damage) and convulsions.
Polio vaccine also entered the marketplace in the 1950s adding potential nerve damage that included encephalopathy and other progressive neurological disorders, including Guillain-Barrѐ syndrome. At this point in time, with few exceptions, vaccines were not mandatory; nor were they subsidized by the government. Two significant events altered that situation. The first was the Vaccination Assistance Act of 1962, when the government decided to help local governments supply low cost vaccines to their citizens. The second was in 1970, when the CDC mounted a nationwide rubella vaccine campaign quickly followed by a campaign to eradicate measles.
These two vaccines, rubella and measles, introduced additional risk of nerve damage in the form of febrile seizures, paresthesia, and myalgia resulting from nerve damage.
By 1981, all 50 states had mandated measles, diphtheria, polio, and rubella vaccine for school attendance. Most states also included the newer tetanus, mumps and pertussis vaccines. Each addition brought the potential for additional nerve damage via encephalopathy and/or Guillain-Barrѐ syndrome. The risk of nerve damage increased with each additional vaccine.
Consider the fact that in 1980 the recommended vaccination schedule included only four vaccines, five doses of DPT/OPV (which covered diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus and polio), one dose of MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and a booster Dt (diphtheria/tetanus).
Fast forward to the current recommended vaccination schedule with over 30 doses of vaccines for fifteen diseases before the age of six. Several more are added for ages seven through 18, not to mention the currently recommended vaccines for adults. Nearly all of them are required for school attendance in most states. Is it any wonder neurological disorders resulting from nerve damage have reached epidemic proportions?
(Note: the information on potential severe side effects listed above came from current vaccine package inserts as historical ones are not available.)
Rosemary Mathis, Director of SANE VAX, INC.