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Can Vaccines Cause Autoimmune Disorders?

written by: R. Elizabeth C. Kitchen•edited by: Diana Cooper•updated: 3/31/2011

Is there a link between vaccines and autoimmune disorders? Here we will explore this link.

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    Are vaccines and autoimmune disorders connected? As of today, we know that vaccines are safe and effective and there is no concrete evidence at this time to prove that they increase the risk of developing an autoimmune disease, but some researchers are still researching the topic. The topic is still being debated on whether vaccines may have an effect on a small group of people who are already genetically predisposed to developing autoimmune disorders.

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    What Are the Allegations?

    With an autoimmune disease, the immune system already has trouble “turning itself off” so some researchers believe that any type of stimulation, such as a vaccine, could cause a flare of disease. There has also been an increase in the use of vaccines and an increase in the incidence of autoimmune disorders and this has some researchers speculating about a possible link. While some believe it could be pure coincidence, the onset of autoimmune disorder symptoms sometimes occurs after vaccination.

    Some believe that Guillain-Barre syndrome risk is increased by a certain type of influenza vaccine. Some believe that multiple sclerosis risk is increased by a hepatitis B vaccine. Some believe type 1 diabetes risk is increased by several of the pediatric vaccines.

    At this time, no biological basis has been found to connect vaccines and autoimmune disorders.

    Some autoimmune disorder patients will experience a flare when they get a vaccine. However, the majority of patients with multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus do not and are able to get vaccinated without any issues.

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    How the Research is Conducted

    When researchers are exploring the possible link between vaccines and autoimmune disorders, they will often take a variety of approaches. Epidemiological studies, or population studies, analyze the health data of a population of people who have received a certain vaccine, as part of a vaccine campaign or clinical trial, to try and determine whether there was a higher incidence rate of autoimmune disorders among that population than experts would expect.

    Crossover studies compare people with themselves.

    Animal studies will use animals, such as lab mice, to see if the animals develop an autoimmune disease after vaccination.

    Case studies are only used in rare situations. They are used to understand a unique event and are a description of a single person's experience with a disease.

    At this time, we know some people may be vulnerable to autoimmune diseases. We also know that vaccines save lives and are generally safe for the majority of those receiving. As research continues we are sure to learn more about whether these two are connected.

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    Offit, P.A. MD and Hackett, C.J. PhD. (2003). Addressing Parents' Concerns: Do Vaccines Cause Allergic or Autoimmune Diseases? Retrieved on March 29, 2011 from the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics:

    PubMed. (2004). Autoimmune Diseases and Vaccinations. Retrieved on March 29, 2011 from PubMed: