Vaccines are one of the greatest success stories in public health. Through use of vaccines, we have eradicated smallpox and nearly eliminated wild polio virus. The number of people who experience the devastating effects of preventable infectious diseases like measles, diphtheria, and whooping cough is at an all-time low. To ensure the continued success of vaccines in the United States, it’s crucial to make sure that vaccines are safe.
Before vaccines are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), they are tested extensively by scientists to ensure they are effective and safe. Vaccines are the best defense we have against infectious diseases; however, no vaccine is actually 100% safe or effective for everyone because each person’s body reacts to vaccines differently. [1, 2, 3]
As infectious diseases become less common, we hear less about the serious consequences of preventable illnesses like diphtheria and tetanus and more about the risks associated with vaccines. It’s good to be informed about health choices, but the reality is that Americans have never been healthier than we are today and vaccines have never been safer than they are today. The benefits of vaccines far outweigh the risks. As science continues to advance, we strive to develop safer vaccines and improve delivery to protect ourselves against disease more effectively. This overview focuses on vaccine research, how vaccines are licensed, and how we make sure vaccines are safe. [1, 2, 3]
During the mid-1970s, there was an increased focus on personal health and more people became concerned about vaccine safety. Several lawsuits were filed against vaccine manufacturers and healthcare providers by people who believed they had been injured by the diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus (DPT) vaccine.  Damages were awarded despite the lack of scientific evidence to support vaccine injury claims.  As a result of these decisions, liability and prices soared, and several vaccine manufacturers halted production. A vaccine shortage resulted and public health officials became concerned about the return of epidemic disease. To reduce liability and respond to public health concerns, Congress passed the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (NCVIA) in 1986. This act was influential in many ways. [4, 5]
Specifically, the IOM identified the following problems:
Significant progress has been made over the past few years to monitor side effects and conduct research relevant to vaccine safety.