Objectives: To investigate whether the accelerated immunisation programme in the United Kingdom is associated, after adjustment for potential confounding, with the sudden infant death syndrome.
Design: Population based case-control study, February 1993 to March 1996. Parental interviews were conducted for each death and for four controls matched for age, locality, and time of sleep. Immunisation status was taken from records held by the parents.
Setting: Five regions in England with a combined population of over 17 million.
Subjects: Immunisation details were available for 93% (303/325) of infants whose deaths were attributed to the sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS); 90% (65/72) of infants with explained sudden deaths; and 95% (1515/1588) of controls.
Results: After all potential confounding factors were controlled for, immunisation uptake was strongly associated with a lower risk of SIDS (odds ratio 0.45 (95% confidence interval 0.24 to 0.85)). This difference became non-significant (0.67 (0.31 to 1.43)) after further adjustment for other factors specific to the infant's sleeping environment. Similar proportions of SIDS deaths and reference sleeps (corresponding to the time of day during which the index baby had died) among the controls occurred within 48 hours of the last vaccination (5% (7/149) v 5% (41/822)) and within two weeks (21% (31/149) v 27% (224/822)). No longer term temporal association with immunisation was found (P=0.78). Of the SIDS infants who died within two weeks of vaccination, 16% (5/31) had signs and symptoms of illness that suggested that medical contact was required, compared with 26% (16/61) of the non-immunised SIDS infants of similar age. The findings for the infants who died suddenly and unexpectedly but of explained causes mirrored those for SIDS infants.
Conclusions: Immunisation does not lead to sudden unexpected death in infancy, and the direction of the relation is towards protection rather than risk.