In order for vaccinations to 'work', the immune system must be stimulated. The concern that immunizations may lead to the development of autoimmune disease (AID) has been questioned. Since AID occur in the absence of immunizations, it is unlikely that immunizations are a major cause of AID. Epidemiological studies are needed, however, to assess whether immunizations may increase the risk in some susceptible individuals. This paper discusses the evidence for and against vaccination as a risk factor for AID. Evidence for immunizations leading to AID come from several sources including animal studies, single and multiple case reports, and ecologic association. However more rigorous investigation has failed to confirm most of the allegations. Unfortunately the question remains difficult to address because for most AIDs, there is limited knowledge of the etiology, background incidence and other risk factors for their development. This information is necessary, in the absence of experimental evidence derived from controlled studies, for any sort of adequate causality assessment using the limited data that are available. Several illustrative examples are discussed to highlight what is known and what remains to be explored, and the type of epidemiological evidence that would be required to better address the issues. Examples include the possible association of immunization and multiple sclerosis (and other demyelinating diseases), type 1 diabetes mellitus, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Copyright 2001 Academic Press.