Background: The federally administered Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) is a passive reporting system that receives domestic and foreign reports of adverse events that occur following immunization. This investigation explored whether routinely interviewing parents for follow-up of VAERS pediatric deaths would provide additional information important to vaccine safety.
Methods: The study was designed to follow up 100 consecutive pediatric deaths reported to VAERS by interviewing a parent and a healthcare provider (HCP) for each case. Several strategies contributed to successful follow-up. A standardized questionnaire was utilized to interview HCPs and parents. Overall and specific group frequencies (HCPs and parents) were calculated for each variable. McNemar's statistical tests of exact inference were calculated to assess whether there were statistically significant differences between HCP and parent knowledge by case for various variables.
Results: The median age of the cases was 4 months. Approximately half of the deaths were attributed to sudden infant death syndrome. In many instances, the information was equivalent in quality. For certain variables, such as knowledge of the child's position when found in distress, more parents than HCPs indicated that they knew the answer.
Conclusions: Conducting parental and HCP follow-up for pediatric deaths reported to VAERS was resource intensive. In some instances, parents were more likely than HCPs to provide information regarding some important variables about the nature of the death. None of the additional information obtained from parents, however, provided a signal or confirmation of a causal link between the vaccine and death.