Frequently asked questions on seven rare adverse events following immunization

J Prev Med Hyg. 2017 Mar;58(1):E13-E26.


Routine mass immunization programs have contributed greatly to the control of infectious diseases and to the improvement of the health of populations. Over the last decades, the rise of antivaccination movements has threatened the advances made in this field to the point that vaccination coverage rates have decreased and outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases have resurfaced. One of the critical points of the immunization debate revolves around the level of risk attributable to vaccination, namely the possibility of experiencing serious and possibly irreversible adverse events. Unfortunately, the knowledge about adverse events, especially rare ones, is usually incomplete at best and the attribution of a causal relationship with vaccinations is subject to significant uncertainties. The aim of this paper is to provide a narrative review of seven rare or very rare adverse events: hypotonic hyporesponsive episode, multiple sclerosis, apnea in preterm newborns, Guillain-Barré syndrome, vasculitides, arthritis/ arthralgia, immune thrombocytopenic purpura. We have selected these adverse events based on our experience of questions asked by health care workers involved in vaccination services. Information on the chosen adverse events was retrieved from Medline using appropriate search terms. The review is in the form of questions and answers for each adverse event, with a view to providing useful and actionable concepts while not ignoring the uncertainties that remain. We also highlight in the conclusion possible future improvements to adverse event detection and assessment that could help identify individuals at higher risk against the probable future backdrop of ever-greater abandonment of compulsory vaccination policies.

Keywords: Adverse events; Guillain-Barré syndrome; Immunization; Thrombocytopenia.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adverse Drug Reaction Reporting Systems
  • Arthritis / epidemiology
  • Arthritis / etiology
  • Consciousness Disorders / epidemiology
  • Consciousness Disorders / etiology
  • Guillain-Barre Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Guillain-Barre Syndrome / etiology
  • Humans
  • Immunization / adverse effects*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / epidemiology
  • Multiple Sclerosis / etiology
  • Muscle Hypotonia / epidemiology
  • Muscle Hypotonia / etiology
  • Patient Selection
  • Purpura, Thrombocytopenic, Idiopathic / epidemiology
  • Purpura, Thrombocytopenic, Idiopathic / etiology
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / epidemiology
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / etiology
  • Vaccines / adverse effects*
  • Vasculitis / epidemiology
  • Vasculitis / etiology


  • Vaccines