Weighing the risks and benefits of vaccination

Adv Vet Med. 1999;41:701-13. doi: 10.1016/s0065-3519(99)80054-8.


The following summarizes this author's current thoughts regarding veterinary vaccines and their safety: 1. Every licensed animal vaccine is probably effective, but also produces some adverse effects. 2. Prelicensing studies of vaccines are not specifically designed to detect adverse vaccine reactions. 3. An improved system of national postmarketing surveillance is required to identify most adverse vaccine reactions that occur at low and moderate frequency. 4. Even a good postmarketing surveillance system is unlikely, however, to detect delayed adverse vaccine reactions, and the longer the delay the less likely they will be associated with vaccination. 5. Analytic epidemiologic (field) studies are the best way to link vaccination with delayed adverse reactions, but these are often hindered by incomplete vaccination histories in medical records in veterinary practice and by a lack of veterinarians in industry trained in epidemiologic methods. 6. Each licensed veterinary vaccine should be subjected to a quantitative risk assessment, and these should be updated on a regular basis as new information becomes available. 7. Risk assessment should be used to identify gaps in information regarding the safety and efficacy of vaccines, and appropriate epidemiologic studies conducted to fill these gaps that contribute to the uncertainty in risk estimates. 8. Risk assessment is an analytical process that is firmly based on scientific considerations, but it also requires judgments to be made when the available information is incomplete. These judgments inevitably draw on both scientific and policy considerations. 9. Representatives from industry, government, veterinary medicine, and the animal-owning public should be involved in risk management, that is, deciding between policy options. The controversy regarding vaccine risks is intensifying to the point that some animal owners have stopped vaccinating their animals. They offer as justification the belief that current vaccines are "just too dangerous." Some owners report that since they completely stopped vaccinating their animals, they have been healthy. What they fail to realize is that a high percentage of animal owners are responsible and do vaccinate their animals, thus providing "herd immunity" protection to the unvaccinated animals whom they contact. The solution to the vaccine controversy is not to abandon vaccination as an effective means of disease prevention and control, but rather to encourage vaccine research to answer important questions regarding safety and to identify the biological basis for adverse reactions. Key questions to be answered include these: What components of vaccines are responsible for adverse reactions? What is the genetic basis for susceptibility to adverse health effects in animals? How can susceptible individuals be identified? Do multivalent vaccines cause a higher rate of adverse reactions than monovalent vaccines? Is administration of multiple doses of monovalent vaccines really any safer than administering a single multivalent vaccine? These and other vaccine-related questions deserve our attention as veterinarians so we can fulfill our veterinary oath to relieve animal suffering and "above all else, do no harm."

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Diseases / immunology*
  • Animal Diseases / prevention & control
  • Animals
  • Communication
  • Licensure, Pharmacy
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Management
  • United States
  • Vaccination / adverse effects
  • Vaccination / standards
  • Vaccination / veterinary*
  • Vaccines / adverse effects
  • Vaccines / standards*


  • Vaccines