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Vaccination, seizures and ‘vaccine damage’

Brown, Natasha Ja,b,c,d; Berkovic, Samuel Fa; Scheffer, Ingrid Ea,b,c

doi: 10.1097/WCO.0b013e3280555160
Seizure disorders

Purpose of review Concerns about the safety of vaccination have plagued the community, with reduction in vaccine uptake resulting in increased risk of epidemics. Vaccination has been implicated in the cause of febrile seizures, ‘vaccine encephalopathy’ and autistic spectrum disorders. Evaluation of alleged associations is complicated by evolution in the vaccination field. This review focuses on the risk of seizures following vaccination and the alleged associations of vaccination with vaccine encephalopathy and also with autism spectrum disorders.

Recent findings Over the last decade the introduction of new vaccines such as the acellular pertussis vaccine has produced a reduction in seizures following vaccination, the outcome of which was benign even with older vaccines. New evidence emerged in 2006 showing that cases of alleged ‘vaccine encephalopathy’ are due to mutations within a sodium channel gene. The weight of epidemiological evidence does not support a relationship between vaccination and childhood epileptic encephalopathies or autism spectrum disorders.

Summary Vaccines are safer than ever before, but the challenge remains to convey this message to society in such a way that produces change in attitudes to vaccination and subsequent increase in vaccine coverage.

aEpilepsy Research Centre and Department of Medicine, University of Melbourne, Austin Health, Heidelberg West

bDepartment of Paediatrics, University of Melbourne

cMurdoch Childrens' Research Institute, Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne

dDepartment of Clinical and Biomedical Sciences, Barwon Health, Geelong, Victoria, Australia

Correspondence to Professor Ingrid Scheffer, Epilepsy Research Centre, Austin Health, West Heidelberg, Victoria, 3081, Australia Tel: +61 3 9496 2737; e-mail:

© 2007 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.