Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:


MEPs devise strategy to tackle vaccine hesitancy among public

BMJ 2018; 360 doi: (Published 23 March 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;360:k1378

Rapid Response:

Re: Vaccine safety claims do not stand up to scrutiny

Thank you Vinu Arumughan [1]. An interesting example might be the paper of LeBaron (of the Centers for Disease Control) on MMR [2] which recorded that 6% of toddlers had a high fever (39.5C or above) following vaccination - which is alarming enough in itself - but since monitoring ceased after 4 weeks we know nothing, for instance, about the long term health outcomes of those who had high fevers against those who did not. It would actually have been very easy to follow up on such a result, but you can say nothing about the long term outcomes if you are not measuring them.

In my recent letter I linked to the correspondence last year in these columns [3] in which an European Medicines Agency [EMA] official, Melanie Carr, effectively confirmed the findings of Gatti and Montanari regarding inorganic particle contamination in vaccines while stating that it was the objective of manufacturers to keep these within safe limits:

"The presence of minuscule trace amounts of certain inorganic particles in vaccines is not unexpected and the manufacturing process for all parenteral preparations is designed to ensure that any such traces are kept within safe limits."

It may be said this is a very subjective assessment: when talking about micro and nano particles "miniscule-ness" is somewhat of a given (as I understand it we are not talking about anything visible to the naked eye) while the phrase "designed to ensure" does not ensure anything - in itself a mere aspiration - although an admission apparently that the manufacturers knew all along. And not only is there no evidence base as far as I can see for "within safe limits" (for instance long term comparison with another group who had particle free vaccines) but perhaps also takes no account of the number of these products a young citizen is supposed to receive, either by recommendation or by mandate. It is not really clear from this that the EMA has a culture of ensuring things are safe, rather than just a culture of saying things are safe, and standing on their dignity. Meanwhile, as Dr Noel Thomas pointed out in his responding letter it receives 89% of its income from pharmaceutical companies [3].

There is much testimony in these columns to the general poor health and unhappiness of contemporary children and young people, and one thing we are doing differently is vaccinating them a great deal - with many products against many diseases - in their early years. So it wants thinking about.

Lastly, it is surely well beyond the brief of the European Union Parliament, or even good sense, to assert that an entire class of products is safe as an absolute truth, and without any qualification. If as result of these institutional movements [to suppress debate [4] we end up not being able to discuss vaccine risks at all we will be in a pretty poor place.

[1] Vinu Arumughan, 'Vaccine safety claims do not stand up to scrutiny' 27 March 2018,
[2] LeBaron et al, 'Evaluation of Potentially Common Adverse Events Associated With the First and Second Doses of Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccine', Pediatrics October 2006,
[3] Rapid Responses to Wise J, 'Many vaccines have tiny amounts of inorganic matter, investigation finds' BMJ 2017;
[4] Heidi Larson, 'Let Freedom Ring', The Vaccine Confidence Project,1 January 2018,

Competing interests: No competing interests

27 March 2018
John Stone
UK Editor
London N22