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Benefits and Risks of Vaccines

All medications and vaccines have potential risks that must be carefully weighed against the benefits that medications and vaccines offer to prevent illness. Vaccination is one of the most successful public health interventions in reducing disease spread, preventing complications and even deaths from vaccine preventable diseases. The success of vaccines in reducing disease should not suggest that vaccine preventable diseases are no longer a threat. Even though immunizations have significantly reduced vaccine preventable diseases, there were nearly 7,800 reports of vaccine preventable diseases in South Carolina in 2016. Of the 238 disease outbreak investigations that DHEC conducted, 29% of them were outbreaks of influenza, many of which occurred in school and nursing home settings affecting populations of people who are vulnerable to complications from the flu. In fact the age groups with the highest rates of hospitalizations from the flu include those 0 to 4 years of age and those older than 65. There have been 94 deaths from the flu reported in South Carolina during the current flu season.

No vaccine offers 100% protection and vaccine efficacy meaning how well a vaccine prevents illness among those vaccinated varies from one type of vaccine to the next and how well a vaccine works also depends on the health status of the person vaccinated. For example, the flu vaccine does not protect the elderly against catching the flu as well as it does in younger people. But very importantly, several studies suggest that elderly people vaccinated against the flu have less severe disease, are less likely to be hospitalized and are less likely to die. We continue to see preventable illness, hospitalizations and unfortunately deaths in South Carolina from influenza, whooping cough, meningitis, hepatitis B, and other diseases. We also continue to see travelers import diseases like measles that are no longer common here but that cause outbreaks in communities with low vaccination rates. Vaccines do have some risk for adverse reaction, the most common being redness and soreness at the injection site or fever and allergic reactions. More serious complications like seizures and the neurologic condition Guillian-Barre are also reported but occur very rarely and far less commonly than the complications and deaths from vaccine preventable diseases.

For more information, contact us at (803) 898-0460, toll-free at (800) 277-4687, or at immunize@dhec.sc.gov.