Feature

Vaccine Verity

New studies weigh benefits and risks

By
10:03am, August 15, 2001

Smallpox. Measles. Mumps. Polio. These words once conjured up images of people with severe rashes, swollen jaws, or paralysis. Yet vaccines have eliminated smallpox and made the rest of these once-common, often-debilitating diseases rare.

The percentage of people vaccinated against these diseases is at an all-time high, while death rates from them are at all-time lows. But the very success of these vaccines, plus those for meningitis and a variety of other diseases, carries with it the germ of a public health tumult.

As more people are vaccinated, the trauma of the original diseases becomes rare–but harmful side effects of vaccines may garner more attention. Furthermore, inaccurate information now spreading through the Internet exacerbates worries about vaccine safety, public health specialists say.

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