By Dr. Shelley Deeks
Vaccination is one of the greatest achievements in the history of public health. Vaccines protect the lives of millions of Ontarians, with nine million vaccine doses safely administered each year.
Despite this, misinformation about vaccine safety is still a problem in Ontario and throughout the world. Misinformation on vaccines can have a major influence on policy makers as well as parents. In recent years, vaccine safety has been subject to close media scrutiny and intense public debate. An example occurred in early 2015, when a media outlet reported a controversial story on HPV vaccine with the headline “A wonder drug’s dark side”. After backlash from the public health and scientific community, the story was removed from their website, as it “led to confusion between anecdotes and evidence”. There continues to be debate in the public realm despite a wealth of scientific evidence demonstrating that vaccines, including HPV vaccines, are safe. Enhanced communication about vaccine safety is needed to combat misinformation to ensure Ontarians are protected from vaccine-preventable diseases.
Since PHO began monitoring vaccine safety in 2012, the data have repeatedly shown that vaccines are extremely safe, and occurrences of serious adverse events following immunization (AEFI) are very rare. Further information is available in the recently released Annual Report on Vaccine Safety in Ontario.
What is an AEFI?
An adverse event following immunization (AEFI) is an
unwanted or unexpected health effect that happens after someone receives a
vaccine, which may or may not be caused by the vaccine.
Information in the report comes from Ontario healthcare providers, such as doctors, nurses or pharmacists, as well as parents. Local public health units receive and investigate all reports of AEFIs. This includes relatively minor, expected side effects that may occur after vaccine such as fever, pain or redness at the injection site, as well as less common or unexpected health events, which may or may not be associated with vaccine.
By routinely reviewing and reporting on adverse events, we continuously assess the safety of vaccines used in Ontario and can detect possible safety issues if these arise. In addition, this information is available to the public to help alleviate fears and reinforce the safety and science behind vaccines. This can assist individuals in making informed decisions about vaccinating themselves and their children. This information also provides scientific evidence for healthcare providers, who are a trusted source of health information for patients. Resources like the Annual Report on Vaccine Safety in Ontario and the Immunizer Overview provides them with messaging and resources to support sound vaccination advice to their patients.
Vaccines protect millions of lives in Ontario every year. Ongoing work by public health, like the vaccine safety report, is important to ensure that we are protecting Ontarians from misinformation as well as vaccine-preventable disease.