Vaccines, viruses, and voodoo

Andrea T. Borchers, Carl L Keen, Yehuda Shoenfeld, Joseph Silva, M. Eric Gershwin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Vaccinations are invaluable in protection from a wide variety of diseases that can cause substantial morbidity and mortality. Although a rare complication of vaccination, autoimmune disorders represent one of these morbidities. Recently, widespread public concern has arisen from case reports suggesting that - similar to what has been observed after natural viral infections - there might be an association between specific immunizations and autoimmune diseases. Herein we address the biological plausibility of such a connection, focusing particularly on the examples of hepatitis B, rubella, and measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccinations, and the autoimmune diseases they are potentially associated with. Our review of the available data suggests that, for the general population, the risk:benefit ratio is overwhelmingly in favor of vaccinations. However, the possibility cannot be ruled out that, in genetically susceptible individuals, vaccination can result in the unmasking of an autoimmune disease triggered by the immunization. We also critically examine the existing data suggesting a link between immunization against MMR and autism, and briefly discuss the controversial evidence pointing to a possible relationship between mercury exposure from vaccines and autistic disorders. There is a continued urgent need for rigorously designed and executed studies addressing these potential associations, although the use of vaccinations remains a critical public health tool for protection against infectious disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)155-168
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Investigational Allergology and Clinical Immunology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2002


  • Allergic reactions
  • Autoimmunity
  • Hepatitis B
  • Measles vaccine
  • Vaccination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy


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