Can Vaccines Cause SIDS?

In 1999, the ABC news program 20/20 aired a story claiming that HepB caused sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The story included a picture of a 1-month-old girl who died of SIDS only 16 hours after receiving the second dose of HepB. In 1991, before routine use of HepB was fully implemented for all infants, about 5000 children died every year from SIDS. Within 10 years of that recommendation, vaccine uptake had increased to about 90% and the incidence of SIDS had decreased dramatically to about 1600 cases per year. This decrease was due to the introduction of the “Back to Sleep” program, in which parents were encouraged to place their infants on their backs or sides when going to sleep.

The lack of an ecologic correlation between SIDS and HepB was supported by VAERS data showing very few neonatal deaths following HepB after approximately 86 million doses were given. Several studies actually show lower SIDS rates among infants who receive vaccines when compared with those who do not. While this may reflect biases wherein healthier or better-cared-for infants are the ones who are immunized, the data clearly do not indicate vaccines as a risk factor for SIDS. Temporal associations arise because some vaccines happen to be given just at the time of the peak age incidence of SIDS.

A study published in 2004 looked at a cohort of 361,696 infants born between 1993 and 1998. A total of 1363 infants in the cohort died in the first 29 days of life; only 5% of them had been vaccinated with HepB, whereas 66% of those who survived the first month of life had been immunized. Moreover, there was no difference in the proportion of vaccinated and unvaccinated infants who died of unexpected causes, and the SIDS death rate was the same (3.3 per 100,000) for vaccinated and unvaccinated infants.

—Marshall, Gary S. “Addressing Concerns About Vaccines.” The Vaccine Handbook: A Practical Guide for Clinicians. 3rd ed. New York: Professional Communications, Inc., 2010. 235. Print.

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