Sharpening the Watchdog's Teeth
While American vaccines are safe for the vast majority of kids, extremely rare side effects may still show up -- after millions of children have been treated. "The challenge is to understand the one-in-ten-thousand or even one-in-a-million serious complication," says Robert Chen, M.D., chief of vaccine safety and development at the CDC's National Immunization Program. To do so, doctors must diligently report any troublesome reaction to the CDC. To improve safety, the CDC is creating a network of Clinical Immunization Safety Assessment centers, where doctors can refer patients who may have experienced an adverse reaction. The centers not only will allow physician-researchers to study these reactions more closely but will also foster the development of specialists qualified to understand them.
Unfortunately, the CDC has funding to open only four such centers so far. Congress may be called upon to fund more by using a small portion of the $1.6 billion now deposited with the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, derived from a 75-cent tax on every vaccine. "The result -- more information on vaccine safety -- would be a win-win situation," says Dr. Chen.