Each year more than 13,000 children in the US are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes , a serious life-long condition in which the body does not make insulin. And although it’s not yet known why, the incidence of type 1 diabetes is increasing in the US and other developed countries. Since one theory suggests that an unidentified infection may be the cause of type 1 diabetes, some have proposed that routine childhood vaccinations may play a role in this trend. In 1980 infants were vaccinated against four diseases. According to today’s guidelines, infants are vaccinated against 12 different diseases.

But evidence supporting a link between diabetes and childhood vaccination has been weak. A new study published in the April 1, 2004 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine provides more evidence that childhood vaccination and type 1 diabetes are not related.

About the Study

This study included all children born in Denmark between 1990 and 2000, for whom medical information on vaccinations and diabetes was available. The researchers followed the 739,694 children from birth until the end of 2001.

The researchers examined the relationship between type 1 diabetes and several routinely administered vaccinations: pertussis , measles , mumps , rubella , diphtheria , tetanus , poliovirus , and H. influenzae type B . The researchers also looked at this relationship in children who had siblings with type 1 diabetes compared to those who did not.

The Findings

During the study 681 children developed type 1 diabetes. The researchers found that children who had one or more siblings with type 1 diabetes were more likely to develop diabetes than those who did not. But they found no association between vaccination and diabetes among any of the children—regardless of how many vaccinations they had received, when they received them, and if they had a sibling with diabetes.

Even after adjusting for other factors that might affect diabetes risk—child’s place of birth and birth weight, the mother’s country of origin and age at her child’s birth—no association emerged.

How Does This Affect You?

These findings suggest that there is no link between childhood vaccinations and type 1 diabetes and that future research should focus on other possible causes for its increasing incidence.

Vaccines are continuously monitored for their safety and held to the highest quality standards. And while there are reports of serious adverse effects from vaccines, they are extremely rare. There are many publicly perceived connections between vaccinations and different conditions, such as diabetes, autism, and asthma, but research supporting these claims is lacking. Current research shows today’s vaccines to be both safe and effective.

The widespread use of vaccines is arguably the greatest public health achievement of our time. To get a sense of the benefits of vaccination one needs only to look at history. For example, before the use of vaccines there were more than 170,000 cases of diphtheria, 16,000 cases of paralytic polio, and 500,000 cases of measles in the US every year. Today there are only a few cases of diphtheria and polio, and about 100 cases of measles, per year in the US. And, an aggressive vaccination program is responsible for completely eliminating small pox as a disease anywhere in the world.

If you remain unconvinced, talk to your doctor about the safety and effectiveness of vaccinations. But realize that not vaccinating your child puts them at risk of contracting one of these serious infections—and if they are spared it’s only because of the countless children vaccinated before them. Furthermore, the incidence of these vaccine-preventable infections can quickly climb back up again if enough people choose not to vaccinate their children. The ultimate benefit of vaccination—total elimination of an infection—can only be achieved if virtually everyone participates.