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Does Vaccination Play a Role in the Incidence and Apparent Rise of Epilepsy? by Sandy Gottstein

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A recent headline blared, One in 26 Americans Will Develop Epilepsy.  Seems like a lot, but what are we to really make of this claim?

Dr. Trevathan, interviewed for the article, suggested that the difference between current CDC estimates of epilepsy incidence of 2 million and the 26 million is due “to an almost absent epilepsy surveillance infrastructure in the United States.”

Perhaps.  But that’s a whopping big difference.  Might it not also be due to an actual increase?  And, if so, what might be the cause(s)?

An important clue may be found in a new US Vaccine Court ruling, reported on at Age of Autism, which deemed that the DPT vaccine caused a child’s epilepsy and death.  In fact, one of the reasons for the switch to the acellular vaccine was the hope that it would result in “a decrease in hospitalization rates for seizures and reports of hypotonic-hyporesponsive episodes (HHEs) temporally related to pertussis vaccination.”

But the child who won the award had received the acellular vaccine.  So is the acellular vaccine safer but not necessarily safe, at least insofar as seizures are concerned?  That would appear to be the case, given the recent ruling.

In another journal article, the following point was made: “Preliminary design, data collection, and analytic capability of the Vaccine Safety Datalink project has been validated by replication of previous known associations between seizures and DTP and MMR vaccines.”   

Let me repeat that: “replication of previous known associations between seizures and DTP and MMR vaccines”.

In other words, there are two universally recommended and widely used vaccines that are understood to be associated with seizures, and a child’s family was just awarded payment for seizures and death caused by one of them.

So what is the risk? In my 1993 testimony to the IOM I spoke of the risk of seizures from whooping cough as compared to the whooping cough vaccine: “An insidious way in which the risks of vaccination can be incorrectly estimated is by using the number of doses of vaccine which appear to result in injury, rather than the number of children that are administered however many doses it takes to injure them.  Since nearly all vaccines are currently being recommended to be administered in multiple doses, using doses rather than children can result in gross underestimation of actual risk.  We also cannot ignore confounding which occurs when high-risk children are eliminated, either by not receiving the vaccine in question at all, or by receiving only one dose.

Take as an example convulsions resulting from either whooping cough vaccine or whooping cough.  The CDC says that 1/1750 vaccinations result in convulsions but that 2/100 children who get whooping cough have convulsions.  If we divide the 1750 vaccinations by the between 4 and 5 doses children are required to get, the result is 1/350 to 1/438 children getting convulsions after whooping cough, not nearly as dramatic a difference.

If we further try to factor in the impact of underreporting of adverse reactions, the actual incidence of which is unknown but presumed to be significant, it becomes clear that there may be no difference, and in fact, that it is possible convulsions are more likely to result after vaccination than after disease.

The fact is, however, that we do not know the true incidence of vaccine adverse reactions, of whooping cough itself, of convulsions after whooping cough or many other relevant and critical factors, including the actual number of children receiving a vaccine once high-risk children have been removed.  We should simply admit it and set about trying to learn what we can.  We should not, however, be issuing reassuring assessments of vaccine risk.”

Nothing has changed since I testified to that almost 20 years ago.  We do not know the true incidence of vaccine adverse reactions, including known ones like seizures.  There appears to be an increase, but we don’t know how much to attribute it to improved diagnosis and how much is genuine change.

As always, and at the risk of beating a very alive horse, there is one potentially compelling way to begin ferreting out the truth.  Compare the vaccinated (all the various single vaccines and their many combos) to the never-vaccinated.  See if there are differences.  And, if so, set out trying to understand what they are and why.

Are vaccines partially or even largely responsible for an apparent increase in seizures?  Evidently they are responsible for some cases.  Isn’t it time we knew more than that?

Sandy Gottstein


“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” – Wendell Phillips (1811-1884), paraphrasing John Philpot Curran