Vaccine Safety and Retracted Studies

posted in: Q&A | 0


Sara K. Asks: With the recent news (npr) shows discussing issues in the peer-review process, please tell me why vaccine safety isn’t in question. Thx!

Our Answer: Hi Sara, thanks for the question! I assume you’re referring to the recent coverage of the study on attitudes regarding gay marriage that was retracted? It’s valuable that attention is being given to the peer-review process and better understanding why scientific data must be examined rigorously. It’s an important thing for everyone to understand better.

Yes, a certain number of peer-reviewed studies are retracted every year and there are certainly some additional number of studies that are faulty in some way but are overlooked and not retracted. It’s something to be aware of, absolutely, although a .02% (give or take) failure rate isn’t sufficient for us to say we should simply throw out the process of peer review. It’s also worth noting that retraction is a normal part of the peer review process, peer review happens both before a study is published, and continuously as published studies are examined by other scientists.

So, why isn’t vaccine safety in question? There’s a critically important difference between this recent study and the studies proving vaccines to be safe. That difference is replication. The problems with the falsified data in the study currently under discussion came to light very rapidly when another group of researchers pursued replicating the results. If your science isn’t valid, either because you falsified data or because you committed some critical error in testing, it won’t be possible for another researcher to replicate your results. In the case of vaccine safety studies these results have been replicated again and again, in different conditions, by different research teams, and they have produced the same or very similar results. Even still, we continue to research and review the safety of vaccines to verify that nothing has been missed. Science isn’t a set of carved in stone facts, it’s a continuous process. All the best scientific evidence so far – and there is a great deal – shows that vaccines have a very high level of safety, but the nature of the scientific process is such that we won’t simply accept that as gospel, but will continue to verify and investigate what we know about vaccination and the human immune system.

This doesn’t mean that there are never mistakes. It’s absolutely critical that the scientific community continue to investigate vaccine safety with a critical eye, and that is exactly what is done.

Conversely, we often see people bringing forth a study they’ve seen somewhere that appears to prove some hidden danger of vaccination. In most cases, these studies have faulty methods, and/or cannot be adequately replicated (as was the case with Andrew Wakefield’s famously discredited work). On balance, when we examine the body of scientific research on vaccination (which is no mean feat, by the way, and the reason we have and need highly educated scientists on our admin staff) we see that the studies which can be validated and replicated overwhelmingly point to a high degree of safety for vaccines. The scientific process isn’t perfect, but it is very, very, good, and it’s the only rigorous and objective method we have for examining vaccine safety.

I hope this helps shed light on the difference between individual retracted studies and the overall body of research on the subject of vaccination. Thank you for messaging us!

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Photo Credit to U.S. Army RDECOM. Creative Commons license.