The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), the federal organization established by Congress in 1986 to document adverse reactions to vaccines, received nearly 10,000 reports involving the chickenpox vaccine between the months of March 1995 and December 1999, a period of less than five years. The FDA and CDC studied 6,574 of these reports — those filed between March 17, 1995 and July 25, 1998. Adverse events were occurring at a rate of 67.5 per 100,000 doses sold (note, this is not doses administered). Many of these reported adverse effects involved nerve damage.
Nerve damage is difficult to diagnose because it can present itself as any dysfunction in any part of the body, depending on which nerves are damaged. Many of the typical symptoms of nerve damage are also symptoms of a host of other ailments. Add to this the reluctance of medical professionals to consider vaccination as a potential cause, and you have a recipe for disaster.
The following list of neurological disorders have been reported following Varicella vaccinations, all of them caused by damage to nerves either in the brain, spinal cord, or peripheral nerves:
- Bell’s Palsy – occurs when the nerve that controls the muscles on one side of the face is damaged by inflammation. Damage to the facial nerve that controls muscles on one side of the face causes that side of your face to droop. The nerve damage may also affect your sense of taste and how you make tears and saliva.
- Cerebellar Ataxia – occurs when parts of the nervous system that control movement and balance are affected. It brings on the sudden onset of uncoordinated muscle movement, problems walking, uncoordinated eye movements and/or clumsy speech patterns.
- Encephalitis – an acute (sudden onset) infection and inflammation of the brain. The symptoms vary according to the area of the brain most affected.
- Guillain-Barré Syndrome – a sudden onset (acute) progressive weakness and impaired feeling in the feet or legs, characterized by tingling or numbness beginning in the loss of deep tendon reflexes, fatigue and abnormal sensations, gradually spreading to the arms and upper body sometimes resulting in total paralysis, or death.
- Non-febrile Seizures – a seizure that occurs when no fever is involved. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), doctors have described more than 30 different types of seizures. Some may last just a few seconds, others a few minutes, and it’s even possible to have one seizure, and never have another again. Only when a person has had two or more seizures is he or she considered to have epilepsy.
- Paresthesia – refers to a burning or prickling sensation that is usually felt in the hands, arms, legs, or feet, but can also occur in other parts of the body. The sensation, which happens without warning, is usually painless and described as tingling or numbness, skin crawling, or itching. Paresthesias are caused by disturbances in the function of neurons in the sensory pathway, usually the peripheral nerves.
- Transverse Myelitis – a neurological disorder caused by inflammation of both sides of a section of the spinal cord. The disrupted transmission of nerve signals due to transverse myelitis can cause pain or other sensory problems, weakness or paralysis of muscles, or bladder and bowel dysfunction. Transverse myelitis may result in injury across the spinal cord, causing diminished or absent sensation below the injury.The FDA and CDC say these events are rare and no correlation to the vaccine has been established. This may be an accurate statement. However, nerve damage is always serious. It may take months of physical therapy to recover some semblance of normal functions when damaged nerves are involved.
When considering varicella vaccination you must evaluate the potential risks against the potential benefits – only then can you make a truly informed choice about whether chickenpox vaccination is right for your child.