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Bull World Health Organ. 2003;81(11):821-6. Epub 2004 Jan 20.

Do childhood vaccines have non-specific effects on mortality?

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Vanderbilt Children's Hospital Outpatient Center, Nashville, TN 37232-8555, USA. william.cooper@Vanderbilt.Edu


A recent article by Kristensen et al. suggested that measles vaccine and bacille Calmette-Gu rin (BCG) vaccine might reduce mortality beyond what is expected simply from protection against measles and tuberculosis. Previous reviews of the potential effects of childhood vaccines on mortality have not considered methodological features of reviewed studies. Methodological considerations play an especially important role in observational assessments, in which selection factors for vaccination may be difficult to ascertain. We reviewed 782 English language articles on vaccines and childhood mortality and found only a few whose design met the criteria for methodological rigor. The data reviewed suggest that measles vaccine delivers its promised reduction in mortality, but there is insufficient evidence to suggest a mortality benefit above that caused by its effect on measles disease and its sequelae. Our review of the available data in the literature reinforces how difficult answering these considerations has been and how important study design will be in determining the effect of specific vaccines on all-cause mortality.

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