HealthDay News — Available evidence indicates the current U.S. childhood immunization schedule is safe, with no indication of major safety concerns, according to the Institute of Medicine (IOM).

Researchers should continue to look for potential safety concerns, the 14-member committee recommended, adding that vaccines may carry some risks — as do any medical therapies — but that the benefits outweigh these risks.

Noting that parents’ attitudes toward childhood immunization schedules have shifted due to concerns about potential side effects, Ada Sue Hinshaw, RN, PhD, from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., and colleagues from the IOM examined research approaches, methodologies, and study designs to address questions regarding the safety of the current childhood immunization schedule established for children 6 and younger by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. The current schedule protects against 14 different pathogens.

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There was no evidence linking immunizations with autoimmune disease, asthma, hypersensitivity, seizures, learning or developmental disorders, or attention-deficit or disruptive disorders, the committee found.

“In this most comprehensive examination of the immunization schedule to date, the IOM committee uncovered no evidence of major safety concerns associated with adherence to the childhood immunization schedule, which should help to reassure a diverse group of stakeholders,” the committee wrote. “Indeed, rather than exposing children to harm, following the complete childhood immunization schedule is strongly associated with reducing vaccine-preventable diseases.”

The committee pointed out that communication between healthcare professionals and the public regarding vaccine safety could be stronger, and recommended measures to improve this deficit.

Public concerns regarding the safety of recommended vaccine schedules should be collected systemically and used to set priorities for future research. Health officials should continue to use existing data sources, including the CDC’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, Vaccine Safety Datalink, and Clinical Immunization Safety Assessment Network, along with the FDA’s Sentinel Initiative.

Although randomized clinical trials are acknowledged as the strongest study design, it is not the best method to evaluate vaccine safety, because “unvaccinated individuals and communities intentionally would be left vulnerable to morbidity and mortality,” the IOM wrote.

Observational studies to compare health outcomes in vaccinated vs. unvaccinated individuals would need to be extremely large, since fewer than 1% of the population refuses vaccines, to detect significant differences, they added.