The IOM Report: Science is Not Always Sexy

Science can be dynamic, outrageous, jaw-dropping. and controversial. Scientific reports that meet these descriptors receive excited and emotional media reports on the topic;

I call it “sexy science.”

But, more often than not, science is NOT sexy. In fact, it is dry, straight-forward, and uninteresting. Unsexy science gets no media buzz, no heated debates on Dr. Oz, no Facebook Fanpage. It just sits there, quiet, after a small blip on the proverbial radar screen.

Last week, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a report addressing an important issue, vaccine safety. Although the report got a fair representation in the press; the fairly straightforward conclusion was not very controversial, earth-shattering, or hot and steamy. In fact, most of my families last week had not even heard of it.

I guess the IOM report just wasn’t very sexy.

The IOM is an independent group of volunteer researchers whose goal is to provide objective, evidence-based advice to policy makers and health providers. It was asked to review a list of side effects, or adverse events, associated with 8 common childhood vaccines. And, this report was a BIG one.

The researchers systematically reviewed over 1,000 published research studies, making this the largest report of its kind to date.

To be clear, the purpose of this report was not to answer the question “Are vaccines safe?” The IOM researchers evaluated the existing published research with the goal of associating certain side effects with given vaccines. They were trying to determine if documented adverse events were due to the vaccine itself, or simply a coincidence in timing after vaccine administration.

The overwhelming conclusion supports the general safety of vaccines; complications are rare.

Although not completely without risk, the report determined protecting children from vaccine-preventable diseases is not associated with the development of significant clinical conditions in otherwise healthy kids. Most importantly, vaccines were not found to be associated with the development of autism.

Despite this addition to the overwhelming support of vaccine safely, there will always be cynics; some parents will remain respectfully unconvinced. And, I am not naive enough to believe that reports such as this one will change their mind. I’ll be the first to say that no report will every be fully perfect and complete. So goes the nature of studying humans.

I am in hopes, however, that discussing the IOM report will further reassure parents that vaccinating their children is safe; decreasing the number of parents who choose to avoid vaccination, or choose to alter the AAP recommended schedule based on unfounded fear and doubt.

Continuing to validate the safety of vaccination for the health of our children is vitally important for both caregivers and healthcare providers alike. And, hopefully, this report can help set aside the need to spend additional research dollars on repeating what we already know.

Instead, we can be investing our best minds, resources, and dollars in addressing the unyielding question; what causes autism?

Now that will be sexy.