Immunization is widely regarded as one of the most effective and beneficial tools for protecting the public's health. In the United States, immunization programs have resulted in the eradication of smallpox, the elimination of polio, and the control and near elimination of once-common, often debilitating and potentially life-threatening diseases, including measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, and Haemophilus influenza type b. Along with the benefits of widespread immunization, however, have come concerns about the safety of vaccines. No vaccine is perfectly safe or effective, and vaccines may lead to serious adverse effects in some instances. Furthermore, if a serious illness is observed after vaccination, it is often unclear whether that sequence is coincidental or causal, and it can be difficult to determine the true nature of the relationship, if any, between the vaccination and the illness. Ironically, the successes of vaccine coverage in the United States have made it more difficult for the public to weigh the benefits and complications of vaccines because the now-controlled diseases and their often-serious risks are no longer familiar.
However, because vaccines are so widely used-and because state laws require that children be vaccinated before entering daycare and school, in part to protect others-it is essential that safety concerns be fully and carefully studied. Immunization Safety Review: Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccine and Autism, the first of a series from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Immunization Safety Review Committee, presents an assessment of the evidence regarding a hypothesized causal association between the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism, an assessment of the broader significance for society of the issues surrounding the MMR-autism hypothesis, and the committee's conclusions and recommendations based on those assessments. Illustrations