News archive 2008
Multiple vaccinations: no ill health in UK soldiers in Iraq02 Jul 2008, PR 144/08
Multiple vaccinations have not been a cause of ill health in UK service personnel deployed to Iraq, finds a study published on bmj.com written by researchers from King’s College London’s Centre for Military Health Research.
BMJ press release
The report says “recall bias” is to blame, when people link a perception of ill health with their memory of having had multiple vaccinations.
The findings add to the ongoing debate surrounding the impact multiple vaccinations may have had on the health of Gulf war veterans after the 1991 war. Several studies have found an association between self-reported multiple vaccinations in service personnel deployed to the Gulf war and later ill-health. However, other studies have not found these associations.
Dominic Murphy and colleagues from the King’s Centre for Military Health Research randomly selected 4,882 military personnel with a median age of 32 who had all been to Iraq since 2003. Before being deployed to Iraq, tetanus, typhoid and yellow fever were all routinely administered to service personnel, and anthrax was offered to individuals who had to sign a consent form.
With the use of detailed questionnaires they asked them about the maximum number of vaccinations they had received in any one day in preparation for deployment. They then randomly selected and assessed the medical health records of 10 per cent of the group in order to see if multiple vaccinations had resulted in any adverse health effects being reported at the time.
They found “significant associations” between service personnel recalling two or more vaccinations in one day and complaints of fatigue, common mental disorders and a variety of physical symptoms.
However, when they looked at the medical records of 10 per cent of the group they found, without exception, that there were no health differences in those who had had one vaccination and those who had received multiple vaccinations. Significantly this 10% had, like the entire group, also been more likely to report ill health if they recalled having had two or more vaccinations in one day.
The researchers say that military personnel’s memories of the number of vaccinations received in a day “cannot be considered reliable,” unless they had only one vaccination, which they remembered correctly.
In view of these findings and the impact of “recall bias” the researchers say “there is no evidence that receiving multiple vaccinations has resulted in adverse health for UK service personnel deployed to Iraq since 2003.”
Notes to editors
King's College London
King's College London is one of the top 25 universities in the world (Times Higher 2007) and the fourth oldest in England. A research-led university based in the heart of
King's has a particularly distinguished reputation in the humanities, law, social sciences, the health sciences, natural sciences and engineering, and has played a major role in many of the advances that have shaped modern life, such as the discovery of the structure of DNA. It is the largest centre for the education of healthcare professionals in Europe and is home to five Medical Research Council Centres – more than any other university.
Dominic Murphy, King’s Centre for Military Health Research, King’s College London,
Tel: +44 (0)207 848 5425
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