Vaccine-associated inflammatory diseases of the central nervous system: from signals to causation

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Purpose of review

As the most cost-effective intervention in preventive medicine and as a crucial element of any public health program, vaccination is used extensively with over 90% coverage in many countries. As approximately 5–8% of the population in developed countries suffer from an autoimmune disorder, people with an autoimmune disease are most likely to be exposed to some vaccines before or after the disease onset. In fact, a number of inflammatory disorders of the central nervous system have been associated with the administration of various vaccines. These adverse events, be they spurious associations or genuine reactions to the vaccine, may lead to difficulties in obtaining public trust in mass vaccination programs. There is, thus, an urgent need to understand whether vaccination triggers or enhances autoimmune responses.

Recent findings

By reviewing vaccine-associated inflammatory diseases of the central nervous system, this study describes the current knowledge on whether the safety signal was coincidental, as in the case of multiple sclerosis with several vaccines, or truly reflected a causal link, as in narcolepsy with cataplexy following pandemic H1N1 influenza virus vaccination.


The lessons learnt emphasize a central role of thorough, ideally prospective, epidemiological studies followed, if the signal is deemed plausible or real, by immunological investigations.

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