Vaccines Actually Protect Against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Dr. Jay L. Wile, Ph.D.*

For quite some time now, anti-vaccination advocates have tried to link vaccination to Sudden Infant Death syndrome (SIDS). In her book, Vaccination: 100 Years of Orthodox Research shows that Vaccines Represent a Medical Assault on the Immune System, Dr. Viera Scheibner, Ph.D., makes the outlandish claim that when the pertussis vaccination age was moved from 3 months old to 2 years old in Japan (1975), the phenomenon of SIDS (which she calls "cot death") vanished. Here are a couple of quotes from her book:

"In 1975 Japan raised the minimum vaccination age to two years; this was followed by the virtual disappearance of cot death and infantile convulsions."1

"The most important lesson from the Japanese experience is that when the vaccination age was moved to two years, the entity of cot death disappeared."2

These claims are absolutely false, but they have been repeated over and over again by anti-vaccination advocates3.

How do we know that they are false? Because a study4 was done on the autopsy records of infants (aged 1 week to 1 year old) who died in the Tokyo area. This study found that the number of SIDS cases rose continually from 1975 through 1993, the last year that the study considered. In fact, from 1979 to 1993, the number of SIDS cases in the Tokyo region increased by more than a factor of 125! Clearly, then, SIDS did not disappear from Japan once the vaccination age was raised. In fact, it increased considerably.

Why did it increase considerably? Most likely, it was because the number of forensic pathologists who began recognizing the phenomenon of SIDS increased, not because the actual rate of SIDS increased. In Japan, an unexpected death is identified by the broad term "Sudden Unexpected Death" (SUD). From 1974 through 1993, the SUD rate for infants in the Tokyo area was shaky, but fairly steady, averaging about 30 cases per year6. Thus, the number of infants dying unexpectedly was fairly constant. However, the number of those cases recognized as SIDS rose significantly during the same time period. Most likely, then, it was the diagnosis of SIDS that increased, not the actual rate of SIDS.

The point, however, is quite clear. The SIDS rate in Japan either increased or stayed the same after the vaccination age was raised. It did not lower, much less disappear. Thus, the statement that Dr. Scheibner makes in her book is a lie, and that lie has been repeated over and over again. How in the world could Dr. Scheibner make such an outrageous claim and be believed? Because she referenced her claim to two studies7-8, and those who repeat her claim have obviously not checked those references.

If you bother to check her references, you will see that neither of them make any claim regarding the number of SIDS cases in Japan. Instead, they reference the number of claims made to Japan's vaccine injury compensation program. Much like the United States' vaccine injury compensation program, Japan offers a program whereby people who think that their child has been injured by a vaccine can apply for compensation. Their claim is reviewed, and if there seems to be any plausible link to the vaccine, the claim is paid. The two articles that Dr. Scheibner references say that the number of SIDS claims to the vaccination compensation program declined to zero once the vaccination age was raised to 2 years. Of course, that would logically have to happen, since SIDS is defined as occurring in children age 1 year or younger. Since no one of that age could get the vaccine anymore, it would be impossible for someone to make a SIDS claim to the vaccine injury compensation program!

So you see that one of the most popular claims made by anti-vaccination advocates is (as usual) untrue, and it has survived only because people who read the claim do not bother to check the references! As is the case with many anti-vaccination claims, a quick check of the medical literature simply destroys the claim entirely.

Not only does the supposed "demonstration" of a link between SIDS and pertussis vaccination in Japan not stand up to scrutiny, a cursory review of the medical literature provides many detailed studies that show that the rate of SIDS amongst unvaccinated children is actually higher than the rate of SIDS amongst vaccinated children! For example, Hoffman and others9 studied SIDS victims using data from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. In their study, they compared 757 SIDS cases to 1,514 living control children. The control children were matched to the SIDS cases based on age, race, and low birth weight. According to their results, the living children were 1.3 times more likely to have been immunized compared to the children who died of SIDS. In other words, according to this study, if a child was not vaccinated, he or she was more likely to die of SIDS than if the child were vaccinated!

Although that might sound like a surprising conclusion if you have been reading the anti-vaccination literature, you will find that it is the common conclusion in the medical literature. For example, another study by Walker and others10 focused on healthy babies with birth weights greater than 5.5 pounds. For these children, unvaccinated children were 6.5 times more likely to die of SIDS than were vaccinated children.

Why does vaccination actually provide a protective effect against SIDS? According to a biochemical study by Essery and others11, it is most likely due to the fact that the DPT vaccine produces antibodies that are cross-reactive to staphylococcal toxins, which are found in many SIDS cases. In other words, the study found that the antibodies produced by the DPT vaccine are able to fight the toxins produced in staph infections! Thus, the DPT vaccine not only protects the infant from diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, it also offers some protection against SIDS (or at least staph infection)!

So once again we see that the medical literature not only invalidates the claims of anti-vaccination advocates, it actually indicates that by opposing the DPT vaccine, anti-vaccination advocates are actually increasing the incidence of SIDS (along with the incidence of pertussis, diphtheria, and tetanus). This serves once again to illustrate the danger of listening to the anti-vaccination movement.


1. Scheibner V. Vaccination: 100 Years of Orthodox Research shows that Vaccines Represent a Medical assault on the Immune System New Atlantean Pr, 1993, p. xix Return to Text

2. Ibid, p. 49 Return to Text

3. See, for example, ( Richard Lanigan's site) or ( Mercola's website) Return to Text

4. Funayama M., et al. "Autopsy cases of sudden unexpected infant deaths examined at the Tokyo medical examiner's office, 1964-1993" Am J Forensic Med Pathol. 1996;17(1):32-7 Return to Text

5. Ibid, p. 33 Return to Text

6. Ibid Return to Text

7. Cherry J.D., et al. "Report of the Task Force on Pertussis and Pertussis Immunisation - 1988" Pediatrics 1988; 81 (suppl): 939-84 Return to Text

8. Noble G.R., et al. "Acellular and Whole-Cell Pertussis Vaccines in Japan: Report of a Visit by US Scientists" JAMA 1987; 257(10): 1351-6 Return to Text

9. Hoffman H.J., et al. "Diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis immunization and sudden infant death: results of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Cooperative Epidemiological Study of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome risk factors" Pediatrics 1987;79(4):598-611 Return to Text

10. Walker, A.M., et al. "Diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis immunization and sudden infant death syndrome" Am. J. Public Health 1987;77:945-951 Return to Text

11. Essery S.D., et al. "The protective effect of immunisation against diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus (DPT) in relation to sudden infant death syndrome" Am. J. Public Health 1999;25:183-92 Return to Text

*Dr. Wile is not medical a doctor. He is a nuclear chemist. As a result, he does not dispense medical advice. He simply educates the public about scientific issues. Please consult a board-certified medical doctor before making any medical decisions for yourself or your family. Return to Text