Whole genome sequencing for serious vaccine complaints?

By Grant Jacobs 30/11/2012

While I work on longer pieces, a stray thought: how far away are we from genome screening for (court) inquiries about ‘vaccine damage’ so that those with genetic causes might be resolved promptly?

A number of countries maintain databases of reports of possible adverse reactions to medications. For possible vaccine reactions, in New Zealand we have the CARM database[1]; in the USA there is VAERS.

In the USA claims for ‘vaccine damage’ can be filed to the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

I imagine these proceedings can take considerable time and cost. What fraction of the alleged cases of ‘vaccine damage’ are in fact rare genetic defects? How many of these case are in effect a cohort of sorts of rare disorders like mitochondrial defect conditions, heart disorders, seizure disorders (e.g. Dravet syndrome) – with genetic causes? Will it be pragmatic soon to routinely screen these cases for genetic conditions?

There are now a number of examples where the causes of rare disorders have been identified through genome sequencing. It seems a trend set to grow.

Given the falling costs of genome sequencing, and for the sake of argument putting aside the costs of the data analysis,[2] I wonder how long it will be until there is pragmatic to require a genome sequence and analysis as a condition of filing a case to the likes of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

Potentially screening might resolve some of these cases, avoiding the need for an court investigation. This isn’t GATTAC-type population screening at birth but a screen of people with potential adverse reactions that could also be genetic conditions, where the link to the medicinal substance may not be causative. It may help identify rare genetic conditions with adverse outcomes. There may be useful biology to learn and data for researchers to draw upon.


1. This collates reports covering adverse reactions from medicines, vaccines, herbal products and dietary supplements, not just vaccines.

2. While the cost of the sequencing is falling, the cost of analysing the data is something that is often left out when talking about the cost of sequencing genomes. It still takes time (and computers) for people in my field to cover this.

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