Do recommended childhood vaccinations increase the risk of ear infections in those they're intended to protect? No, that's not true: Infectious disease experts told Lead Stories that vaccinations, such as those for diseases like influenza and pneumococcal pneumonia, can help prevent certain infections that may lead to ear infections. Vaccines do not increase the risk of ear infections in children.
None of my vaccine free children have ever had an ear infection or have ever been on antibiotics. Are you aware of the connection?
This is what the post looked like on Instagram at the time of writing:
(Source: Instagram screenshot taken on Tue Jan 30 16:53:15 2024 UTC)
Infectious disease experts
The Instagram post suggests that children are healthier when they're not vaccinated for childhood diseases.
Dr. Sophie Katz, an assistant professor of pediatrics and pediatric infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said that's not the case. In a January 30, 2024, email to Lead Stories, she stated, "There are multiple studies that show that children's vaccines DECREASE rates of ear infections." Katz continued:
We have vaccines against two of the most common bacteria that cause ear infections, Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae. Children who receive these vaccines have fewer ear infections than their unvaccinated peers. Children do not get ear infections because they've been vaccinated. There's also a Cochrane review that shows that influenza vaccines reduce ear infections in infants and children.
Dr. David Kimberlin, an infectious disease expert with the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Infectious Disease, told Lead Stories in a January 30, 2024, email that he concurs. He said:
Several of the childhood vaccines prevent ear infections, in addition to preventing brain infection, sterility, and death. ...
The data show with certainty that childhood vaccines such as the pneumococcal vaccine, the Hib vaccine, the influenza vaccine, and others prevent ear infections.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Although the post on Instagram claims, "None of my vaccine-free children have ever had an ear infection," a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) spokesperson said the unsupported statement doesn't prove cause and effect. In a January 30, 2024, email, they said:
Data from an unvaccinated child (or series of unvaccinated children) who have never had an ear infection do not mean that vaccines cause ear infections. However, studies have demonstrated that vaccination is associated with the decreased occurrence of ear infections.
Both Katz and Kimberlin called an unvaccinated child who had never had an ear infection or had never been on antibiotics "lucky" because the odds are against it, no matter the child's vaccination status. Katz added:
This does not prove vaccines are the culprits, and vaccines are likely a confounder [a reason why correlation doesn't imply causation] in this scenario. Even among vaccinated children, ear infections are common - 80% of children have had an ear infection by age 5.
A wide range of childhood vaccines are recommended from birth to 18 years old. They can be found in the Child and Adolescent Immunization Schedule on the CDC website.
Additional Lead Stories fact checks of claims related to childhood vaccines can be found here.