Ontology-Based Vaccine Adverse Event Representation and Analysis

Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 1028)


Vaccine is the one of the greatest inventions of modern medicine that has contributed most to the relief of human misery and the exciting increase in life expectancy. In 1796, an English country physician, Edward Jenner, discovered that inoculating mankind with cowpox can protect them from smallpox (Riedel S, Edward Jenner and the history of smallpox and vaccination. Proceedings (Baylor University. Medical Center) 18(1):21, 2005). Based on the vaccination worldwide, we finally succeeded in the eradication of smallpox in 1977 (Henderson, Vaccine 29:D7–D9, 2011). Other disabling and lethal diseases, like poliomyelitis and measles, are targeted for eradication (Bonanni, Vaccine 17:S120–S125, 1999).

Although vaccine development and administration are tremendously successful and cost-effective practices to human health, no vaccine is 100% safe for everyone because each person reacts to vaccinations differently given different genetic background and health conditions. Although all licensed vaccines are generally safe for the majority of people, vaccinees may still suffer adverse events (AEs) in reaction to various vaccines, some of which can be serious or even fatal (Haber et al., Drug Saf 32(4):309–323, 2009). Hence, the double-edged sword of vaccination remains a concern.

To support integrative AE data collection and analysis, it is critical to adopt an AE normalization strategy. In the past decades, different controlled terminologies, including the Medical Dictionary for Regulatory Activities (MedDRA) (Brown EG, Wood L, Wood S, et al., Drug Saf 20(2):109–117, 1999), the Common Terminology Criteria for Adverse Events (CTCAE) (NCI, The Common Terminology Criteria for Adverse Events (CTCAE). Available from: Access on 7 Oct 2015), and the World Health Organization (WHO) Adverse Reactions Terminology (WHO-ART) (WHO, The WHO Adverse Reaction Terminology – WHO-ART. Available from:, have been developed with a specific aim to standardize AE categorization. However, these controlled terminologies have many drawbacks, such as lack of textual definitions, poorly defined hierarchies, and lack of semantic axioms that provide logical relations among terms. A biomedical ontology is a set of consensus-based and computer and human interpretable terms and relations that represent entities in a specific biomedical domain and how they relate each other. To represent and analyze vaccine adverse events (VAEs), our research group has initiated and led the development of a community-based ontology: the Ontology of Adverse Events (OAE) (He et al., J Biomed Semant 5:29, 2014). The OAE has been found to have advantages to overcome the drawbacks of those controlled terminologies (He et al., Curr Pharmacol Rep :1–16. doi:10.1007/s40495-016-0055-0, 2014). By expanding the OAE and the community-based Vaccine Ontology (VO) (He et al., VO: vaccine ontology. In The 1st International Conference on Biomedical Ontology (ICBO-2009). Nature Precedings, Buffalo.; J Biomed Semant 2(Suppl 2):S8; J Biomed Semant 3(1):17, 2009; Ozgur et al., J Biomed Semant 2(2):S8, 2011; Lin Y, He Y, J Biomed Semant 3(1):17, 2012), we have also developed the Ontology of Vaccine Adverse Events (OVAE) to represent known VAEs associated with licensed vaccines (Marcos E, Zhao B, He Y, J Biomed Semant 4:40, 2013).

In this book chapter, we will first introduce the basic information of VAEs, VAE safety surveillance systems, and how to specifically query and analyze VAEs using the US VAE database VAERS (Chen et al., Vaccine 12(10):960–960, 1994). In the second half of the chapter, we will introduce the development and applications of the OAE and OVAE. Throughout this chapter, we will use the influenza vaccine Flublok as the vaccine example to launch the corresponding elaboration (Huber VC, McCullers JA, Curr Opin Mol Ther 10(1):75–85, 2008). Flublok is a recombinant hemagglutinin influenza vaccine indicated for active immunization against disease caused by influenza virus subtypes A and type B. On January 16, 2013, Flublok was approved by the FDA for the prevention of seasonal influenza in people 18 years and older in the USA. Now, more than 3 years later, an exploration of the reported AEs associated with this vaccine is urgently needed.


Vaccine Administration Ontology Adverse event Flublok 



We appreciate Mr. Jordan Rinder’s editorial review and comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of BioinformaticsChongqing University of Posts and TelecommunicationsChongqingChina
  2. 2.University of Michigan Medical SchoolAnn ArborUSA

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