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Are Vaccines as Controversial as the Internet Makes Them Seem?

baby receiving a vaccine it is arm

6 Myths regarding Vaccines and the Science You Need to Know

By Julien Her, Quality Care Coordinator

With so much information available at our fingertips regarding vaccinations, especially on the internet, it is often difficult to decipher facts from myths.

Due to the number of myths regarding vaccinations, researchers have found a connection between decreasing immunization rates with the resurgence of preventable diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a vaccine is a product that stimulates the immune system to produce immunity to a specific disease. Below we’ll look at a few vaccine myths that have been debunked.

1. Vaccines cause autism

Though false, the idea that vaccines cause autism comes from a study published in 1997 and suggested that the MMR (mumps, measles, and rubella) vaccine increased autism in children.

Following a major discrediting for procedural errors, undisclosed financial conflicts and ethical violations, that paper has since been retracted. Not only has the study been retracted, but the physician who published it lost their license.

Since its publication, however, other institutions have run similar studies, seeking to replicate or challenge the results of the now-discredited misinformation. These studies have all found no link between receiving vaccines and the prevalence of autism. Rather, this research has suggested that autism develops from a combination of genetic and environmental influencers.

As our understanding of neurodivergent diagnoses like autism progresses, these studies have also found that many participant children showed symptoms of autism before the administration of the MMR vaccine, providing an explanation for the supposed link between the vaccine and autism in the controversial and now-discredited 1997 study.

Ingredients in the vaccination that are often cited as the affecting agents, such as thimerosal, have also been studied thoroughly. No link was found between these ingredients and the prevalence of autism. Thimerosal is a Mercury-based preservative and is only used in a multidose vial for the flu to prevent contamination.

Finally, these studies have found the same amount of antigens in the vaccine as there were for children with and without autism. Antigens are parts of disease that stimulate body’s immune system to develop antibodies to recognize and fight off a virus during a future exposure.

2. Infant immune systems can't handle so many vaccines.

Although infants do not have a fully developed immune system, their bodies are able to develop antibodies to germs to which they are exposed in everyday life. The infant immune system can battle most of these germs, except the ones behind very deadly diseases. This is where vaccines come in.

The recommended schedule for vaccinations exists to help infants and children develop immunity earlier in life when they are more susceptible to these life-threatening diseases. The antigens in these early-administered vaccines are indeed from the disease itself but lack the lethal power of the bug due to being either a weakened or dead version so as not to cause any serious illness.

Babies can receive several vaccinations in one day as they contain a small fraction of the antigens that they encounter in their environment.

Though there is no known benefit to delaying vaccines or spacing them out beyond the recommended schedule, some choose to do so. In fact, delaying important vaccines can put children at risk of developing the diseases they are formulated to prevent.

Early vaccination in accordance with the recommended vaccine schedule is crucial because preventable diseases, which disproportionately affect young and old populations, are still quite common in the United States.

As our knowledge of the human immune system advances, so do our vaccines. These days, children who receive the recommended vaccine schedule are exposed to less immunologic components than those who received vaccines in the past, thanks to more efficient formulations.

In fact, the CDC reports that 30 years ago, children needed 3,000 antigens in vaccines to protect against only eight diseases by age two. Now, the vaccine schedule only contains 305 antigens and will protect a child against 14 diseases by the same age.

The modern recommended vaccine schedule is more efficient and more selective, containing only a small fraction of antigens compared with the number of antigens that babies and infants are exposed to daily in their environment.

3. Babies who are breastfed do not need to vaccinate

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, breastfeeding has several health benefits including a reduced incidence of asthma, leukemia, obesity, eczema and more breastfed babies are not immune to diseases vaccines help prevent. Vaccines are still a necessary part of the immune system development.

While breast milk does provide some temporary protection from infections, breastfed babies are not able to fend off all infections and dangerous diseases until their immune systems are fully developed. Medical professionals and health experts recommend even breastfed babies adhere to the recommended vaccine schedule.

In fact, this inherited immunity only applies to diseases and infections for which their mothers are immune. For instance, if the baby’s mother was vaccinated with the Tdap vaccine, the baby is likely to be immune to whooping cough and the flu for the first few months of its life.

With that immunity gradually wearing off, however, even for babies that continue to receive their nutrition through breast milk, infectious disease experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend getting a whooping cough shot (Tdap) during week 27 through 36  of each pregnancy to ensure the baby can develop independent immunity.

These experts also recommend that pregnant mothers get the flu shot prior to October when flu season begins. This also helps prevent flu-related complications with the pregnancy. Typical vaccinations can take two weeks to set in and begin to spur the body to produce antibodies.

4. Natural immunity is better than vaccine-acquired immunity          

Natural immunity occurs when a person contracts a disease and their body develops immunity to the disease.

Infections, for which a person can develop immunity, can be mild such as the chickenpox. Like all diseases, however, there is a chance of severe complications, hospitalization or even death. Since the development of natural immunity involves getting the disease, the question becomes whether the disease or the vaccine a greater risk?

A common example of this is measles. If you are exposed to measles, the chances of death from your symptoms are around 1 in 500 while severe allergic reactions to the MMR (mumps, measles, rubella) have a mortality rate less than 1 in 1,000,000.

As noted per CDC, there is a very small chance of a vaccine causing a severe allergic reaction, other serious injury or death. Individuals with serious immune system problems should discuss these risks with their personal care provider as vaccines, like the MMR vaccine, can be life-threatening in such circumstances.

5. Vaccines aren't worth the risk

Before being deployed to the market, vaccines are rigorously tested to ensure that they are safe and effective to be administered to their recommended ages. For the public to receive the vaccine, it goes through a daunting process that frequently takes years before it is available to the public.

Per the CDC, “the Federal and Drug Administration (FDA) does extensive lab testing of the vaccine, and then once they pass the lab portion, it is then tested on people in clinical studies.” Once the clinical studies are completed and deemed safe and effective, the manufacturers can apply for licensure. After a vaccine is licensed, there are many federal agencies such as the FDA, CDC and NIH that continue to monitor and investigate any safety concerns. As with any medicine, there are potential side effects, which are often minor. Serious reactions can occur but are rare.

The most common side effect is soreness at the site of injection and a low-grade fever. Side effects are nearly always temporary, lasting a few days at most. To relieve any discomfort at the injection site, you can apply a cool, wet washcloth to the area or take an over-the-counter pain/fever reliever.

If there are any concerns regarding a reaction after receiving a vaccination, contact your personal care provider. You can also report any adverse side effects to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System at www.vaers.hhs.gov.  This website allows anyone such as parents or patients to submit a report.

6. Vaccinations are not needed as rates are low in the United States

Immunizations are recommended, even if the chance of being exposed to a disease is low. Modern vaccines provide protection from potentially harmful, or even deadly, diseases that could have otherwise been prevented.

Another benefit of immunizations for uncommon diseases or infections is ensuring that non-endemic (not local) and eradicated diseases don’t become endemic to the United States. With international travel more accessible than ever thanks to technology, the United States has seen an increasing amount of non-endemic infections and diseases from places like Europe.

Vaccination keeps these diseases from reaching epidemic or pandemic levels, as the spread can be stopped in its tracks. Even though vaccine-preventable diseases are becoming rare in the United States, the recommendation is to continue to vaccinate. Stopping widespread immunizations only increases the chance of a comeback.

Over time, a disease can be eliminated entirely and reach the point where it no longer requires immunizations. So far, the only disease to have been eliminated is smallpox. Eliminating this disease followed years of widespread immunizations, giving us hope for a future where vaccines like the MMR and tetanus boosters are no longer required because they too, have likewise been eliminated.

MMR is a significant focus for future obsolescence due to its prevention of the measles, a disease epidemiologists and physicians would be keen to see eliminated. Measles is vaccine-preventable but still occurs in staggering numbers around the world. With high rates of immunization against measles in the United States, it is far less common.

In 2011, there were 350,000 cases of measles reported in the world. With a relatively low prevalence, the United States saw 90% of its own measles cases related to those from another country and carried by those who had traveled. Without widespread immunization in the United States, these travelers and cases could have kicked off an epidemic or pandemic.

Still, caution is the best rule. Some countries have tried to scale back on immunizing due to decreases in a disease only to see a significant resurgence. This happened with pertussis in Japan in the 1970s and was a huge factor in the pertussis epidemic of 1974.  

Since most vaccine-preventable diseases are spread from human to human, those who aren’t vaccinated may wind up assisting an outbreak, infecting those who are not able to receive the vaccine due to health reasons and those who have elected not to receive the vaccine. A vaccinated person on the other hand, is most likely to encounter these pathogens and not become infected thanks to the immunity they received from the vaccine.

Vaccines: working toward obsolescence

With immunizations and vaccines, the goal is always to end up like the smallpox vaccine and no longer be needed once the disease has been eliminated. In this way, vaccines and those who manufacture them are constantly working toward a world where immunizations and diseases like measles, hepatitis B, tetanus, pertussis and global health threats were all a thing of the past.

Although vaccine-related misinformation is not difficult to come by thanks to social media and targeted online content, imagining a future without vaccines and remembering the past that existed before them, reveals just how important they are to our own health and wellness.

If you have any questions about immunizations or would like information on how your Network Health insurance plan is able to help you live your best life, contact us today.

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Sources Used

-Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - www.cdc.gov

-https://journals.lww.com/jaapa/fulltext/2014/08000/vaccine_myths_and_misconceptions.5.aspx

-https://www.publichealth.org/public-awareness/understanding-vaccines/vaccine-myths-debunked/

For more information regarding vaccinations and immunizations, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/vaccines.


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