I like to consider myself an informed woman; I like to know everything that I can about something before making a decision. So when I found out I was pregnant with my son, I started asking lots of questions about vaccinations.
There are a lot of concerns about vaccinations, some of them are legitimate (like my friend whose child had such a severe allergic reaction, that the doctors told her not to risk it with her subsequent children), while others are simply myths that have taken on a life of their own. Because of that, it can be difficult to discern what is actually true and what isn’t. So if you’re currently wondering where you stand in the vaccination debate, here are nine common myths associated with it.
9 Vaccines Cause Autism
One of the most prevalent myths associated with vaccinations is the belief that they cause children to have autism. The vaccine most commonly accused of this is the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccination.
This myth was started years ago when an academic journal published a study that talked about the connection between the MMR vaccine and autism spectrum disorder. However, there were a few problems with the study.
First of all, the sample size (or the amount of children looked at) was far too small to be significant, and secondly, some of the information used to draw the connections between autism and the MMR vaccine was made up.
Since the study was released, 10 of the 13 authors have said that there is no evidence of a link between autism and the MMR vaccine, the paper was retracted, and the lead author lost his medical license because of the study. Furthermore, many other studies have shown there is no connection between autism and vaccinations.
8 Chances of Catching the Disease Are Slim
People believe that chances of catching the diseases the vaccinations protect against are super slim because the current rate of infection is so low, and some of the diseases are considered to be eradicated or extinct. This myth is perpetuated by the “confirmation bias,” or the idea that you see things that convince you that your belief is true.
For example, since, the first rubella vaccination was introduced in 1969, you probably can’t name someone your age or younger who has had it. Since you don’t see it commonly, you assume that the chances of someone getting it are pretty slim. So why on earth would you need a vaccination to prevent it? Well in 1969 there were 57,686 cases of rubella in the US. However, after the vaccination was introduced the number dropped down to 1000 cases a year by 1983.
A similar one is measles. In 2014 there was a measles out-break, and according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention most individuals who caught it were not vaccinated. There were also measles outbreaks in the US in 2015, 2013, 2011 and 2008. The 2014 outbreak was by far the largest with 667 cases being reported.
One reason that outbreaks might be occurring more frequently is due to a breaking down in the “herd immunity,” or the idea that if most people are vaccinated then everyone should be protected.
7 Natural Immunity Is Better
The fourth myth is that it’s better to get the immunity to a disease naturally, which is technically true. Generally if you actually get sick, the immunity you get to that disease is stronger than it would be from a vaccination. However, some of the diseases vaccinations are supposed to prevent are potentially fatal.
So the decision to get your child’s immunity naturally could cost him his life. Yes, there is a chance that your child could have an adverse reaction to the vaccination. However, statistically speaking the chances are lower. Take small pox for example.
When people got this disease naturally, there was a 30 to 40 per cent chance that they would die. However, the vaccination itself proves fatal once or twice in a million doses.
6 Vaccines Aren’t Worth the Risk
This is the myth that I struggled with the most while I was deciding about getting my son vaccinated. Like I mentioned, I have a friend whose son had a severe reaction to his first immunization shot. So I am well aware that there is a risk.
However, this myth is similar to the idea that natural vaccination, or getting sick, is better for immunity. There is also a risk in not receiving any vaccinations. In fact, the risk might be greater, because chances are, if you do get sick, your symptoms would be worse than if you had been vaccinated. Also, as Vaccines.com points out, the chances of a severe reaction happening are about one in a million. So if you are worried about your child becoming sick, getting them vaccinated is probably worth it.
5 Infant's Body Can’t Handle Them
The fifth and sixth myths are that the immunization schedule is too intense for an infant’s body to cope with it, so one way to deal with this is to have an alternative immunization schedule where the child receives less immunizations at once.
The reason the first part, that children’s bodies can’t handle the amount, is a myth, is that infants’ bodies have thousands of antibodies present. Since they are only receiving a dead or inactive virus during a vaccination, their bodies’ antibodies are completely able to keep up with the vaccines.
4 Alternative Schedules Are Safe
Some parents believe that by spacing out the vaccinations their child is still safe from catching the diseases the vaccines are for, and also avoiding unnecessarily exposing their child to perceived dangers in the vaccines.
Amanda Gardner explains why the second part is also a myth in her article “Is There an Alternative Vaccine Schedule?” An infant will receive a lot of vaccinations before her second birthday, because she is super vulnerable to disease. The idea behind the vaccination grouping is too inoculate her before it’s too late, and she gets sick with the disease the doctors are trying to prevent.
3 Vaccines Aren’t Responsible For the Lower Cases of Disease
The third myth is that the reason that rates of illness are lower has nothing to do with vaccinations and everything to do with the fact that we’ve become more hygienic and pay more attention to sanitation as a society. While improved sanitation and better hygiene are important to preventing infection and stopping the transmission of diseases, vaccines also help with this.
According to the World Health Organization the drive to inoculate children with the MMR vaccination around the world has lowered the amounts of deaths from measles by 79 per cent, and prevented around 17.1 million cases between 2000 and 2014. Because these numbers are global, it indicates that the vaccinations are helpful in disease prevention, since not everywhere in the world has the same levels of sanitation.
2 Vaccines Can Give You the Disease They’re Supposed to Stop
The third myth is that by giving a child a vaccination and exposing them to the disease, your child can actually get the disease the vaccination is designed to prevent. For the most part this is not true. The disease in the vaccination isn’t active, or able to infect your child, in part because of the formaldehyde it was treated with.
This myth is perpetuated because vaccinations can give your child symptoms, like a fever, that sometimes mimic those of the disease the vaccine is designed to stop. However, your child isn’t actually sick or getting the disease, her immune system is simply reacting to the vaccine itself, which isn’t bad.
This myth was probably started by the Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV). OPV does cause people to get sick, through a process known as “passive immunization.” This happens when a child, who lives somewhere with poor sanitation, is vaccinated. Her body then excretes the vaccine-virus, which can then be transferred to others who haven’t been vaccinated.
In some cases the vaccine-virus doesn’t die quickly (i.e. lives about a year) and ends up mutating, which causes people to actually get sick. Because of the problems associated with OPV, it is no longer used in the United States or Canada.
1 Vaccines Contain Poison
The second myth about vaccines is that they contain poison, specifically mercury, formaldehyde and aluminum. This myth does contain a bit of truth to it.
Let’s start by looking at mercury. About 15 years ago, vaccines for children contained a preservative called thimerosal, which had mercury in it. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s review of thimerosal determined that it wasn’t dangerous to children, they decided to take it out of childhood vaccines anyway. Canada also stopped using thimerosal in childhood vaccinations in 2001. So for the last 15 years, the only vaccines that contain thimerosal are flu shots.
Now for formaldehyde. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, formaldehyde is used to kill or inactivate the viruses in vaccinations. However, this isn’t harmful for a couple of reasons. One, the formaldehyde is diluted in the purification processes. Two, our bodies naturally make more formaldehyde than vaccinations contain, because our bodies need formaldehyde to function.
Finally aluminum. According to Immunize Canada, aluminum is used in vaccinations as an “adjuvants, substances added to a vaccine to enhance and strengthen the immune system’s response.” The amount of aluminum in vaccinations is the same amount or less than the amount of aluminum your child will get from eating.