Those following the news or recent presidential candidate debate may have heard some alarming statements about vaccines. In particular, that there is a connection between vaccinations and autism. These are statements that could make any new parent doubtful about the role of immunizations, but let’s take a closer look.
Many of these statements about the dangers of vaccines were fueled by a study conducted in 1998. What you won’t hear as often is that the results of this study were later retracted, after it was discovered that they were based on fraudulent data.
The truth is that vaccinations help prevent 6 million deaths around the world each year. Just take a look at this infographic created by Leon Farrant:
The myths surrounding available immunizations only serve to do more harm as unsure parents choose to wait or forgo them entirely. Today, we’d like to address five of the most common vaccine-related myths.
(Please note: Adverse reactions are possible following a vaccination. However, you’re actually 100 times more likely to get struck by lightning than have an allergic reaction to a vaccine. It’s actually much more likely that the aspirin someone takes could cause bleeding in the brain.)
Myth #1) Vaccines Can Cause Autism
This belief has become all too prevalent today, even though it arose from the now-discredited study that was published in the Lancet in 1998. Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s claim was quickly picked up by families who had children with autism. They were alarmed that rates of autism were on the rise while diseases like the mumps and measles dwindled.
Suddenly an anti-vaccine movement started to take shape and it was only bolstered when celebrities like Jenny McCarthy lent their voices and influence to the cause.
Despite widespread criticism from many researchers at the time, Wakefield’s paper scared many parents and the rate of immunizations in Britain and America saw a decline.
In 2004, it came to light that Wakefield had received funding from a law firm intending to sue vaccine manufacturers. The Institute of Medicine promptly investigated the study and found no connection between vaccines and autism.
In 2010, another paper concluded that Wakefield’s study had misrepresented or actually altered the medical histories of all 12 patients whose cases had been used as the foundation for his claim. Wakefield’s paper was retracted that year and he also lost his license to practice medicine.
Since then, the chief science office for Autism Speaks, one of the leading advocacy groups for autism, has asked parents to get their children vaccinated.
Myth #2) Vaccines Contain Poisons
Many in the anti-vaccine movement claim that vaccines contain poisonous material like mercury. They have used this claim to support their argument that immunizations can cause autism.
This source of this particular fear can be traced back to the 1930’s. A few vaccine manufacturers started using Thimerosal, a preservative that contained trace amounts of a mercury compound, in their product. It was used in order to prevent protect against potentially hazardous fungus and bacteria.
Over the decades, this preservative has been the focus of several long-term clinical studies. None have shown any correlation between thimerosal and autism or any other serious side effects.
Thimerosal can still be found in certain adult vaccinations, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stopped issuing licenses for children’s vaccines that contained it back in 2001. Nowadays, most vaccines given to children under the age of 6 don’t contain it. This means that it doesn’t make sense to point to this preservative as a cause of autism.
(Please note: The form of mercury that thimerosal contains is called ethylmercury. In recent years, researchers have gained a much better understanding of this substance and have found that it doesn’t pose the same risk that its cousin, methylmercury.)
Myth #3) Vaccines Contain Too Many Antigens
Since their are more vaccines in the recommended schedule now, some parents worry that their children are being exposed to too many antigens. These are the part of the vaccine that gets the immune system to form a resistance to the targeted disease. Some worry that it can be overwhelming for their child’s developing immune system.
Thanks to ongoing clinical trials, there are more vaccinations available today. However, patients actually receive significantly fewer antigens from these shots compared to just three decades ago. People used to receive about 3,000 antigens during the 1980’s. Now, it’s only 150 in total.
The parents that choose to space out vaccinations over a longer period of time only put their children and others at greater risk.
Myth #4) Vaccines Are Promoted for Profit
Some people worry that vaccines are promoted by doctors and insurance companies in order to help them make more money.
Plenty of insurers are willing to cover the cost of necessary vaccinations. Also, a study conducted in 2009 showed that about 30 percent of doctors lose money by administering vaccines to their patients. This is not something that they are doing in order to profit off of people.
Myth #5) Vaccines Aren’t Essential Anymore
Many parents chose to skip getting their children vaccinated, because they believe it’s not as important anymore. Many of the diseases (like mumps, measles and polio) that they were developed for have all but disappeared entirely. Why should they put their child through the recommended course of immunizations anymore?
Did you read about the spike in measles reported just last winter in California and Utah? Public health officials reported that it occurred after several unvaccinated children contracted measles while visiting Disneyland. They promptly spread it to other children in their school districts when they got home.
There were 644 measles cases reported in the U.S. last year. An unprecedented jump, especially when you look at the last decade.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), this particular illness is still a leading killer around the world. Measles can lead to:
- Permanent brain damage
Before the measles vaccine was introduced in the 1960s, about 4 million new cases were reported each year in the U.S. These led to about 500 deaths on an annual basis. Compared to back then, the measles vaccine has reduced the rate of infection by 99% in our country.
The last example shows just how harmful the prevalence of these misconceptions can be. It’s extremely important that parents have the facts when it comes to immunization. If you’d like some more information about the vaccines your child needs, this article breaks it down by age range.
If you would like to help us improve available vaccinations, our research team is currently conducting clinical trials in this area. We are always looking for passionate individuals who’d like to help us solve tomorrow…today!