Vaccination Facts and Misconceptions
Your primary care doctors at Cohen Medical Associates in Delray Beach, Florida, sometimes encounter patients who have questions and even reservations about being vaccinated or having their children vaccinated. In addition, several recent reports about the effects of not having children vaccinated have caused us concern, so we decided to try to clear up some of the myths and misconceptions about vaccines.
- News report: A school in Asheville, North Carolina, has 36 children as of last month who have contracted chicken pox because a preponderance of the children’s parents have used a religious exemption in the law to keep their children from being vaccinated.
- News report: In October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that flu vaccination coverage among adults was only 37.1 percent of the population. The CDC attributed the severity of last year’s flu season at least in part to that low immunization rate. It killed 183 children, 80 percent of whom were unvaccinated, and 79,000 adults.
It’s unfortunate that the advent of the Internet and social media have made it far easier than in the past to spread unsubstantiated information regarding this important subject. Actually, however, vaccine controversies go back to the introduction of the first vaccine for smallpox. Because the early vaccination was not produced under laboratory conditions, contamination sometimes introduced other pathogens, occasionally resulting in ancillary diseases in those who received the vaccine.
We’ve come a long way since the 18th Century. Today vaccines are subjected to rigorous testing before they become available, they have a high degree of safety, and that safety is constantly being evaluated by an independent, federally funded program that is not influenced by vaccine manufacturers.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says, “There is arguably no single preventive health intervention more cost-effective than immunization. Time and again, the international community has endorsed the value of vaccines and immunization to prevent and control a large number of infectious disease and, increasingly, several chronic diseases that are caused by infectious agents.”
But the controversies continue. So let’s set the record straight.
- Fact: Vaccines do not cause autism. Period. The original study that sparked that controversy several years ago has been retracted and no interim research has been able to substantiate that claim.
- Fact: Vaccines do not contain high levels of toxins. Tiny amounts of formaldehyde and the preservative thimerosal (which contains mercury) are used during manufacture to kill the live virus, but there is no evidence that these trace amounts build up in the body. In addition, since 2001 vaccines for children under age six are thimerosal-free.
- Fact: You are not “safe if everyone else is vaccinated.” Because everyone else isn’t vaccinated. This includes those too young or too sick to be vaccinated, as well as those who refuse vaccinations. See the two news reports above.
- Fact: Natural immunity, while conferring lifelong protection against diseases (which vaccines often don’t), can also be extremely dangerous. For example, deliberately exposing children to chicken pox can result in pneumonia, encephalitis, and such skin infections as the deadly MRSA, as well as susceptibility to the painful skin condition known as shingles later in life. Mumps can lead to deafness, polio can produce permanent paralysis, and so forth.
- Fact: Vaccines stimulate the immune system, not weaken it. That’s the whole purpose of vaccination: to produce antibodies to the disease, allowing the body to fight it off when exposed to it.
- Fact: Most side effects from vaccines—low-grade fever, soreness at the injection site, fatigue, loss of appetite—are minor and temporary.
- Fact: Even if you get the flu after receiving the vaccine, it will not be as severe as if you hadn’t been inoculated. The flu vaccine can also prevent hospitalizations and death from such complications as pneumonia.
The bottom line: Vaccines have been developed and refined over many decades. Immunization prevents between two and three million deaths worldwide every year. Many diseases that used to be common have been all but wiped out in this country (smallpox has been eliminated worldwide). But as more people succumb to vaccination myths, we could be at risk of spreading these diseases through the population once again.
If you have any questions or concerns about vaccinating you or your child, please talk to us. We want to provide you with the latest and best information available.