5 vaccine myths dispelled

Summer is just beginning, but in a few short months, families will have to get ready for school again. That means mandatory school immunizations for many children.

To help quell parents’ fears and anxiety, Dr. Shrinal Vyas, a pediatrician at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, clears up five common misconceptions about vaccinations.

Myth: It’s not safe to give a child too many vaccinations at one time. “Children’s immune systems are not as weak as many people think. As soon as babies are born, they are exposed to millions of bacteria and viruses that challenge their immune systems. Vaccines, on the other hand, only contain a fraction of a percentage of the normal amount of germs kids encounter every single day,” Dr. Vyas says. “Even if every single recommended vaccine were to be given at once, which we do not do in practice, a child’s body would only be using a negligible percent of the immune system. A toddler getting a cut on the forehead is more of a challenge to the body than getting a vaccine.”

Myth: It’s better to let my child catch a disease and build natural immunity than to vaccinate my child. “In some cases, natural immunity from a disease may result in better immunity than a vaccination. However, the risk of getting a disease far outweighs the risk of getting a vaccine. Dangers of the diseases that we routinely vaccinate against, such as diphtheria or haemophilus, include meningitis, respiratory failure, coma and even death,” Dr. Vyas says. “Vaccines can cause extremely rare side effects, but in practice, we find that children who suffer the diseases suffer much more. For example, if you catch measles, which there have been many outbreaks of in recent years, you have a one in 500 chance of dying. Yet people who get the measles vaccine have less than a one in 1 million chance of having a severe allergic reaction,” she adds.

Myth: Since it’s unlikely for my child to get diseases the vaccinations are designed to protect my child against, the vaccinations aren’t necessary. “Children are unlikely to get those deadly diseases precisely because vaccines have become a staple of children’s health care. Without the important medical work vaccines have done, tetanus, whooping cough, polio and other scary illnesses would be much more common than they are now,” Dr. Vyas says. “While it is true that ‘herd immunity’ – in which unvaccinated people are protected from diseases as long as the majority of the surrounding population is vaccinated – gives some protection to all, many people cannot get vaccinated themselves. Pregnant women, newborns and patients with immune disorders have medical reasons to not get certain vaccines. However, if people just choose to not get vaccines on purpose, herd immunity will soon disappear and leave us all at risk.”

Myth: Vaccinations cause autism. “This is absolutely false. The 1998 study that provoked widespread fear there was a link between the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine and autism was completely flawed with bad science – so much so that the publisher of this article retracted it and the physician who wrote it lost his medical license,” says Dr. Vyas. “Fortunately, the article encouraged many other studies to establish safety, and they have all shown that there is NO link between vaccines and autism nor other health problems.”

Myth: Vaccines pose a huge risk to my child. “This is also totally false. Vaccines are one of the most studied, safest and valuable achievements to come from modern medicine. Millions of people have been successfully protected from serious diseases without suffering the small risk of reactions, and no long-term negative health problems have been found in any credible study of vaccines,” Dr. Vyas says. “Life before vaccines was particularly harsh for children, as they could catch horrible things like smallpox, mumps and rubella. Vaccines are essential to giving kids a happy and healthy childhood.”

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