St. Thomas — Contrary to popular belief, vaccines are neither new nor trendy. They have been around for hundreds of years and are one of the greatest public health achievements of humankind. Diseases like polio, measles, diphtheria, and rubella were once common in the United States afflicting hundreds of thousands of infants, children, and adults and killing thousands each year.
A few older Americans may remember how dangerous the polio outbreaks were in the era of iron lungs and leg braces. Even more recently, the wave of rubella cases in the 1960s eventually led to thousands of newborn deaths, with even more being born blind, deaf, or with other disabilities.
Here are some of the unbiased truths about vaccines, backed by science.
Despite all the fantastic advances in immunization over recent decades, 1.5 million children still die annually from vaccine-preventable diseases, but not all our medical innovations are secure or sustainable. Last year, 25 countries reported a net decrease in immunization coverage since 2010. There are several reasons for this.
In some countries, consistent supply and cold storage are persisting challenges — developing countries that experience issues with their power grid are among those affected. In other cases, vaccines are available but myths around them discourage parents from immunizing their children.
There is No Link Between Vaccines and Autism.
There are many scientific and social hypotheses, including claims that seek to establish the truth about vaccines and autism spectrum disorder (also known as ASD or simply autism). Autism is normally observed in children from one to three years of age and, in rare cases, even before the age of one. The causes of autism are still not clearly established; only assumptions and hypotheses are prevailing today.
A large-scale study found in the Annals of Internal Medicine, an academic journal in the United States, sourced medical data from half a million people over a 10 span. The medical journal confirmed that there is no connection between measles, mumps, rubella vaccine, or autism. The authors, all members of the Statens Serum Institut, (yes, that is the correct spelling) a Danish institution similar to the CDC in the United States, followed a cohort of 657,461 Danish children born between 1999 and 2010.
In the study, scientists studied children receiving the MMR vaccine and saw no links to children developing autism or symptoms of autism spectrum disorder after receiving the treatment.
Can Flu Shot Give you the Flu?
No, flu vaccines cannot cause flu illness. Flu vaccines given with a needle (i.e., flu shots) are currently made in two ways: the vaccine is made either with:
1. flu viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ (killed) and that therefore have lost their infectious and viral nature.
2. using only a single gene from a flu virus (as opposed to the full virus) in order to produce an immune response without causing infection.
Even if You Were not Directly Vaccinated You Were Still Protected.
Vaccines cause “herd immunity,” which means if the majority of people in a community have been vaccinated against a disease, an unvaccinated person is less likely to get sick because others are less likely to get sick and spread the disease.
Thanks to “herd immunity,” so long as a large majority of people are immunized in any population, even the unimmunized minority will be protected. With so many people resistant, infectious diseases have a smaller chance of establishing itself and spreading. This is important because there will always be a portion of the population – infants, pregnant women, elderly, and those with weakened immune systems – that can’t receive vaccines.
Not to mention, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warns international travel is growing quickly, so even if a disease is not a threat in your country, it may be common elsewhere. If someone were to contract a disease while traveling abroad, an unvaccinated individual will be at far greater risk of getting sick if he or she is exposed.
Vaccines are one of the great pillars of modern medicine. Life used to be especially brutal for children before vaccines, with huge portions being felled by diseases like measles, smallpox, whooping cough, or rubella, to name a few. Today these ailments can be completely prevented with a simple injection.
So as science continues to advance and tackle new challenges, people should not forget how many deaths and illnesses vaccines have prevented, and how they continue to protect us from potentially devastating forms of infectious diseases.
Vaccines Get Rid Of Diseases
Once upon a time, smallpox killed an estimated 35% of those infected and left many others scarred or blind. But in 1980, mankind successfully eradicated the virus from the globe, thanks to large-scale vaccination efforts. And now we are ~this close~ to completely eradicating polio, too. In fact, vaccination has helped reduce the number of cases of several life-threatening diseases like diphtheria, rubella and Haemophilus influenzae — a type of bacterium — by more than 99% in the U.S.
There are existing vaccines that could stop rotavirus and pneumonia — two conditions that kill nearly 3 million children under the age of five every year.
Big Pharma Argument
When faced with evidence that their anti-vaccine talking points are basically lies and propaganda, the fallback position is often that you are a “shill for Big Pharma” if you actively support following the immunization schedule of the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics.
Some arguments go so far as to say that Big Pharma pays people to spend all day, posting supportive comments on Facebook and on message boards. That’s a bit of a reach
This wild conspiracy theory has me thinking that those who debate experts on this topic should just launch an ad hominem attack for good measure.
Do Vaccines Have Mercury in Them?
No, modern vaccines do not have mercury in them. Some people have moved on to worrying about other vaccine ingredients and additives once thimerosal was removed from vaccines back in 1999. There are still some who cling to the idea that many vaccines still contain thimerosal and contribute to the fully debunked idea that thimerosal in vaccines causes autism.
We now know that thimerosal was removed from almost all vaccines beginning in 1999, many vaccines never contained thimerosal, including:
- Varivax (chicken pox vaccine)
- hepatitis A vaccine
- rotavirus vaccines (RotaTeq and Rotarix)
- IPV (polio vaccine)
- Menactra and Menveo
- HPV vaccines (Gardasil and Cervarix)
- Prevnar (both Prevnar 7 and Prevnar 13)
So, even at the height of the mercury hype, say in 1998, kids routinely only received three vaccines with thimerosal — hepatitis B, DTaP, and Hib. None of the other vaccines that were a part of the 1998 recommended childhood immunization schedule ever contained thimerosal.
And even then, thimerosal-free versions of DTaP and Hib were available, so not all children received vaccines with thimerosal or all three vaccines with thimerosal. Some may have gotten just one or two.
It is also important to remember that although it was recommended that thimerosal be removed from vaccines, it was as a precaution and that experts stated that “a risk assessment of thimerosal use in childhood vaccines finds no evidence of harm from the use of thimerosal as a preservative, other than redness and swelling at the injection site.”
So, what’s left of the thimerosal debate in regards to vaccinations? There are no remaining vaccines with thimerosal (the last ones expired in January 2003) and there is no evidence to support that the CDC is hiding data about mercury, vaccines, and autism.
If you are concerned about thimerosal when being vaccinated, simply ask your physician to share the ingredients with you before you receive your treatment. As a patient, you have the right to know.
There are plenty of thimerosal-free flu shots available for parents who want them. In fact, over 100 million doses of flu vaccine will be either thimerosal-free or preservative free (with only a trace amount of thimerosal) for this year.
Too many Vaccines Do Not Overload the Immune System
The belief that it is possible to overload the immune system with vaccines has been thoroughly debunked. Infant immune systems are stronger than you may think. Based on the number of antibodies present in the blood, a baby would theoretically have the ability to respond to around 10,000 vaccines at one time. Even if all 14 scheduled vaccines were given at once, it would only use up slightly more than 0.1% of a baby’s immune capacity. And scientists believe this capacity is purely theoretical.
The immune system could never truly be overwhelmed because the cells in the system are constantly being replenished. In reality, babies are exposed to countless bacteria and viruses every day, and immunizations are negligible in comparison.
Though there are more vaccinations than ever before, today’s vaccines are far more efficient. Small children are actually exposed to fewer immunologic components overall than children in past decades.
There is a reason the world population exploded and we now have over 7 billion human living on Earth up from an estimated 1 billion in 1805.
Humans have been here for centuries, so the increase in population is staggering and shows that medical breakthroughs can reduce mortality rates for deadly diseases.
In some cases, natural immunity (meaning actually contracting a disease and becoming ill) results in a stronger immunity to the disease than a vaccination. However, the dangers of this approach far outweigh the relative benefits. If you wanted to gain immunity to measles, for example, by contracting the disease, you would face a 1 in 500 chance of death from your symptoms. In contrast, the number of people who have had severe allergic reactions from an MMR vaccine, is less than one-in-one million.
Contrary to Trends, Many People Still Vaccinate Their Kids.
The overwhelming majority of parents vaccinate their kids according to the recommended immunization schedule of the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics.
A 2015 report from the CDC found that more than 90 percent of children aged 19 to 35 months were up to date on the following vaccinations: polio; hepatitis B; measles, mumps, and rubella; and varicella.
Another report published in 2016 by the CDC, this one explored vaccination coverage among children in kindergarten and found that almost 95 percent of children entering kindergarten were fully immunized against measles (two doses of MMR) and over 94 percent received treatments to prevent diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough (pertussis) in 49 states including Washington, D.C.
The report also found vaccination exemption levels continue to be low. Just this week, a federal judge in New York ruled that unvaccinated children can’t return to school amid a measles outbreak.
If Vaccination Stop Deadly Diseases Will Return
Even with better hygiene, sanitation and access to safe water, infections still spread. When people are not vaccinated, infectious diseases that have become uncommon can quickly come back to haunt us. When people have questions about vaccines they should ask their health providers and check accurate websites backed by experts for information.
Vaccine Safety Net, a global network of vaccine safety websites certified by the World Health Organization, provides easy access to accurate and trustworthy information on vaccines. The network has 47-member websites in 12 languages and reaches more than 173 million people every month with credible information on vaccine safety and is leading the charge to reduce the spread of misinformation.
The Anti-vaxxer or Vaxxer stance doesn’t really matter. Being informed about scientific facts can help you make informed decisions on how to protect yourself and your family from contracting deadly diseases.