Without a doubt, vaccination has been proven to be one of the most effective health measures to prevent disease worldwide, alongside proper sanitation and antibiotics. However, its routine use on healthy individuals for disease prevention raises concerns regarding safety. It is convenient for the public to place their attention on the risks of vaccination; especially when the detrimental effects of vaccine-preventable diseases are no longer prominent.
Parents who do not vaccinate their children often have deep concerns pertaining to vaccine safety, particularly of the risk of childhood developmental disorders. This influences how parents weigh up the risks and benefits of vaccination. At the end of the day, all parents want the best for their children. Therefore, it is crucial to provide factual data in response to the common concerns and myths revolving around vaccinations.
‘Vaccines are unsafe, they cause autisms and other disorders’
The Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine DOES NOT cause autism or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). This false theory was first proposed by a group of researchers from United Kingdom (UK) in 1998. They suggested that the measles virus invades the gut and results in a new variant of inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBD). In addition, they hypothesized that the virus contributes to developmental disorders such as autism, or worsening of symptoms in children previously diagnosed with autism, so-called ‘regressive autism’.
This theory generated a lot of media attention. Thorough investigations have revealed the original data to be fraudulent:
1. Study participants were recruited through anti-MMR campaigners, and the study was commissioned and funded for planned litigation
2. Research findings were manipulated to favour their hypothesis
This study, as a result, was retracted from the Lancet journal that it was published in, and the lead author (Andrew Wakefield) lost his license to practice medicine.
The World Health Organisation, American Academy of Paediatrics, the British Chief Medical Officer, the UK Medical Research Council and Institute of Medicine have concluded no association between MMR vaccine and development of autism or IBD.
So why do the public still insist that the MMR vaccine causes autism?
Numerous vaccines are given to children in their first year of life, just when a lot of developmental changes are occurring. This overweighing of negative outcomes is a well-known psychological fact called “negativity bias”. If developmental disorders emerge around the time a vaccine is given, it’s convenient to place the blame upon vaccinations. However, the majority of problems thought to be related to vaccination are actually NOT due to the vaccine itself!
Indeed, the number of new cases of autism has been on the rise, but this is largely or completely due to a more effective diagnosis.
‘Vaccines contain toxic additives’
Yes, some vaccines do contain additives such as adjuvants, preservatives and formaldehyde. But are they toxic? No. Let’s have a look at the explanation below.
Adjuvants, commonly aluminium salts, are added in certain vaccines to increase efficacy and enhance the immune response. In fact, aluminium levels from these vaccines are safe and lower than those from dietary intake or medications such as antacids! They are well below harmful levels indicated by organisations such as the United States Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. A systematic review, which looked into available studies on aluminium-containing vaccines, found no evidence of significant or long-term adverse effects in children. Common side effects include transient redness and swelling of skin. However, the benefits of these vaccines far outweigh the associated “risks”. Based on the 2 pictures below, which one would you rather get?
Preservatives containing thiomersal (a mercury compound) are commonly used in multi-dose vaccines (vaccine containing more than one dose of medication) to prevent contamination from bacterial and fungal growth. While preservative-free single-use vaccines are now widely produced in developed countries such as Australia and USA, thiomersal-containing vaccines are still utilised in certain developing nations. WHO, alongside other studies, have concluded that there is no evidence of associated risks in vaccines containing thiomersal.
Formaldehyde is used in the production of some vaccines to inactivate toxins from bacteria and viruses. But did you know that a pear contains around 50 times more formaldehyde than is found in any vaccine?
‘Vaccines weaken the immune system’
It is without a doubt that the current vaccination schedule may seem daunting to some! A child can receive up to 23 shots by 18th months and 6 shots during a single doctor visit! Hence, it is not unusual that parents may have concerns pertaining to how vaccines may interfere with a child’s developing immunity. This is often a reason to why parents refuse to vaccinate their children.
However, this should be the least of your worries. Instead of weakening the immune system, vaccines work by strengthening our defence mechanism against specific diseases through the production of antibodies.
But how important is it to get vaccinated?
Newborn babies are prone to many serious infections as their immune systems are still maturing. As such, they have to rely on the mother’s antibodies to prevent neonatal infection. This is why maternal vaccination is extremely crucial during pregnancy!
‘Vaccines overwhelm the immune system’
Vaccines contain a significantly small amount of antigens compared to the amount of bacteria children are exposed to in their daily lives, from the food they eat to the dust they breathe. Hence, vaccines DO NOT overwhelm the immune system.
‘Vaccines cause or worsen asthma and allergies’
There is no evidence that vaccines cause or worsen allergic diseases such as asthma or eczema. In fact, it is crucial that children with asthma receive all recommended vaccines as contracting respiratory related diseases such as pertussis or influenza can worsen the condition.
Some vaccines contain gelatin, yeast and egg protein which have a low risk of allergic reaction to some people. For example, the risk of anaphylaxis (a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction) after a single vaccine dose has been estimated to be less than 1 in a million. Children or adults with most food or environmental allergies can be safely vaccinated.
‘Infectious diseases, like chicken pox, are not serious’
“Vaccines are a victim of their own success, leading us to forget just how debilitating preventable diseases can be” – Unknown.
In today’s society, we are privileged to not witness the debilitating effects of vaccine preventable diseases such complete paralysis from polio and permanent brain damage from measles. Hospital wards today are no longer filled with iron lung machines. This is all thanks to the development of vaccines.
It is true that diseases such as chicken pox can be considered as mild and self-limiting. However, chicken pox can be fatal when it infects children or adults who are immune-compromised. The Varicella Zoster Virus (chicken pox virus) can also reactivate later in life to cause painful skin lesions known as shingles. Although not 100% effective, varicella vaccine demonstrates protective mechanisms against shingles and lowers the risk of contracting the disease.
More to come in part 2! STAY TUNED!
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