Vaccines are among the most misunderstood medical treatment available today. Even with the abundance of peer-reviewed, scientific information available online, people still distrust vaccines and a growing number of parents are refusing to vaccinate their children. Sadly, this has led to a resurgence of preventable diseases in many areas. If you’re among the hundreds of people unsure about the truth, take a look at these scientific responses to common myths about vaccines.
What People Believe About Vaccines
Vaccines have been blamed for all manner of problems from autism to mercury poisoning. The truth, however, is not nearly as sensational. When examined in a truly scientific light, many common vaccine myths completely fall apart. Let’s take a look at the most common rumors about vaccinations:
- Vaccines cause autism
- Vaccines contain toxins
- Vaccines are too risky
- Infection rates are low enough without vaccines
- A baby can’t handle vaccines
- Natural immunity is better
1) Vaccines Cause Autism
This assertion is decades old and dates back to a since-redacted study by Andrew Wakefield. Though his initial findings seemed to indicate a link, and his study is cited to this day by hundreds of people, his conduct throughout the experiment was found to be unprofessional at best and neglectfully dangerous at worst. His sample size for his study was also far too small to be considered a legitimate research project. Many recent studies using proper scientific methods have shown again and again that there is no link between being vaccinated and developing autism later in life.
Additionally, this perspective is somewhat insulting to anyone on the spectrum and their families. Autism is a challenge to live with, but it is manageable and autistic people can still lead productive, happy lives–a chance they wouldn’t have without the protection offered by vaccines. Even if a demonstrable link between vaccines and autism did exist, it would be worth the risk to prevent an early death from a fully preventable disease.
2) Vaccines Contain Toxins
Mercury, aluminum, and formaldehyde are often touted as dangerous chemicals that make vaccines toxic. It’s true that these chemicals are poisonous in high enough concentration, but FDA-approved vaccines use barely enough for our bodies to even notice. For instance, our bodies naturally produce formaldehyde to make amino acids, clearly nowhere near a toxic function or level of concern. The amount of formaldehyde in an FDA-approved vaccine is even lower than that produced by our own bodies! Meanwhile, the amount of aluminum present in vaccines is also negligible, less than what’s typically present in an infant’s bloodstream.
Finally, concerns about mercury in vaccines stem from the common vaccine ingredient thimerosal (ethylmercury), a vaccine preservative that today is only used in the flu vaccine. Once again, this chemical has been shown to be perfectly safe in the dosage provided by vaccines. However, for those who are still concerned or extremely sensitive to mercury, thimerosal-free versions of the shot are available upon request.
3) Vaccines are Too Risky
Being vaccinated results in a less than 1% chance of severe sickness or complications, and an even smaller chance of death as a direct result of the shot. Meanwhile, many of the preventable diseases vaccines protect against have a disturbingly high mortality rate. Simply put, the tiny risk posed by vaccination absolutely does not outweigh the massive risks of refusing protection.
4) Infection Rates are Low Enough Without Vaccines
While dramatically improved hygiene and health awareness have helped to lower the infection rate of many diseases, the majority of improvements came about because of vaccines, not in spite of them. For a particularly dramatic example, consider Haemophilus lnfluenzae Type B, a strain of the flu virus. In 1990, approximately 20,000 cases of this disease were reported. Three years later, after a vaccine for the disease was made available, the number of reported cases dropped to 1,500. Hygenic habits showed no major improvements during the same time frame–there’s no question the drastic improvement is due to the vaccine.
Additionally, herd immunity comes into play here. In a nutshell, bacteria and viruses can travel rapidly through a small community, infecting numerous people. However, if the majority of those people are protected against the disease through vaccination, they don’t become sick and thus don’t pass on the disease. This makes it far more difficult for the disease to spread. The more people are vaccinated, the stronger the local herd immunity is, and the harder it is for infectious diseases to make anyone sick.
Pro Tip: Some people, such as the immunocompromised or those with severe health problems, can’t safely be vaccinated. That’s part of why herd immunity is so important–these people depend on others being vaccinated in order to survive.
5) A Baby Can’t Handle Vaccines
An infant’s immune system is remarkably resilient and can easily handle the contents of a vaccine. In fact, doctors have estimated that even if a baby received all their recommended vaccinations at once, their immune system would only use less than 1% of its total capability. Parents have no need to worry–a baby who receives vaccines is in no danger.
6) Natural Immunity is Better
Finally, many people believe that developing natural immunity to diseases through exposure is preferable to being vaccinated. This is the philosophy behind the infamous “pox party” phenomenon. While it’s true that developing natural immunity can occasionally result in stronger protection against the disease, the risks are simply not worth it. For instance, deliberate exposure to the measles results in several miserable days of fever and severe discomfort, the possibility of developing more severe problems like pneumonia, and a 1 in 500 chance of death. Meanwhile, the MMR vaccine results in a short-lived mild fever, possible bruises, or stiff joints, with a less than one in a million chance of severe allergic reaction or death. Even with the need to renew your vaccines periodically, they are still the superior choice to putting your own or another’s health at risk.
A Crucial Choice
Vaccines are easily one of the greatest inventions of modern medicine. Their effects can be seen in everything from the drastically lowered infant mortality rate to the increased life expectancy of most Americans and the near-eradication of many deadly diseases. You can rest assured that choosing to vaccinate yourself and your children is one of the safest and best decisions you can ever make.
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