Vaccinations: Facts VS Misinformed Fear

My husband and I recently watched a docuseries on Netflix called "Pandemic," where in one episode the focus is on a community of people who are anti-vaccination and it really irked me. This week's blog post is to educate you on the facts about the importance of vaccines.


Below is video about a boy who decided to get vaccinated even though his mother thought it may make him autistic. He makes a good point when he says, "I never was rude towards my mother, and even in public settings where I expressed how her beliefs were misinformed, I said that she was a loving mother, and that's important to understand ... Because a lot of people, I think, in the scientific community that understand why vaccines are so important, can really be confused by someone who would not vaccinate. Really, we can compare it to someone not taking their child to the ER. That's a very dangerous situation to be in and it shows some lack of empathy towards your children in some regards. And really, I can understand that, I can. But my mom, she was misinformed and misled by sources that convinced her that if she was a loving parent, she wouldn't vaccinate."


Before we get deep into the discussion, let's first define vaccinations: "The body’s immune system helps protect against pathogens that cause infection. Most of the time, it’s an efficient system. It either keeps microorganisms out or tracks them down and gets rid of them. However, some pathogens can overwhelm the immune system. When this happens, it can cause serious illness. The pathogens most likely to cause problems are the ones the body doesn’t recognize. Vaccination is a way to “teach” the immune system how to recognize and eliminate an organism. That way, your body is prepared if you’re ever exposed. Vaccinations are an important form of primary prevention. That means they can protect people from getting sick." (https://www.healthline.com/health/vaccinations)


History of Vaccines

"Vaccines save lives. Vaccines are one of the greatest achievements in the history of public health. Since its discovery, immunization has been credited for saving an estimated 9 million lives a year. To better understand the impact of vaccines, let's look at smallpox. Smallpox is among the most devastating diseases in human history. For thousands of years it plagued civilizations from around the globe, from ancient Egypt where evidence of the disease was found on the mummy of Pharaoh Ramses V, to 18th century Europe where persistent and violent outbreaks killed about 20-30% of those infected. During the colonization of the Americas, that number is estimated to assort nearly 90% among indigenous people who had never been exposed before.


Eradication of Smallpox via Vaccinations

The disease itself was particularly agonizing, beginning with a headache and fever, progressing into a painful rash that soon swelled into puss joules. Those fortunate enough to survive were often left blind or infertile, and almost always badly scarred. Fortunately, thanks to extensive vaccination, the last naturally ocurring case was in 1977, and in 1980 the World Health Assembly officially declared that smallpox had been eradicated calling it an unprecedented achievement in the history of public health. So far, smallpox is the only human disease to have been completely eradicated.


Anti-Vaccination Development

Though vaccines have gone a long way to prevent the widespread suffering and death associated with many diseases, polio for example has become increasingly rare in the United States. However, cases of measles are increasing rather than decreasing. In 2008 the CDC received reports of 134 cases of Measles. In spite of the fact that Endemic Measles were eliminated in the US in 2000. This is the consequence of an unsettling anti-vaccination trend, largely stemming from a study published in 1998 by Andrew Wakefield. Wakefield's study reported linked the measles mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine with autism. This study however was at best poorly conducted and at worst outright fraudulent. Numerous studies have since refuted Wakefield's claims, and Wakefield himself has been stripped of his medical license, but for some the fear however unfounded, remains.


World Health Organization's Six Common Misconceptions About Immunization:

  1. "Diseases had already begun to disappear before vaccines were introduced, because of better hygiene and sanitation".

  2. "The majority of people who get disease have been vaccinated."

  3. "There are "hot lots" of vaccine that have been associated with more adverse events and deaths than others. Parents should find the numbers of these lots and not allow their children to receive vaccines from them."

  4. "Vaccines cause many harmful side effects, illnesses, and even death - not to mention possible long-term effects we don't even know about."

  5. "Vaccine-preventable diseases have been virtually eliminated from my country, so there is no need for my child to be vaccinated."

  6. "Giving a child multiple vaccinations for different diseases at the same time increases the risk of harmful side effects and can overload the immune system." (click on this link for more information)


Q&A About Vaccines from the World Health Organization

Why should I get vaccinated?

Without vaccines, we are at risk of serious illness and disability from diseases like measles, meningitis, pneumonia, tetanus and polio. Many of these diseases can be life-threatening. WHO estimates that vaccines save between 2 and 3 million lives every year. Although some diseases may have become uncommon, the germs that cause them continue to circulate in some or all parts of the world. In today’s world, infectious diseases can easily cross borders, and infect anyone who is not protected Two key reasons to get vaccinated are to protect ourselves and to protect those around us. Because not everyone can be vaccinated – including very young babies, those who are seriously ill or have certain allergies – they depend on others being vaccinated to ensure they are also safe from vaccine-preventable diseases.


What diseases do vaccines prevent?

Vaccines protect against many different diseases, including:

  • Cervical cancer

  • Cholera

  • Diphtheria

  • Hepatitis B

  • Influenza

  • Japanese encephalitis

  • Measles

  • Meningitis

  • Mumps

  • Pertussis

  • Pneumonia

  • Polio

  • Rabies

  • Rotavirus

  • Rubella

  • Tetanus

  • Typhoid

  • Varicella

  • Yellow fever

Some other vaccines are currently under development or being piloted, including those that protect against Ebola or malaria, but are not yet widely available globally. Not all of these vaccinations may be needed in your country. Some may only be given prior to travel, in areas of risk, or to people in high-risk occupations.


When should I get vaccinated (or vaccinate my child)?

Vaccines protect us throughout life and at different ages, from birth to childhood, as teenagers and into old age. In most countries you will be given a vaccination card that tells you what vaccines you or your child have had and when the next vaccines or booster doses are due. It is important to make sure that all these vaccines are up to date. If we delay vaccination, we are at risk of getting seriously sick. If we wait until we think we may be exposed to a serious illness – like during a disease outbreak – there may not be enough time for the vaccine to work and to receive all the recommended doses.


Why does vaccination start at such a young age?

Young children can be exposed to diseases in their daily life from many different places and people, and this can put them at serious risk. The WHO-recommended vaccination schedule is designed to protect infants and young children as early as possible. Infants and young children are often at the greatest risk from diseases because their immune systems are not yet fully developed, and their bodies are less able to fight off infection. It is therefore very important that children are vaccinated against diseases at the recommended time.


Who can get vaccinated?

Nearly everyone can get vaccinated. However, because of some medical conditions, some people should not get certain vaccines, or should wait before getting them. These conditions can include: Chronic illnesses or treatments (like chemotherapy) that affect the immune system; Severe and life-threatening allergies to vaccine ingredients, which are very rare; If you have severe illness and a high fever on the day of vaccination. These factors often vary for each vaccine. If you’re not sure if you or your child should get a particular vaccine, talk to your health worker. They can help you make an informed choice about vaccination for you or your child.


What is in a vaccine?

All the ingredients of a vaccine play an important role in ensuring a vaccine is safe and effective. Some of these include:

  • The antigen. This is a killed or weakened form of a virus or bacteria, which trains our bodies to recognize and fight the disease if we encounter it in the future.

  • Adjuvants, which help to boost our immune response. This means they help vaccines to work better.

  • Preservatives, which ensure a vaccine stays effective.

  • Stabilisers, which protect the vaccine during storage and transportation.

Vaccine ingredients can look unfamiliar when they are listed on a label. However, many of the components used in vaccines occur naturally in the body, in the environment, and in the foods we eat. All of the ingredients in vaccines – as well as the vaccines themselves - are thoroughly tested and monitored to ensure they are safe.


Are vaccines safe?

Vaccination is safe and side effects from a vaccine are usually minor and temporary, such as a sore arm or mild fever. More serious side effects are possible, but extremely rare. Any licensed vaccine is rigorously tested across multiple phases of trials before it is approved for use, and regularly reassessed once it is introduced. Scientists are also constantly monitoring information from several sources for any sign that a vaccine may cause health risks. Remember, you are far more likely to be seriously injured by a vaccine-preventable disease than by a vaccine. For example, tetanus can cause extreme pain, muscle spasms (lockjaw) and blood clots, measles can cause encephalitis (an infection of the brain) and blindness. Many vaccine-preventable diseases can even result in death. The benefits of vaccination greatly outweigh the risks, and many more illnesses and deaths would occur without vaccines.


Are there side effects from vaccines?

Like any medicine, vaccines can cause mild side effects, such as a low-grade fever, or pain or redness at the injection site. Mild reactions go away within a few days on their own. Severe or long-lasting side effects are extremely rare. Vaccines are continually monitored for safety, to detect rare adverse events.


Is there a link between vaccines and autism?

There is no evidence of any link between vaccines and autism or autistic disorders. This has been demonstrated in many studies, conducted across very large populations. The 1998 study which raised concerns about a possible link between measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism was later found to be seriously flawed and fraudulent. The paper was subsequently retracted by the journal that published it, and the doctor that published it lost his medical license. Unfortunately, its publication created fear that led to dropping immunization rates in some countries, and subsequent outbreaks of these diseases. We must all ensure we are taking steps to share only credible, scientific information on vaccines, and the diseases they prevent.


In Summary, vaccines do not cause autism. They do not poison children, and they are not a money-making medical scheme. Vaccines are an imperative part of public health. From measles to meningitis, smallpox to HPV, countless lives and communities have been spared the suffering and death associated with varied diseases since the creation of the first vaccine just 200 years ago so if you haven't already, go get vaccinated.


Information shared by Devi Bajaj

Executive Director of Enliven Concierge


Below are links to some articles related to the information above:


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