The development of vaccines represents the biggest achievement in the battle against infectious diseases during the last century. Unfortunately, there are many myths surrounding vaccines that discourage people from getting vaccinated. This is the second of a two-part series that explores common myths and important facts about vaccines.
Myth or fact: “Vaccines have eliminated many diseases in the United States; there is no longer any need to be vaccinated against diseases that have become rare.”
Fact: It is true that the U.S. is now at all-time low levels of vaccine-preventable diseases. Diphtheria, for example, was a common cause of death among children in the early 1900s, but thanks to the development of the diphtheria vaccine, this disease rarely occurs anymore in the U.S. However, you still need to be vaccinated for it because diphtheria is common in other parts of the world (a major diphtheria outbreak occurred in Russia, Ukraine and other nearby countries in the 1990s). Vaccination will protect you from catching diphtheria from people visiting the U.S. who come from countries where diphtheria is more common.
Myth or fact: “People in the prime of their lives with healthy immune systems do not need vaccines.”
Fact: During the flu pandemic of 2009-2010 many of the people who died from this infection were neither children nor the elderly. Most of those who died from that pandemic were in the prime of their lives—even 19-year-olds fell victim. This made it clear that the flu does not discriminate; anyone of any age can be a victim.
Myth or fact: “Vaccines should be avoided because you should let your own immune system fight off infections.”
Fact: Even when you get vaccinated ,you are still letting your immune system fight off infections. It is not the vaccine but your own immune system that does the fighting. All vaccines do is teach your immune system to recognize viruses and bacteria sooner and therefore respond quicker to an infection. Would you rather have an army that recognizes the enemy quickly and wins the battle swiftly, or an army that takes too long to recognize the enemy and therefore responds too late to spare you from suffering? That is the main difference between being vaccinated and not being vaccinated.
There are other advantages. Bacteria are becoming more resistant to antibiotics. Streptococcus, a bacteria that causes pneumonia, used to be treated with penicillin alone, but now Streptococcus has become so resistant to penicillin that other antibiotics have to be used. It is a reality that the more we use antibiotics the less effective they are over time as bacteria become more resistant to them. However, we would not need to rely so heavily on antibiotics if more people got vaccinated. By preventing serious infections in the first place, vaccines are truly our most powerful allies in our fight against infectious diseases.
Myth or fact: “Vaccines cause autism.”
Fact: In 1998, a paper was published in a medical magazine The Lancet that suggested vaccines cause autism. This paper triggered a worldwide public scare. After that paper came out there were 14 other studies in which experts evaluated the evidence to confirm whether or not there really is a connection. They looked at data involving hundreds of thousands of children. All 14 studies found no link between vaccines and autism. Furthermore, it was found that the investigator who proposed there was a connection had committed fraud; he had manipulated the evidence, used improper research techniques and committed other ethical violations. As a result, The Lancet retracted the article in 2010. Unfortunately, the damage was done; once a belief finds its way into popular culture, the belief, whether validated or not, tends to remain entrenched. Thus, the controversy that vaccines cause autism persists.
For more information on vaccines, the following websites provide trustworthy and updated information:
The following website tells you which vaccines are covered by Medicare: