Myth 1: Vaccines Cause Autism
There are many myths surrounding vaccinations that are making some parents decide not to vaccinate their children, whether we’re talking about the MMR vaccine or an annual flu shot. Here are some of the biggest, and most harmful myths.
The myth that vaccines cause autism is relatively old, but it gained currency in the early 2000s on the basis of a 1998 study that purported to demonstrate a link between the two. It also received some celebrity support which helped lend it exposure and credibility. The supposed cause was the presence of thimerosal, which contains ethylmercury, which is an organic form of the metal mercury, which is known to be dangerous and affects the brain and nervous system.
Scientifically, there is no basis for this concern. The amount of mercury in vaccines is tiny. The form of mercury is not especially toxic. The study that promoted this concern has been discredited and retracted. Numerous other studies that looked at the connection show there is no link.
And even if you don’t believe the science about the science of this link, consider a few facts. First, increases in autism rates are not associated with any changes in the vaccination schedule. Second, thimerosal has been removed from childhood vaccines since 1999. Third, autism rates have continued to increase in recent years, despite no major changes in the vaccination schedule and the removal of thimersal. Finally, there have been so many changes in the last 30 years—including increased awareness and reporting of autism—that likely contribute to the increased autism rates.
Myth 2: Vaccines Don’t Really Work
People who are trying to make the case that vaccines aren’t worth the risk will argue that vaccines haven’t really helped protect people get rid of infectious diseases. They say that improved sanitation and medical care (other than vaccines) is really responsible for the declines we have seen in illness rates.
There is some truth to the fact that sanitation has helped rid us of some diseases (such as typhus and cholera, which are spread by means of water or food), and there is some truth that better response helped reduce deaths (the number of people dying from measles, for example, dropped from about 6000 a year in 1912 to around 500 a year in the 1950s). But it was only after the introduction of vaccines that people stopped getting the illnesses in question (for example, in the 1950s, about 48,000 children a year were hospitalized for the measles, and about 4000 a year developed dangerous encephalitis—swelling of the brain).
A great example of the effectiveness of vaccines comes from nearly 100 years ago (before the FDA or what some call Big Pharma existed), when there was a smallpox outbreak raged through Denver in 1922. It was partly caused by people who were suspicious of vaccination and didn’t want to be vaccinated. A group calling itself the “Medical Liberty League” even ran ads during the height of the epidemic telling people not to get vaccinated. Over a thousand cases of smallpox were reported, and more than 200 people died. At different points in the epidemic 80-90% of deaths were among people who had not been vaccinated. Those who had been vaccinated were vaccinated more than 20 years before contracting the disease.
Myth 3: Other Children will Protect Mine
There is some small risk associated with vaccination (less than 1 in a million children will experience an adverse effect), and some parents would rather not take that risk—they think they can avoid that risk but get all the benefits from vaccination because other parents will vaccinate.
Unfortunately, this is not true. First, there are some people who simply cannot be vaccinated because they are allergic, immune compromised, or just too young. Highly contagious diseases like measles can come from places where it runs rampant, then rapidly spread through unvaccinated populations. Every unvaccinated person becomes a potential link in the spread of the disease, and as more parents opt not to vaccinate, everyone’s risk goes up.
If you have heard other myths about vaccines, we strongly encourage you to talk to a doctor about them. We can help you understand the truths of vaccination so that you know how best to protect your children. If you are looking for a doctor in Littleton, CO, please contact Dr. Andy Fine today for an appointment.