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Righting the Wrongs on Vaccinations

Vaccines work. We're busting some of the most common myths around vaccinations so you can learn the truth.

Vaccines work. According to the World Health Organization nothing else in the world, with the exception of safe water and antibiotics, has had such a major effect on saving children’s lives than vaccines.

But there are persistent myths about vaccinations that need to be tackled. They’re not only inaccurate, but harmful, because they contribute to the number of parents choosing not to immunise their children.

Read on to find out the truth about vaccinations, and click here to read the top ten facts you need to know about vaccinations.

Myth 1: Vaccines contain ingredients that can harm or even sterilise people

Extremely misleading. Ingredients such as mercury (thimerosal), formaldehyde and aluminium can be found in some vaccines, but they are found in such tiny amounts that are not dangerous to the human body.

The myth about sterilisation chemicals inside tetanus vaccines is completely false and has been thoroughly debunked.

Vaccines save the lives of up to three million children every year.

Myth 2: Choosing not to vaccinate is a personal decision that only affects me and no one else.  

Wrong. The benefits of vaccination go well beyond the person being vaccinated. Humans rely on a thing called herd immunity. That’s where enough of a population is vaccinated to protect those people who haven’t been able to develop an immunity – like babies too young to be immunised, cancer patients, the elderly, or those with immune system problems.

Diseases like measles are so contagious that around 95% of people need to be fully vaccinated against it to prevent sustained outbreaks. When healthy people choose not to vaccinate it limits the effectiveness of herd immunity, and puts our most vulnerable people at risk.

Worldwide measles vaccinations resulted in a 84% drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2016.

Myth 3: Vaccines have never had proper double-blind placebo tests

Very misleading. It would be completely unethical to placebo test some vaccines. Imagine your child being one of the 50% of test participants who received the placebo vaccination and was therefore unprotected from a deadly disease! This kind of test just wouldn’t pass the ethical standards required to go ahead.

However, there have many studies comparing the health of vaccinated people with unvaccinated people. One study showed the chance of contracting a vaccine-preventable disease was much higher in unvaccinated children, but that the prevalence of allergies was exactly the same regardless of whether they’d had vaccinations or not.

Almost one third of deaths among children under 5 are preventable by vaccine

Myth 4: I don’t have to vaccinate against diseases that are no longer common like polio

Wrong. Just because a disease is no longer widespread in your country, doesn’t mean you are completely immune from it. It’s still important to vaccinate Kiwi kids against diseases like polio in case it is brought back in to the country by travellers, or they travel to any area where it is present. Polio is extremely close to being eradicated, and continued vaccines are the only way to ensure that happens.

So far in 2018 there have been just five reported cases of polio in the entire world.

Myth 5: Kids’ natural immune systems are good enough to protect against diseases

Wrong. Apart from a vaccine, the only way to get immunity to a disease is to be infected with it in the first place. You are much more likely to get sick from the disease before you develop resistance, but of course, you won’t know how sick you might get. Diseases such as whooping cough, rotavirus and measles can all cause serious complications and even death. Immunisation, on the other hand, lets you build immunity against diseases with a much, much lower risk of getting sick.

Malnourished children, like many of those Unicef works with in the developing world, are nine times more likely to die of preventable disease than well-nourished children.

Myth 6: The polio vaccine is contaminated with a cancer-causing virus

Wrong. This myth claims that over an 8-year period, 98 million Americans received a polio vaccine containing an ingredient that caused cancer – SV40. However scientific research tells us that SV40 does not cause cancer, any traces of SV40 would pass harmlessly through the body, and in fact polio vaccines haven’t had SV40 in them since 1963. Read more about the science behind the vaccine’s development here.

Thanks to vaccines, polio has almost been eradicated. Polio is now endemic in just three countries.

Myth 7: Improvements in hygiene and sanitation are solely responsible for the reduced cases of diseases  

Misleading and wrong. Improved sanitation, better nutrition and greater access to clean water have certainly helped with the drop in infectious disease cases, however vaccines have contributed significantly to this decline.

When a country’s immunisation levels drop, huge spikes in cases of that disease can be seen, as in the UK, Sweden and Japan when the whooping cough vaccine was not widely provided. 

With a disease like measles, there was a massive and permanent drop in cases after a vaccine became readily available in 1963. In 1961, there were 763,000 cases of measles in the UK, and 152 people died.  By 2016 there were fewer than 2000 cases, and one death, which was due to a secondary infection.

Myth 8: Vaccines are more harmful than the disease and can cause allergic reactions

Inaccurate and misleading. Vaccines are not harmful for the vast majority of people, and serious allergic reactions happen in only about one in a million cases. However, for the unvaccinated, the risk of contracting a disease like measles if they are exposed to the virus is almost guaranteed. 

The risk of coming down with a vaccine preventable disease is far greater for the unvaccinated than the risk of an allergic reaction to the vaccine that would protect against the disease.

In some displaced groups, up to 30% of measles cases can result in death.

Myth 9: Vaccines cause autism

Utterly wrong. The outrageous myth that the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine causes autism has been circulating for the past 20 years. The origin of this claim was a 1998 “research paper” by disgraced medical researcher Andrew Wakefield, which was later revealed to be unethical, fraudulent and containing seriously manipulated evidence. Wakefield was later found to have been paid over $760,000 NZD by a group of lawyers who were trying to claim that vaccines were harmful.

The paper has been labelled as “perhaps, the most damaging medical hoax of the last 100 years”.

Unfortunately, many celebrities have added fuel to the fire of this now completely discredited claim including Jenny McCarthy, Cindy Crawford, and even US President Donald Trump.

meta-analysis of 1.2m children has shown there is absolutely no link between the MMR vaccine and autism.