Five common myths about vaccines

Jun 3, 2019, 15:47 PM by Drs. Megan Berman and Richard Rupp

MYTH: I don’t need vaccines if I’m healthy 

We’re healthy until we’re not. No one plans on getting sick, much like how no one plans to get into a car accident, but we wear our seatbelt to protect us just in case. Even healthy people can become gravely ill from diseases such as measles or the flu, among others, if they’re not vaccinated. Additionally, healthy folks can spread disease to others with weaker immune systems. Some vaccines can also prevent cancer, and immunizing someone who’s healthy increases the likelihood of a good immune response. 

MYTH: Natural infection is better than immunization. 

The immune system doesn’t know the difference between a natural infection and a vaccination. It recognizes or “sees” something foreign, mounts an immune response, and then provides protection. Some vaccines actually provide a better immune response than natural infection. The real difference between natural infection and immunization is the price you pay. After natural infection, serious consequences can occur including paralysis, permanent brain damage, liver failure, liver cancer, deafness, blindness, loss of limbs and death. The cost of a vaccine is typically a few dollars. 

MYTH: Giving an infant multiple vaccines can overwhelm the immune system. 

Babies are exposed to bacteria immediately when passing through the birth canal. Healthy babies begin making antibodies, or weapons, to protect against infection right away. By comparison, vaccines use just a tiny amount of a virus to create an immune system response. Although today’s children receive more vaccines than in the past, the vaccines contain fewer antigens— the substance that induces an immune response in the body—than previous vaccines. 

MYTH: The flu shot gave me the flu. 

The influenza shot contains a dead virus, so it cannot cause infection. The vaccine uses part of the inactivated virus that the body recognizes as foreign to generate an immune response. It’s like showing someone a shell of a car — you would recognize it as being a car, but you cannot drive to Houston with it. 

Once the vaccine is given, it takes about two weeks to mount an immune response. It’s possible for someone to be exposed to the influenza virus before being vaccinated. It’s also possible to get infected with one of many other viruses common during the flu season and mistake these symptoms for the “flu.” No vaccine is 100 percent effective, so it’s still possible to get influenza despite the vaccine. The good news is that those who have the vaccine will have a less severe illness. 

MYTH: Vaccines cause autism. 

No, they do not. The 1998 study by Andrew Wakefield that started the autism link with vaccines was based on a biased study. In 2004, 10 of the 13 authors retracted the study’s interpretation. In addition, Wakefield had his medical license stripped and his research was labeled as “dishonest,” “irresponsible” and as showing a “callous disregard” for the suffering of children involved in the studies. There have been a series of articles proving that Wakefield’s work was not just bad science but a deliberate fraud.