News media and social networks are frequently buzzing with debate over vaccines. Blame and misinformation are everywhere. UR Medicine pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Geoffrey Weinberg helps dispel the myths.
Here are the top three myths we hear from parents:
Myth #1. Vaccines cause side effects like autism.
In fact, study after study shows there is no cause or connection at all between vaccines and autism. Unfortunately, autism is often diagnosed in the first few years of life—around the time that kids get several vaccines, including the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella). But vaccines and autism have nothing to do with each other.
So, why the myth? In 1998, a British medical journal published a study that supposedly linked the MMR vaccine and autism symptoms in 12 children. However, that study has been discredited due to unethical behavior (the paper was retracted by the journal and the main author lost his medical license) and many other studies have shown no connection at all.
Although the cause of autism spectrum disorders is still not known, it is likely due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors, which do not include any vaccine ingredients.
Myth #2. Natural immunity is better for your child than vaccine-induced immunity.
Although the immunity you gain from surviving an illness can be very strong, it is not always perfect. And it is certainly not worth putting your child through the risk of a serious illness.
The truth is that natural infection from infections designed to be prevented by vaccines can cause serious illness and even death. Even chickenpox, which many adults remember from their childhood as a relatively minor illness, can sometimes lead to pneumonia and necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating disease), in addition to the common week-long illness, school and work absence, and incessant itching. Measles can, in rare cases, lead to encephalitis and death, in addition to the usual high fever and rash that can last a week or more. In just about every case, the immunity provided by vaccines is as good as natural disease can give, but is much safer!
Myth #3. Delaying vaccines is OK and avoids overloading your child’s immune system.
In fact, the modern vaccine schedule has been very carefully studied and specifically designed to keep children as safe as possible, yet as quickly as possible. When parents delay immunization or stray from the recommended schedule, they may be putting their children at risk of catching the illness before the immunization can protect them.
Your child’s immune system is exposed to hundreds, if not thousands, of germs through childhood, beginning in their first weeks of life. The vaccines used decades ago contained far more microbe components and impurities than today’s modern vaccines. Not only can your child’s immune system handle the recommended schedule, the vaccines they will get from your doctor are more refined and pure than your own childhood vaccines were.
Please make sure you and your children are up-to-date on your immunizations. If you do not know your immunization status or you are due for a vaccine, please see your primary care physician.
Geoffrey A. Weinberg, M.D., is a pediatric infectious disease specialist at UR Medicine’s Golisano Children’s Hospital. He performs research on the improvement, effectiveness and safety of vaccines through the New Vaccine Surveillance Network, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.