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Debunking the Myths About Vaccinations

By Michele Kacmarcik Savin, MSN, NN P-BC

Debunking the Myths About Vaccinations

Can you remember where you first heard it? Maybe it was while you were in the grocery line reading the tabloids. Were you listening to your favorite talk show? Or was it during coffee with friends when you heard: “Immunizations are dangerous to children.” “There are too many, too soon.” “They’re not really needed because the diseases they treat aren’t a problem anymore.”

Or perhaps you heard the scariest myth of all: “Immunizations are full of poisons and give children horrible disorders.” Your neighbor says she hasn’t immunized her children because her best friend’s son has autism, and there’s no way she will give any of those “poison shots” to her kids.

You think to yourself “what am I supposed to do?” Like most parents you want the best for your children, and you’d never place them in harm’s way. But experts are certain that avoiding immunization is not the safe solution you may think it is.

The autism myth

First let’s clear up some of the myths. The fears suggesting a link between autism and the MMR vaccine are unfounded and primarily come from one British medical study published in 1998 that was recently retracted (by the prestigious journal that initially published it) because of its bad science.

Twelve years ago, the Lancet published a very small study in England that suggested a link between autism and the MMR vaccine. The British press publicized the story and vaccination rates plummeted. Can you guess what happened next?

The rates of childhood illnesses that were formerly almost eradicated began to skyrocket. The British physician who performed the study, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, continues to stand behind his work and today runs a research clinic in Texas. He has many supportive followers. However, his research has never been supported or reproduced by other experts.

In fact, the researchers who have tried to do so haven’t been able to find the same link. As a result, judges in US courts have denied lawsuits suggesting such, as have our major medical establishments. Wakefield’s study was found to have mistakes, and the way in which the research was conducted was found to be unethical.

This past January, the Lancet did something research journals almost never do – it removed the study from its records as if it had never been published. In fact, this type of retraction is so rare it has only ever been done 15 times in this journal in 186 years of scholarly medical publishing.

Rather, autism is a multi-factorial disorder with a range of symptoms. No doubt it’s a devastating problem, one which is coincidentally most frequently diagnosed during the same time frame in which the MMR vaccine is given. A lot of research is underway worldwide regarding autism, but no other research has ever found a link between any vaccine and autism.

Immunization’s protective effects

“Well,” you say, “I really don’t want to take the chance. It’s not a big deal, right?” Wrong. Childhood immunization protects against 15 diseases that are rare in the US but widespread in other parts of the world. If your child isn’t immunized, he or she is protected by the immunized children around them. Until vaccination rates plummet, like they did in Britain, and we begin to see those diseases emerge again.

The reality today is that any disease is as close as a plane ride away. Anyone your son or daughter comes in contact with could be harboring an illness that may prove devastating. That’s why we’re now seeing many international agencies working to eradicate diseases we don’t even have to think about anymore. The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation spends millions on vaccines each year in the developing world to create the biggest impact possible to overall global health. Without vaccines, many more children would die.

“I still don’t get it,” you say. “My doctor said I gave my immunity to my baby when I was nursing her.” And that’s true, but only for things you are immune to and only for a short period of time. We vaccinate babies because they’re at more risk from diseases than older children, yet their immune systems are strong enough to handle the small amount of weakened or killed viruses in vaccines. The vaccines help your child’s immune system do its job without your child having to contract small pox or measles or rubella.

Did you know all 50 states currently have laws restricting unvaccinated children from public schools? Most of these laws also have exemptions for medical and religious reasons. A federal program called Vaccines for Children provides free vaccines to eligible children. Talk to your pediatrician about which vaccines your baby will need after birth and as he grows up.

Getting vaccinated

Most of the recommended vaccines come in a combination form so that your child doesn’t need so many injections. Older children also receive immunizations for Meningococcal, Hepatitis A, and Human Papilloma. Every year the seasonal flu vaccine is modified for the prevailing flu types. This year the H1N1 Flu strain was added and will now become part of the seasonal flu vaccine.

In the US, pertussis (whooping cough) is the only vaccine-preventable disease on the rise, and it’s reaching epidemic rates not seen in 50 years. Currently, the CDC recommends pertussis vaccination or a booster for the following:

  • All women who are trying to conceive, who are pregnant at a gestational age of at least 20 weeks or more, or who are postpartum. The Tdap vaccine is recommended after 20 weeks gestation because it ensures baby gets the greatest benefit from the build-up of antibodies from mom. This gives baby the most protection against pertussis at birth and in the earliest months
  • Any adolescent ages 11 to 18 who may have completed childhood vaccinations and will now need one lifetime booster
  • Adults of all ages, especially parents, grandparents, caregivers and anyone who will be providing care for a baby, particularly infants ages newborn to 12 months

Your pediatrician or your hospital may give you a “shot record keeper,” and your child’s healthcare provider will keep an official record. Talk to your healthcare provider if your baby or child has a mild fever, cold, or diarrhea – in most cases they can still receive the scheduled vaccine.

If you still have nagging concerns about the safety of immunizations, discuss those with your pediatrician or your own healthcare provider. That way, the next time you are presented with alarming stories regarding immunization, you’ll know you have the medical facts on your side.

Vaccinations Schedule

At birthHep B
2 monthsHep B, DTaP, PCV, Hib, Polio, RV
4 monthsDTaP, PCV, Hib, Polio, RV
6 monthsHep B, DTaP, PCV, Hib, Polio, RV
12 monthsMMR, PCV, Hib, Varicella, Hep A
15 monthsDTaP

Get the Facts

About the Author: Michele Kacmarcik Savin, MSN, NNPBC is a neonatal nurse practitioner at Christiana Care Health Services in Wilmington, DE.


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