Healthcare professionals are becoming increasingly concerned about the influence of ill-informed celebrities and social media influencers who support ‘anti-vaxing’ - a movement that sees individuals refuse to have themselves or their children vaccinated.
Dr Riccardo Di Cuffa, GP and founder of Your Doctor, busts the myths that regularly do the rounds in anti-vaccination circles, to give you complete peace of mind when vaccinating your child against harmful illnesses:
★ Do vaccines contain harmful ingredients?
FALSE: Excess aluminium is eliminated from the body shortly after the vaccine’s administration, rendering it harmless. Formaldehyde is a component found in paper towels and mascara, and is used to detoxify diphtheria and tetanus. It is normal for a level of formaldehyde to be found within the blood stream – in fact, there are usually naturally higher levels of formaldehyde found in the blood than the levels found within vaccines, rendering it harmless.
★ Do vaccines cause autism?
FALSE: Fraudulent research linking the Measles Mumps & Rubella (MMR) jab to autism by the disgraced British doctor Andrew Wakefield has led to cross-cultural hesitancy of vaccination. However, the study was rendered invalid in 2010 and labelled the most damaging medical publication in the last 100 years. Vaccines do not cause autism.
★ Can vaccines increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome?
FALSE: Babies receive multiple vaccines when they are between two and four months old, which also happens to be the peak age range for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). However, studies have proven that vaccines do not have a causal link to SIDS in any way.
Can you catch the disease from the vaccine?
FALSE: You cannot get the illness you are being vaccinated against. If you get mild symptoms, such as an arm swelling or a low-grade temperature, then you are experiencing your body’s immune system response, not the disease itself.
★ Will vaccines increase your risk of developing allergies?
FALSE: There is no medical evidence to suggest that vaccinations in infancy and childhood increase the risk of developing asthma or other allergic diseases.
★ Will multiple vaccinations weaken your child’s natural immune system?
FALSE: Although children receive more vaccines than in the past, today’s vaccines contain far fewer antigens. However, this probably wouldn’t make too much of a difference anyway, as any vaccine only requires a tiny proportion of a child’s immune system for it to respond and create antigens.
★ Does natural infection (by catching the disease) provide better immunity than a vaccine?
FALSE: There is no evidence to support the claim that recovering naturally from an infection will give you better immunity against that specific disease. On the other hand, untreated diseases can actually cause sinister health defects, such as deafness, blindness, loss of limbs, brain damage, liver failure and, in the worst cases, death. Vaccination is always the safest choice.
★ Have disease rates dropped due to factors other than vaccination?
FALSE: While better living conditions have influenced disease rates, statistics have shown that when developed countries stop using vaccines, such as whooping cough and now measles, the disease rate jumps dramatically.
★ Are you just as likely to get the illness even if you are vaccinated against it?
FALSE: When an outbreak of disease reaches an area, anyone is at risk, because no vaccination can claim to be 100 per cent effective. However, individuals who are vaccinated are far less likely to catch the disease compared with unvaccinated individuals.
★ Vaccines aren't worth the risk
FALSE: Adults and children have been vaccinated for years and there is no single credible study that links vaccines to long-term health conditions. Plus, the incidence of death, such as an allergic reaction or severe side effect, is so rare that it cannot be even calculated.
★ I don’t need to get vaccinated if everyone else is
FALSE: Herd immunity describes the way in which an entire population becomes protected from a disease after vaccinations, by stopping the germ responsible for the infection being transmitted between people. In this way, even people who cannot be vaccinated can still gain protection to some extent, because the germ has been contained by the vaccination of the general population.
However, if you are one of the majority who can get vaccinated, it is important to do so, to help protect the vulnerable, such as young babies or cancer patients, who can’t be vaccinated. If the number of vaccinated individuals in a community drops, that particular population loses its herd immunity, thereby putting the most vulnerable at risk.