HealthHealth SciencesMedicine

Vaccine Myths

Clare Mangubats picture

Since their conception, vaccinations have contributed tremendously to society by allowing populations to build immunity to deadly diseases. For example, this technology eradicated smallpox worldwide by 1980[1] and decreased incidences of polio by more than 99% in the United States since 1988.[2] However, confidence in vaccination’s ability to prevent disease contraction seems to have decreased over the years, as skepticism about its efficiency has spread throughout the country. Olive et al. (2018) found that the 18 states in the United States that allow nonmedical exemptions attributable to philosophical beliefs for vaccinations are experiencing an increase of children enrolling in kindergarten with nonmedical vaccine exemptions.[3]In other words, this study saw an increase in unvaccinated children due to anti-vaccination beliefs in the United States.

These nonmedical vaccine exemptions are due to negative philosophical beliefs about immunizations. Specifically, some people wrongfully believe that vaccines are causative of autism, are not truly responsible for eliminating certain diseases, and are useless for able-bodied individuals. While seemingly harmless, these negative beliefs have the potential to bring back previously eliminated diseases. In fact, as the prevalence in these beliefs has risen over the past years, so too have incidences of measles. Declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, measles has appeared among 1,249 individuals in 2019 from January to October alone, the highest number of cases since 1992.[4] Thus, it is crucial that people are educated about the truth regarding immunizations, so that they can make knowledgeable decisions about whether or not they and their families get vaccinated.

Do Vaccines Cause Autism?

Many oppose vaccinations because of the faulty belief that immunizations can cause autism. This myth stems from a 1998 study claiming that the MMR vaccine is linked with autism.[5] Yet, Alison Knopf, a freelance journalist specializing in mental health and addiction issues and the managing editor of The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter, reveals that Adam Wakefield, the doctor who implemented the study in 1998, was funded by lawyers intending to sue vaccine companies and only had twelve subjects for his research.[6] Furthermore, the published results for all twelve of these participants were misinterpreted or altered.[7] Due to this distortion of his findings, Wakefield’s paper was eventually retracted and his medical license revoked.[8] [5]. Clearly, Wakefield’s research was purposefully implemented to make vaccinations appear harmful. A study with contrived results and a sample of twelve can not legitimately support the claim that vaccines cause autism.

To further debunk this myth, many studies published after Wakefield’s prove that there is no causal relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism.[9],[10],[11] [8, 9, 10]. The largest of these studies involved over 500,000 Danish children and found that the incidence of autism was identical among children who received the vaccine and those who had not.[12] [10]. This study has both a large sample size and a credible methodology, so its findings can clearly prove that there is no link between the MMR vaccine and autism. While it is important to consider any potential negative side effects that could arise from a vaccination, it is imperative that all final decisions reached are based on proven, reliable research.

Are Vaccines Not Responsible for Eliminating Certain Diseases?

Some anti-vaccinators attribute the elimination in incidence of particular diseases, such as measles, to improved hygiene and sanitation rather than vaccinations. While these two factors definitely contribute to better living conditions by improving cleanliness and reducing the spread of bacteria[13] [11] hygiene and sanitation do not truly provide immunity to certain illnesses (e.g., polio, measles) in the same way that vaccines do. Vaccinations work by strengthening immune reactions to particular viruses. When a vaccinated individual is exposed to a virus, their body is thus more capable of fighting that virus off, which reduces the likelihood of that individual contracting symptoms and spreading the virus to others. When large populations are vaccinated, it becomes significantly harder for these viruses to infect individuals because the virus can die in the body of someone with a strengthened immune response. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a single dose of the MMR vaccine is about 93% effective, and a second dose is about 97% effective.[14] [12]. Even though better hygiene and sanitation can contribute to the reduction in disease incidences by decreasing the amount of general bacteria in an area and lessening the spread of bacteria, they cannot specifically strengthen individual immunity to diseases.

In regards to measles, Dr. Paul Otiff, an infectious disease specialist and director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, states that there were about three to four million cases a year, 48,000 hospitalizations, and 500 deaths in the U.S. before a nationwide vaccination problem for measles was implemented in 1963.[15] [13]. It is evident that measles rampaged the country. However, vaccination was the reason for its elimination in the U.S. in 2000. With the majority of the country developing immunity to a disease, that illness would undoubtedly die out because of vaccines.

Are Vaccines Unnecessary for Able-Bodied Individuals?

Some healthy individuals that are against vaccinations believe that they do not need vaccines because they can rely purely on herd immunity (immunity of a population to a specific disease such that the spread of that disease is rare[16] [14]) for protection. However, this is not accurate due to its unreliability and the decreasing percentage of the immunized. In his article “Measles Vaccination is Best for Children: The Argument for Relying on Herd Immunity Fails,” Dr. Johan C. Bester, an expert on vaccine ethics, bioethics, and education for medicine, states that herd immunity requires about ninety-three to ninety-five percent of the population to be immune to measles.[17] [15]. Furthermore, the proportion of the population without immunity include those who experience primary vaccine failure, experience secondary vaccine failure, and cannot receive the vaccine (e.g, the very young, allergic, those with poor immune systems).[18] [15]. It is difficult to maintain this high percentage of immunity with this significant non-immunized portion of the population, so those who choose not to get vaccines when they are able to do so increase the risk for the population to encounter deadly diseases. According to a 2016 report by the CDC, 90.7% of adolescents aged 13-17 were vaccinated against measles, mumps, and rubella in 2015, 91.1% of adolescents aged 13-17 were vaccinated against Hepatitis B, and 86.4% of adolescents aged 13-17 received the Tdap vaccine.[19] [16]. While these numbers appear relatively high, they do not meet Bester’s requirement for successful application of herd immunity. It is imperative that strong herd immunity protection is maintained to prevent deadly diseases from being spread. Vaccinations not only protect those who receive them but those who cannot receive them, and they are only a benefit to everyone in society.

Conclusion

In order to properly decide whether or not to receive immunizations and whether or not one’s families should be vaccinated, people must fully understand the benefits, risks, and functions of vaccinations. In countries like the United States, where vaccinations are extremely accessible, everyone should try to take advantage of these incredibly lucrative pieces of technology. People are becoming ill and dying around the globe, in places where vaccines are not accessible to the general public. In contrast, many people in first world countries take vaccines for granted. Encountering someone who is carrying a virus is unpredictable, but being vaccinated can prepare one’s immune system for those encounters and save lives.

Bibliography

“About Measles Vaccination: Vaccination and Immunization.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed May 4, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/measles/index.html.

Bester, Johan Christiaan. “Measles Vaccination Is Best for Children.” Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 14, no. 3 (August 2017): 375-384.

Black, Corri, James A. Kaye, and Hershel Jick. “Relation of Childhood Gastrointestinal Disorders to Autism: Nested Case-Control Study using Data from the UK General Practice Research Database.” BMJ 325 (August 2002): 419-421.

“CDC Continues to Support the Global Polio Eradication Effort.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. March 18, 2016. https://www.cdc.gov/polio/updates/index.htm/.

Godlee, Fiona, Jane Smith, and Harvey Marcovitch. “Wakefield’s article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent.” BMJ 342, (January 2011): c7452.

Honda, Hideo, Yasuo Shimizu, and Michael Rutter. “No effect of MMR withdrawal on the incidence of autism: a total population study.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 46, no. 6 (June 2005): 572-579.

Madsen, Kreesten Meldgaard, Anders Hviid, Mogens Vestergaard, Diana Schendel, Jan Wohlfahrt, Poul Thorsen, Jorn Olsen, and Mads Melbye. “A population-based study of measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination and autism.” New England Journal of Medicine 357, no. 19 (2002): 1477-1482, 10.1056/NEJMoa021134.

Olive, Jacqueline K., Peter J. Hotez, Ashish Damania, and Melissa S. Nolan. “The State of the Antivaccine Movement in the United States.” Global Biodefense. June 28, 2018. https://globalbiodefense.com/2018/06/28/the-state-of-the-antivaccine-movement-in-the-united-states/.

Patel, Manisha, Adria D. Lee, Nakia S. Clemmons, Susan B. Redd, Sarah Poser, Debra Blog, Jane R. Zucker, Jessica Leung, Ruth Link-Gelles, Huong Pham, Robert J. Arciulo, Elizabeth Rausch-Phung, Bettina Bankamp, Paul A. Rota, Cindy M. Weinbaum, and Paul A. Gastańaduy. “National Update on Measles Cases and Outbreaks – United States, January 1 – October 1, 2019.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 68, no. 40 (2019): 893-896.

Quick, Jonathan D. and Heidi Larson. “The Vaccine-Autism Myth Started 20 Years Ago. Here’s Why It Still Endures Today.” TIME. February 28, 2018. https://time.com/5175704/andrew-wakefield-vaccine-autism/.

Knopf, Alison. “Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism: Pediatricians Fight Back Against Anti-Science.” The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter 33, no. S2 (January 2017): 1-2.

Reddy, Sumathi. “Your Health: Doctors Learn to Talk Vaccines — as Many Parents Resist Having their Children Vaccinated, Pediatricians Practice the Science and Art of Persuasion.” Wall Street Journal. February 16, 2015. https://www.wsj.com/articles/doctors-learn-to-talk-vaccines-1424126566.

“Smallpox.” World Health Organization. Accessed May 3, 2020. https://www.who.int/csr/disease/smallpox/en/.

United States’ National Center for Health Statistics.Health, United States, 2016: With Chartbook on Long-Term Trends in Health.” National Center for Health Statistics. May 2017.

“Vaccine Glossary of Terms.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed May 4, 2019. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/terms/glossary.html.

“Water, Sanitation & Environmentally-related Hygiene.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed July, 2019. https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/hygiene/fast_facts.html.

Footnotes

  1. “Smallpox,” World Health Organization, accessed May 3, 2020, https://www.who.int/csr/disease/smallpox/en/.
  2. “CDC Continues to Support the Global Polio Eradication Effort,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 18, 2016, https://www.cdc.gov/polio/updates/index.htm/.
  3. Jacqueline K. Olive, Peter J. Hotez, Ashish Damania, and Melissa S. Nolan, “The State of the Antivaccine Movement in the United States,” Global Biodefense, June 28, 2018, https://globalbiodefense.com/2018/06/28/the-state-of-the-antivaccine-movement-in-the-united-states/.
  4. Patel, Manisha et al, “National Update on Measles Cases and Outbreaks – United States, January 1 – October 1, 2019,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 68, no. 40 (2019): 893.
  5. Jonathan D. Quick and Heidi Larson, “The Vaccine-Autism Myth Started 20 Years Ago. Here’s Why It Still Endures Today,” TIME. February 28, 2018, https://time.com/5175704/andrew-wakefield-vaccine-autism/.
  6. Alison Knopf, “Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism: Pediatricians Fight Back Against Anti-Science,” The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter 33, no. S2 (January 2017): 1-2.
  7. Fiona Godlee, Jane Smith, and Harvey Marcovitch, “Wakefield’s article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent,” BMJ 342, (January 2011): c7452.
  8. Jonathan D. Quick and Heidi Larson, “The Vaccine-Autism Myth Started 20 Years Ago. Here’s Why It Still Endures Today,” TIME. February 28, 2018, https://time.com/5175704/andrew-wakefield-vaccine-autism/.
  9. Corri Black, James A. Kaye, and Hershel Jick, “Relation of Childhood Gastrointestinal Disorders to Autism: Nested Case-Control Study using Data from the UK General Practice Research Database,” BMJ 325 (August 2002): 419-421.
  10. Kreesten Meldgaard Madsen et al., “A population-based study of measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination and autism,” New England Journal of Medicine 357, no. 19 (2002): 1477-1482, 10.1056/NEJMoa021134
  11. Hideo Honda, Yasuo Shimizu, and Michael Rutter, “No effect of MMR withdrawal on the incidence of autism: a total population study,” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 46, no. 6 (June 2005): 572-579.
  12. Hideo Honda, Yasuo Shimizu, and Michael Rutter, “No effect of MMR withdrawal on the incidence of autism: a total population study,” 572-579.
  13. “Water, Sanitation & Environmentally-related Hygiene,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed July, 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/hygiene/fast_facts.html.
  14. “About Measles Vaccination: Vaccination and Immunization,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed May 4, 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/measles/index.html.
  15. Sumathi Reddy, “Your Health: Doctors Learn to Talk Vaccines — as Many Parents Resist Having their Children Vaccinated, Pediatricians Practice the Science and Art of Persuasion,” Wall Street Journal, February 16, 2015, https://www.wsj.com/articles/doctors-learn-to-talk-vaccines-1424126566.
  16. “Vaccine Glossary of Terms,” Center for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed May 4, 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/terms/glossary.html.
  17. Johan Christiaan Bester, “Measles Vaccination Is Best for Children,” Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 14, no. 3 (August 2017): 375-384.
  18. Johan Christiaan Bester, “Measles Vaccination Is Best for Children,” Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 14, no. 3 (August 2017): 375-384.
  19. United States’ National Center for Health Statistics,Health, United States, 2016: With Chartbook on Long-Term Trends in Health,” National Center for Health Statistics, May 2017

About The Author

Clare Mangubats pictureClare is a sophomore at Drexel University majoring in Nursing, minoring in Psychiatric Rehabilitation along with Addictions Counseling, and aspiring to be a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. She is currently working as a Clinical Medicine Research at a sleep lab in University of Pennsylvania.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *