A group of experts gathered at Aga Khan University on Friday, February 14, 2014 to shed light on the misconceptions surrounding vaccines and their use.
The panel included Dr Anita Zaidi, Professor and Chair, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Aga Khan University, Dr Saad B. Omer, Associate Professor, Global Health, Epidemiology, and Paediatrics Emory University, Schools of Public Health & Medicine & Emory Vaccine Center, USA and Dr Iqbal Memon, President, Pakistan Paediatrics Association. The discussion was moderated by Dr Syed Asad Ali, Assistant Professor, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Aga Khan University.
A number of myths were shattered during the course of the discussion including those below:
1. Does the polio vaccine make people infertile and unable to have kids in the future?
False: Polio vaccine has no impact on anyone’s fertility or his/her ability to have children in the future.
2. Drug companies make huge amount of money from vaccines. This is the reason they want us to use vaccines.
False: In actuality doctors and medical health professionals are main proponents for the use of vaccinations. As far as pharmaceuticals are concerned, they have to sell their medications at much cheaper rates in developing countries. Donor organizations like GAVI Alliance and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are dedicated to the cause of introducing life-saving vaccines in countries with low per capita income whose populations cannot afford the cost of any vaccine that is more than $1 per dose.
3. Vaccines have several damaging and long-term side-effects that are yet unknown. Vaccination can even be fatal.
False: A far greater number of injuries and fatalities would occur without the use of vaccines. Any reaction, such as soreness at the place of vaccination or a mild fever, is not severe and temporary. The risks of not taking vaccines are much greater for example not giving polio vaccines puts children at risk of lifelong paralysis at the rate of 1 per 100 if they are not immune and are exposed to the poliovirus.
4. Vaccine-preventable childhood illnesses are just an unfortunate fact of life. It is better to be immunized through disease than through vaccines.
False: Vaccines actually get the immune system to respond to the disease without actually causing the disease. The alternatives to not getting vaccinated are horrific, such as cancer of the liver from hepatitis B, mental retardation from Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), birth defects from rubella, or death from measles.
5. Giving a child more than one vaccine at a time can increase the risk of harmful side-effects, which can overload the child’s immune system.
False: There is no scientific evidence which proves that administering several vaccines at one time has any negative effects on a child’s immune system. In fact, a child is exposed to hundreds of foreign substances which can cause an immune response during the course of a routine day. The advantages of giving several vaccines at once include saving time and money, fewer trips to the clinic, fewer injections in the case of combined vaccines such as measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) and the surety that children will complete all recommended vaccinations on time.
6. Vaccines contain mercury which can cause autism.
False: Vaccines do not contain mercury in its original form. The compound Thiomersal is used as a preservative in vaccines which are provided in multi-dose vials. It is an organic compound which contains a very small amount of mercury and there is no evidence that this amount is harmful to the child’s health.