"The myths surrounding vaccinations exposed"

April 30, 2019

There was a time, not so long ago, when many of the world’s population were at risk of dying from the diseases we can now readily treat with one of the great wonders of modern medicine: vaccines.

According to the World Economic Forum, smallpox was responsible for around 300 million deaths in the 20th century. We have also eradicated diphtheria, polio and dramatically reduced instances of measles and rubella in western countries.

“No medical intervention has been as effective as vaccination in improving the health of the world,” Emeritus Professor of Medicine at the University of New South Wales and president of Friends of Science in Medicine, John Dwyer, told MedAdvisor.

“Vaccinations has saved the lives of more people than any other scientific strategy.  I am old enough to remember how scared we were as children of polio which killed and crippled so many; now polio is almost eliminated from the world.”

And yet, Mr Dwyer and his colleagues, are concerned about the recent misinformation campaign surrounding vaccines, including false allegations from high-profile celebrities in the anti-vaccine movement (known as anti-vaxxers) that they’re not safe.

This, in part, has led to a spike in measles cases, with 92 confirmed cases of measles in Australia so far this year, compared to 103 for the whole of 2018.

The last week of April marks the World Health Organisation’s World Immunisation Week, which is a perfect opportunity to dispel a few myths about vaccines.

Vaccine myths

According to the Queensland Government’s Vaccination Matters website some of the most common myths are:

  • Vaccinations cause autism. Conclusive evidence proves that there is no link between the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and autism. In 1998, a paper was published claiming a link between the vaccine and autism, but the journal that published the claim has retracted the original paper because the data was found to be incorrect.
  • Vaccines do not weaken your baby’s immune system; in fact, they do the opposite.
  • Vaccines do not cause SIDS (cot death) with studies of thousands of children globally showing no link between immunisation and SIDS.
  • Vaccines do not cause allergic diseases such as asthma or eczema. Vaccines can cause allergic reactions in some people, however, the risk is low.

Who is peddling the lies?

So where does the misinformation come from?

According to Dr Dwyer it’s from a variety of sources, including misinformed celebrities, such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Pete Evans and Miranda Kerr; and people who distrust all orthodox medicine and its practitioners, such as some naturopaths, chiropractors and others invested in “alternative medicine”.

“Sometimes doctors involved in poor science make anti-vaccination statements, such as the notorious case of Dr Wakefield who started the scare campaign associated with the theory that vaccination was responsible for autism,” Mr Dwyer says.

“Also, an Australian with a ten-year history of anti-vaccination campaigning was controversially awarded a PhD from the University of Wollongong in which she claimed that the WHO, pharmaceutical companies and doctors were involved in a huge conspiracy to deceive the public about the dangers of vaccination.”

These are disturbing developments, Mr Dwyer says, and, in the case of celebrities promoting the anti-vaxxer movement, downright irresponsible.

“They have no training in medicine or science but in the eyes of some, celebrity status is associated with credibility,” he says.

“Anti-vaxxers often argue that modern vaccines contain material from three to five different infectious agents and such cocktails will overwhelm the immune system.

“They don’t understand that our immune system deals with hundreds of different challenges every day of our lives.”

While vaccines are extremely safe, like any medication, there can be side effects. The most common side effects of vaccines, according to Mr Dwyer are:

  • fever (that is, a temperature over 38.5C).
  • redness, swelling and tenderness around the area where the needle went in.
  • babies may be unsettled or sleepy.
  • sometimes, a small, hard lump (nodule) at the injection site may persist for some weeks or months. This should not be of concern and requires no treatment.

There is a very small chance of experiencing a serious reaction after immunisation.

“Nonetheless, this is why you are advised to stay at the clinic or medical surgery for at least 15 minutes after receiving a vaccine in case further treatment is required,” Mr Dwyer says.

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This story was written by Johanna Leggatt. Johanna is an Australian journalist with more than 15 years’ experience in both print and online. She has worked across a wide range of subject areas, including health, property, finance, interiors, and arts.

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