Mahi Wants You Healthy and Happy – A column using science to focus on physical health and myths associated with disease.
The modern age has seen a surge in popularity and support of the controversial “anti-vaccination” crusade. The study that gave rise to this movement was conducted by ex-physician, Andrew Wakefield, who claimed the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine was linked to autism. While this study and various other claims about the negative effects of vaccines have since been discredited by the scientific community, the perceived fears still exist today. As an effective coronavirus vaccine has been developed, it is critical that it is administered to the majority of the population in order for herd immunity to be achieved and spikes of new cases to be avoided.
Myth #1: Vaccines cause autism
A flawed study in the Lancet by Andrew Wakefield claimed that autism could be directly linked to the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine. An incorrect association between vaccines and autism continues to be used as a major argument against vaccines. However, this misconception has no rigorous scientific backing and the evidence from Wakefield’s study is intentionally skewed. For example, the study claimed that each of the twelve children were “normal” prior to the vaccine. However, five children had pre-existing developmental concerns. Wakefield’s study was proven to be biased because he cherry-picked data that supported his hypothesis. Wakefield has since lost his license to practice medicine and his research has been disproved. Even he admitted that he was not able to find a causal relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism. The causes of autism stem from genetic and environmental factors, not vaccines. Spontaneous changes in genes that increase the risk of developing autism can be passed from generation to generation.
Myth #2: Vaccines weaken your immune system
Anti-vax parents believe that vaccines have the potential to increase the likelihood of contracting other diseases not targeted by the vaccine. This misconception is refuted by a case study that tested children’s immunity to hundreds of different infections. The study examined diseases not preventable by vaccines among children aged 2 to 4. The exposure to vaccines for each child was measured by summing up the number of antigens received in each vaccine dose through the first 23 months after birth. After comparing the cumulative antigen exposure (i.e. how many vaccines have been received) of children who contracted the infections to those that did not, it was determined that vaccines have no statistically significant effect on contracting these infections. In reality, the children who did not contract the diseases were found to have received greater doses of vaccines compared to the children who were infected.
Myth #3: Natural immunity is more effective than vaccines
Some claim that natural immunity is safer and stronger compared to the immune response from a vaccine. Natural immunity occurs when you become immune to a specific disease after contracting it. It is risky to have exposure to the actual disease because there is no telling who will recover quickly and who will have serious complications (with death as a possibility). Vaccines are carefully developed by scientists to ensure that it contains the smallest dose possible that still provides effective immunity. In fact, the HPV, Tetanus, Hib, and Pneumococcal vaccines actually induce a more effective immune response.
Myth #4: Vaccines can cause the disease it is supposed to prevent
Because the majority of vaccines involve injecting a form of the disease into the body, many believe that vaccines cause the very disease they are meant to prevent. Inactivated vaccines like those for Hepatitis A, Polio, Flu, and Rabies, can’t cause the disease or symptoms because the bacteria or virus is killed beforehand. Live-attenuated vaccines (e.g. MMR, Rotavirus, Chickenpox, Yellow fever), which use a weakened form of the bacteria or virus, rarely cause minor flu-like symptoms such as chills, fatigue, or headache. It is likely the body’s immune response to the vaccine, signaling that it is working. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine uses a more traditional approach of inserting a disabled adenovirus. Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are mRNA-based which are unlike either vaccine mentioned above; mRNA vaccines use encode protein to induce an antibody response.
Myth #5: Vaccines contain harmful chemicals
Paul A. Offit and Rita K. Jew’s study reassures that the risk for harm from substances in vaccines – thimerosal, formaldehyde, aluminum, antibiotics, and gelatin – is low to none. Based on exposure studies, the quantities of mercury (ranging from approximately 65-425 micrograms per dose, aluminum (ranging from approximately 0.17-0.85 milligrams per dose), and formaldehyde (less than 0.1 milligrams per dose) are far too low to be harmful.
Source: American Academy of Pediatrics
COVID-19 – the pandemic
Combatting the misinformation about vaccines has never been more important. With the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, the development and widespread usage of a vaccine is paramount to returning to normalcy. Please share this article and help us in our effort to educate others and save lives.
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Mahi Ravi is a senior at Saratoga High School who is dedicated to getting more vaccinators in line for the COVID shot. In her free time, Mahi leads a website The Corona Page (thecoronapage.com) for coronavirus research simplified to bite-sized nuggets of science. For a personal chronicle of the coronavirus pandemic, visit bit.ly/tcp101.
Alicia Loui is a biology major at the University of Pittsburgh minoring in chemistry and music. Outside of class, she is involved in leading the Healing Harmonies club and finding ways to volunteer in the community. She loves the outdoors, traveling, and trying new restaurants! In my free time, She enjoys playing the cello, running, and spending time with friends and family.
Reviewed by Dr. Amy MacNeill and Dr. Sanjay Mishra