Don’t Buy Into These Vaccine Myths

Your health — and your community’s — is too important

Don’t Buy Into These Vaccine Myths

When it comes to healthcare, few breakthroughs have been as beneficial as vaccines. They’ve wiped deadly diseases off the map. They’ve boosted our yearly flu immunity. They’re truly a medical marvel.

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So why is there still so much misinformation about vaccines and immunizations in the world? Check your social networks, talk shows and even political debates, and you’ll find no shortage of this misinformation.

Don’t believe the myths. Your own health — and the health of the people around you — is too important.

Myth 1: Vaccines cause autism

This myth persists despite ample evidence disputing it.

For example, in a large-scale study (more than 95,000 children) published in 2015, researchers found no link between having the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and the risk of developing autism. Perhaps even more important, there was no link even for children at high risk, such as those with an older sibling with autism.

That’s just the latest in a long string of research finding no causal relationship between vaccines and autism. It’s fair to look for answers when facing a tough diagnosis — but vaccines are not that answer.

Myth 2: If I “opt out” of vaccines, I’m only affecting my own health

The trouble with this falsehood is that vaccines work best when whole populations receive them.

The concept is called “herd immunity.” If most people are immune to a disease, then those who can’t be vaccinated or are at especially high risk for a disease will still get some protection — because the people around them won’t get sick.

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Case in point: When young people get flu shots, older people in their community are less likely to get the flu. That matters, because older people are more susceptible to the worst symptoms of the flu.

Myth 3: If a disease has been eradicated, your children don’t need to be vaccinated against it

This thinking is wrong, and it all comes back to herd immunity.

Because of vaccines, certain diseases, including measles, have been eliminated in many locations — but not everywhere. If people, especially children, are not vaccinated, we start to see these diseases popping up again. And the saddest part is that outbreaks are preventable.

If we stop vaccinating children — on time, according to approved schedules — we put them and future generations at risk for the same catastrophic diseases our ancestors suffered from.

Myth 4: Once you’re an adult, you don’t need vaccines anymore

A lot of the debate and discussion around vaccines focuses on children, but they’re important for adults, too.

For example, some vaccines — such as tetanus, diptheria and pertussis (tDap) — require boosters over time to remain effective. Many hospitals are making sure parents and grandparents are up to date on tDap in an effort to protect children’s health, too.

Other immunizations, including the flu vaccine, come as frequently as every year. No matter your age, ask your doctor during your annual well-check about which vaccines you have received in the past and which ones you might need. And your needs will vary if you’re traveling abroad.

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Myth 5: Getting a vaccine will make me sick

After getting a vaccine, you may have mild symptoms or pain. But you won’t contract the actual illness a vaccine is designed to protect you from, contrary to popular belief.

For example, the flu shot is not what we call a “live” vaccine. That means the virus it contains is not active. You can’t actually get the flu from the flu shot.

Doctors do take precautions with “live” vaccines such as MMR, which isn’t recommended for women who are pregnant, for instance. But women who are pregnant can have tDap and the flu shot. In fact, the flu shot is often recommended to prevent an unwanted sickness during pregnancy.

Some patients do have allergic reactions to vaccines. But those cases are rare, and we monitor them closely.

For most people, the protective benefits of vaccines far outweigh the mild discomfort that may come with them. And don’t forget, that protection doesn’t just matter for you — it matters for everyone around you.

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Michael Rabovsky, MD

Michael Rabovsky, MD, is Medical Advisor for the Health Essentials blog. He chairs the Department of Family Medicine in Cleveland Clinic’s Medicine Institute and actively promotes wellness and disease prevention.
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