You don’t have to look far to find vaccine myths and misconceptions.
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With flu season upon us — and with outbreaks of dangerous yet preventable diseases on the rise — now is the perfect time to rethink these myths, and what science tells us about them.
Myth No. 1: Vaccines cause autism
This autism myth has roots in research from 1998. However, the researcher behind it has since been barred from practicing medicine and found guilty of serious scientific misconduct for falsifying information and concealing bias. Dozens of groups have tried to repeat his findings with no success. Science has not validated a link between vaccines and autism.
Still, the myth persists. Emails, blogs and websites that cite “scientific research” or “clinical studies” often provide misleading or incorrect information. Some may even try to sell you “all natural” alternatives to prevent the disease. It’s understandable for parents to be afraid and seek alternatives — but pay close attention to the source of all scientific information.
“Vaccines have saved countless lives in the past. In the future, they’ll save even more — but only if people get the vaccinations they need.”
Paul DiCorleto, PhD
Lerner Research Institute
Myth No. 2: Measles and whooping cough have been eradicated
An effective vaccine for whooping cough has been available since the 1940s. Yet a 2010 outbreak killed 10 infants and sickened many more in California. New research suggests the outbreak was caused by many parents refusing to vaccinate their kids.
Similarly, measles outbreaks in several states have brought the disease back into the spotlight, 13 years after it was declared “eliminated” by the United States. Twenty-one people recently caught the measles at a church in Texas. Most had not been vaccinated.
When groups of people are vaccinated, a “community immunity” develops. By controlling the spread of disease, vaccination not only protects the healthy members of a group, but also those with weakened immune systems, such as the elderly, and those who cannot receive certain vaccines, such as infants or pregnant women.
Refusing vaccines puts you — and others — at risk.
Myth No. 3: The flu shot doesn’t work
The influenza virus is notorious for its ability to mutate and evade the immune system. However, researchers are constantly monitoring and analyzing how it spreads. They collect thousands of samples and use sophisticated models to predict which strains will be most important from year to year. This information helps them design the next seasonal flu vaccine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that last year’s vaccine reduced flu-related trips to the doctor by one-half for one strain of flu and two-thirds for another. While not perfect, the benefits of flu vaccination far outweigh the inconvenience and minor side effects, especially for those at high risk.
Myth No. 4: There is nothing new in vaccine research
Actually, immunotherapy is a hot area of research right now. Immunotherapy harnesses the power of the body’s own immune system to fight diseases such as cancer, malaria and even Alzheimer’s disease.
Our immune system normally fights cancerous cells, but tumors develop when these cells grow uncontrollably and overpower the system. Researchers study ways to give our immune systems a “memory” of cancer. Then our bodies are conditioned to keep cell growth in check. Several therapeutic cancer vaccines are in clinical trials or in research now.
For example, Qing Yi, MD, PhD, Chair of the Department of Cancer Biology at Cleveland Clinic, is working on a vaccine for multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer. And in two years, enrollment will begin for a clinical trial testing the world’s first preventive breast cancer vaccine, based on the research of Vincent K. Tuohy, PhD, Department of Immunology.
Vaccines have saved countless lives in the past. In the future, they’ll save even more — but only if people get the vaccinations they need.