Immunization is one of the most important ways to help you stay healthy. Because there has been a lot of misinformation surrounding vaccines and their development, here we review some common myths circulating about vaccines and clear up confusion with reliable facts.
Myth: Better hygiene and sanitation are actually responsible for decreased infections, not vaccines.
Fact: While improved socioeconomic conditions have undoubtedly had a direct impact on disease (better nutrition, development of antibiotics, less crowded living conditions), vaccines have had a significant direct impact on the incidence of disease, even in modern times. One example is measles in the United States. Rates of infection dropped precipitously following the introduction of measles vaccines, from 400,000 cases per year in 1963 to 25 000 cases per year by 1970, without any notable changes in hygienic habits and sanitation.
Myth: There are too many vaccines; they weaken the immune system instead of strengthening it.
Fact: Babies and children are exposed to countless bacteria and virus antigens every day: eating food introduces new bacteria into the body, a case of strep throat exposes a child to 25-50 antigens, and numerous bacteria live in the mouth and nose. Immunizations are negligible in comparison. Not all vaccines are approved for children. However, even if all 14 scheduled childhood vaccines that are approved for children were given at once, it would use up only 0.1% of a child’s immune capacity. Based on the number of antibodies present in the blood, a child would theoretically have the ability to respond to 10 000 vaccines at one time. The immune system could never truly be overwhelmed because the cells in the system are constantly being replenished.
Myth: Vaccines can actually cause disease.
Fact: Vaccines can cause mild symptoms resembling those of the disease they are protecting against, and it is a common misconception that these symptoms signal infection. For those people who get these symptoms, they are experiencing their body’s immune response to vaccines, not the disease itself. These are signs that the body is building protection against the disease.
Myth: Natural immunity is better than vaccine-acquired immunity
Fact: In some cases, natural immunity (catching the disease and getting sick) results in a stronger immune response to the disease than vaccination. However, this approach is far more dangerous than beneficial. For example, if you wanted to gain immunity to measles by contracting the disease, there is a 1 in 500 chance you would die from your symptoms. In contrast, the number of people who have had severe allergic reactions from a measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine is less than 1 in 1 million.
World Health Organization (WHO). Vaccines and Immunization: Myths and Misconceptions. Geneva, Switzerland; 2020.
Vaccine Myths Debunked. 2021; PublicHealth.org., A Red Ventures Company. Available at: https://www.publichealth.org/public-awareness/understanding-vaccines/vaccine-myths-debunked/. Accessed on February 2, 2021.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Facts about COVID-19 Vaccines. Atlanta, GA. National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD). January 2021:1-3.