It is hard to imagine that we are still debating this 223 years after the successful development of the first vaccine, in 1796, by Edward Jenner. To a Pakistani this may seem like a debate in the west but locally people are increasingly refusing to vaccinate their children on various grounds. This also made rounds on news channel and social media a couple of months back, triggering a debate that has only one right answer, Yes you should vaccinate your children and mine, your’s or anyone else’s opinion doesn’t matter in this case.
Through text books in schools and various other media put out by polio campaigns, we know that vaccination provides immunity against pathogens that can in some cases cause debilitating diseases and in others prove fatal. Vaccines introduce the body to the pathogen, or part thereof, in a controlled manner, allowing the body to win against it. The win comes when the body is able to develop a method to fight the content of the vaccine. The body memorises the steps it took to win and this is the benefit of vaccinating an individual. Now that the body has memorised the steps, an actual exposure to the pathogen can be handled very swiftly. Vaccines, to date, have not only saved countless lives but helped completely eradicate diseases.
Let’s look at some of the myths associated with vaccination and how true they are.
Vaccines cause autism:
The myth that vaccines can cause autism is a very strong factor that has lead parents to refuse or delay vaccination. While you may find articles that state that there isn’t a link between autism and vaccines, there is a need to understand how this myth was born. In 1998 a study was published in a scientific journal by Wakefield et. al, and became very popular. The study was about the MMR (Measles- Mumps- Rubella) vaccine and implicated it as a cause of autism, resulting in fear amongst parents. The research was flawed and conflict of interest was not disclosed by the authors resulting in the complete retraction of the paper in 2010 by the Lancet Journal. This erroneous research led not only to a drop in the MMR vaccinations administered, it also resulted in scientists spending a lot of time, money and effort to disapprove the link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Despite all the counter studies disapproving the link the myth remains to date.
Thimerosal is harmful:
Some of the ingredients found in vaccines are, but not limited to:
Antigens are the main ingredients that trigger an immune response whereas Adjuvants enhance the immune response. Antibiotics are used to prevent contamination in the vaccine during the manufacturing process and preservatives are used to prevent bacterial and fungal contamination in the vaccine. Lastly, stabilizers keep the vaccines stable and keep them effective during their shelf life.
Thimerosal is a mercury containing compound used in vaccines, as a preservative, that the body breaks down into ethyl mercury. It is important to note that ethyl mercury is very different from methyl mercury. The consensus on the safety of ethyl mercury in low concentration was broken by the mercury poisoning incident (caused by methyl mercury) in Japan and Iraq up-till 1970. Although used interchangeably, both these chemicals are very different and scientific studies have never been able to establish a link between Thimerosal (~ ethyl mercury) and autism in children.
Herd immunity and getting vaccinated:
Individuals susceptible to diseases and not vaccinated, may be protected by vaccinating a large portion of the population around them. This is called herd immunity. Herd immunity can help stop the spread of a disease and prevent outbreaks. This is important for frail old people, infants, immunocompromised people or people unable to receive vaccination for that disease. Vaccination not only effects the individual getting vaccinated but also has a positive impact on the community. However, a critical number of individuals are required for the herd immunity to be effective. If all the people start relying on herd community it will cease to be effective.
Getting the disease from vaccine it is designed to prevent:
Vaccines are of different types and one of the way of differentiating between them is by considering which part of the disease causing pathogen is used as an antigen. Vaccines that use weakened pathogens can lead of the disease itself but the possibility of that happening is rare. Sometimes children can experience some of the mild symptoms of the disease that resolve overtime.
One of the reasons why parents delay or refuse to vaccinate their child is because vaccines have been so effective in eliminating diseases that parents don’t remember a time when those diseases were commonplace. Recently an outbreak of measles in US is an example of what can happen if parents continue to refuse vaccination. The outbreak was a result of parents refusing to vaccinate their children with the MMR vaccine.
It is important for Pakistanis to understand that misinformation can adversely affect the future of their family. There is a need to understand the value and source of authentic information before taking action. In the present age where information is easily available for everyone, there is a need to know the difference between facts and myths. Some of the side effects associated with vaccines. though adverse. are rare. Looking at the bigger pictures one can tell that the benefits of vaccination greatly outweigh the rare side effects associated with their use.
Image source: Pakistan Today
About the author:
This content was contributed by Tehreem Jamil. She holds a Master’s degree in Biomedical Sciences from NUST, Islamabad and loves to write about science that can shape individual opinions for the better.