Preventing a disease from occurring in the first place is always better than treating it after it develops. As a true miracle of modern medicine, vaccinations have the power to do just that — protect you from serious contagious diseases that can wreak havoc on your health or even lead to your untimely death.
Successful immunization programs across the globe have effectively reduced the transmission of many threatening and highly communicable diseases. Besides improving the overall health of the population here in the United States, vaccines have saved countless lives and eradicated several deadly diseases, including smallpox.
Here at City Care Family Practice in Murray Hill, New York City, we know that vaccines are an essential tool of preventive healthcare. But we also know that widespread myths about the safety and necessity of vaccines persist, despite extensive scientific evidence to the contrary.
With that in mind, here are four common myths about vaccines that can help you separate fact from fiction.
Myth #1: Vaccines can infect me with the disease they’re trying to prevent
Chances are you know someone who never gets their annual flu shot because, they claim, it gave them the flu once. This common misconception stems from statements like these as well as the fact that some vaccines can produce mild, short-lived symptoms similar to those caused by the disease they help shield you from.
It helps to think of vaccines as a kind of training course for your immune system. They work by introducing a very small, very safe amount of dead or weak viral or bacterial material into your body, essentially exposing your system to the unknown intruder and giving it a chance to figure out how to defend against it.
A vaccine that contains inactivated (dead) material can’t cause symptoms at all; a vaccine that contains weakened active (live) material may produce brief, mild symptoms, but that’s actually an indication that your immune system “training” is going well.
Myth #2: Vaccines aren’t necessary when infection rates are low
Some people believe there’s no need to give children vaccines against rare diseases like polio or pertussis (whooping cough) if such illnesses are no longer much of a threat in local communities.
These diseases are rare precisely because many people, both in past generations and today, have been vaccinated against them. Known as “herd immunity,” this beneficial effect can quickly disappear when too many people rely on it, rather than vaccines, to protect them.
Even if a disease is rare where you live, widespread international travel of our increasingly global community means that disease reintroduction is only a few unvaccinated communities away from turning a “rare” disease into a more common one.
This was made abundantly clear with the recent measles resurgence in various places around the world, largely because large groups of people stopped vaccinating their children against it.
Myth #3: Natural immunity is superior to vaccine-derived immunity
Your body builds immunity against viral and bacterial invaders through exposure. Think of the common cold — children are more likely to have many more colds a year compared to adults, partly because they put their hands in their mouths more often, and partly because adults have built up their immunity through years of exposure.
Unfortunately, this approach can be incredibly dangerous when it comes to building immunity against serious, crippling, or potentially fatal diseases.
If you decided to build your immunity against the measles by contracting it, for example, you’d have a 1-in-500 chance of dying from your symptoms. The MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine, on the other hand, poses very few risks and helps you build optimal immunity against the disease.
Myth #4: Vaccines pose dangerous health risks, like autism
Children and adults have been successfully vaccinated against a wide range of diseases for decades, and in all that time, there’s never been a single credible study linking immunizations to any long-term health condition or disorder, including autism.
The widespread concern that childhood vaccines might contribute to the development of autism began with a 1997 study published in a prestigious medical journal that erroneously linked the MMR vaccine to increasing autism in British children.
The study has since been wholly discredited and retracted, and the doctor who wrote it has also lost his medical license. Even the other studies that were launched by the results of this faulty study never found a link between childhood vaccines and autism.
The bottom line remains clear: vaccines offer unparalleled protection from a range of serious illnesses and pose little risk unless you’re immunocompromised or allergic to the ingredients.
To learn more about the benefits of keeping your entire family up to date on immunizations, call our Murray Hill, New York City office or schedule an appointment online today.