Making decisions about your child’s health can be scary and confusing. It seems like everywhere you go, you see and hear conflicting information about what is best for your children. Perhaps nowhere is this truer than in regard to the topic of vaccines. Many parents aren’t sure if vaccines really are safe for their children. Luckily, vaccine safety has been a topic of extensive research by many scientists who have published thousands of papers working to dismantle myths surrounding vaccination.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common questions people have:
Q: Do I really need to vaccinate my child if the diseases he/she is being vaccinated against are not common in our community or country?
A: Yes. Diseases that were once common are now rare, in large part due to increased vaccine availability. However, that doesn’t mean the diseases have disappeared; rather, people do not get sick as often because they have immunity from vaccination. Not only do they not get sick, they do not spread the disease to others. This is called herd immunity, and it is only maintained when a high percentage of the population is vaccinated. This is why it is important for everyone’s health to vaccinate all healthy kids and adults.
Q: Is there a link between vaccination and autism?
A: No. This myth started after a researcher published a study claiming children developed symptoms of autism after receiving the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine. Instead, he suggested, that the MMR vaccination should be given individually over time (a process for which he had placed a patent one year before publishing the study). In the almost 20 years that have passed since the publication of this study, no reputable study has ever been published to support his claims. In fact, many researchers have reanalyzed the cases used in this study and discovered that the data had been falsified to reflect the results he wanted. He subsequently lost his medical license because it was determined he showed “callous disregard” for the safety of children by lying in his publication.
The truth is, we have no good evidence to suggest that vaccines are unsafe. What we do know is that the diseases they prevent have killed (and would continue to kill) millions of children if left unchecked by vaccines. The best way to protect your children is to vaccinate them against deadly diseases.
Q: Is there mercury in vaccines?
A: Sometimes, and in an amount small enough that it has been proven safe. This worry comes from thimerosal, which is used as a preservative for a few, specific vaccines. It prevents an overgrowth of microbes in the vaccine, keeping it safe to inject. When thimerosal is metabolized, it turns into mercury in infinitesimal amounts in your body. One vaccine contains about 25 micrograms of mercury, which is roughly as much as you would be exposed to if you ate a 3 oz. can of tuna. No negative outcomes have been attributed to the use of thimerosal but in response to concerns and as a result of technology improving, all vaccines for children under the age of six do not contain thimerosal, and formulations for adults are also available without it.
As always, if you have any questions about vaccines, their safety, their efficacy, or their appropriateness for your child, please consult with your medical provider.