6 Enduring Myths of Vaccination
1. Myth: Vaccines aren't necessary because the diseases aren't around.
Fact: The only vaccine-preventable disease that's been completely eradicated is smallpox, and consequently, that vaccine is no longer given. But other diseases we vaccinate against, such as polio, although vastly reduced in the U.S., still exist in the world.
2. Myth: If others vaccinate their children, you don't have to.
Fact: So-called herd immunity -- the idea that diseases don't spread because the majority of children are immunized -- won't protect your child when he travels outside the U.S. and doesn't take into account that some in the herd may still not be adequately protected, either because a medical condition prevents them from being vaccinated or because vaccines aren't 100 percent effective (about 10 percent of people don't respond to them).
3. Myth: The measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine causes autism.
Fact: The alleged connection dates back to a single small study in 1998 that was later recanted by a majority of the study's original authors. Still, because the vaccine is given at 12 to 15 months, which is around the same time that children may begin to show signs of autism, Web-based rumors persist. Recently, a large-scale analysis of 31 studies, published in The Cochrane Library, found the MMR vaccine and autism connection to be unlikely.
4. Myth: Thimerosal causes autism.
Fact: There's no evidence that thimerosal contributes to autism. But as a precaution, the mercury-based preservative was removed from all childhood immunizations except the flu shot, which contains trace amounts. Thimerosal-free flu vaccines are available by request.
5. Myth: Vaccines can overwhelm a baby's immune system.
Fact: When compared with the infection-causing organisms kids are exposed to every day, the components in routine childhood vaccinations are minuscule in amount. And while babies will mount a better immune response when they're older, they're at higher risk for becoming ill and dying when they're younger.
6. Myth: Getting sick makes children's immune systems stronger.
Fact: Vaccinating allows kids to develop immunity without going through the potentially deadly or crippling trauma of diseases, such as polio and measles. Plus, vaccinating means less missed daycare, school, or work -- for parents who need to stay home to care for sick children.
Norine Dworkin-McDaniel, mother to a son, is a writer in Orlando, Florida.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, September 2006. Updated 2010
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