Here’s what to know about current vaccine myths.
With more than 100 confirmed cases of measles in the United States already this year, vaccines are once again squarely at the center of a passionate national debate.
At the heart of the issue are the concerns of parents about the safety of vaccines for their children. These concerns are pitted against the repeated assurances of health organizations including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics, doctors, and the larger scientific community, who have repeatedly stressed that childhood vaccines are safe and effective.
However, the discussion around vaccines has also taken a distinctly political turn recently with numerous lawmakers weighing in on the issue as a debate between personal liberty and government oversight.
Complicating this debate are numerous false myths and conspiracies about vaccines that have become pervasive online, frequently spread across social media. While the majority of these have already been debunked, in recent weeks new ones have begun popping up.
Here we’ll help to clarify some of the dubious claims about vaccines recently:
This is not a new claim by any means. In fact this conspiracy, now 20 years old, is the granddaddy of the anti-vaccination movement. The association between autism and the MMR vaccine was first published in a fraudulent, widely criticized, and subsequently retracted study in The Lancet in 1998.
However, it bears repeating that this claim has repeatedly been proven false in numerous, large-scale scientific studies. Most recently, a decade-long study of more than 650,000 children found no association between the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and risk of autism.
Last month, Texas state representative Bill Zedler made this bizarre claim, stating, “They want to say people are dying of measles. Yeah, in Third World countries they’re dying of measles…Today, with antibiotics and that kind of stuff, they’re not dying in America.”
Antibiotics do not treat measles, which is a highly contagious viral infection. Not only that, experts say that comments like this downplay the seriousness of measles.
“There’s a misapprehension about how serious a disease measles is,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee, told Healthline. “Before we had vaccines in the U.S., yearly 400 to 500 children died of measles and its complications,” he said.
What Zedler may have been trying to point out is that antibiotics are in fact used to treat some of the many complications caused by measles, including pneumonia and ear infection, but not the disease itself.
Even parents who are not against vaccinations may shudder at the number of vaccines young children receive. A “too many too soon” mentality has resulted in an increased interest by parents in delaying or revising when their child receives vaccines.
“A child’s immune system is remarkably powerful and very capable of responding to all of these vaccines very safely,” said Schaffner. It is also important to note that modified schedules have not been tested for safety and efficacy.
“There’s never been any evidence that it’s better,” Dr. Sunil Sood, chair of pediatrics and an infectious disease specialist, Northwell Health’s Southside Hospital, Bay Shore, New York, told Healthline. “Obviously, if you postpone one or more of the vaccines that a baby is due for at a certain age, then for the period that you’ve delayed, the baby is at risk for that infectious disease, so that’s much more risky than any theoretical adverse effect of giving vaccines together,” he said.
The issue of so-called compelled or mandated vaccines has come up recently among lawmakers. However, the fact of the matter is that while federal organizations such as the CDC help make recommendations about vaccines, it is up to the states to create and enforce vaccine mandates.
State laws, which vary depending on where you live, establish the requirements for children to enter schools and child care centers. It is also up to states to define exemptions for vaccines, which can include medical, religious, and philosophical reasons.
“This is not federal. This doesn’t come from distant, nasty Washington. These laws were introduced state by state across the country,” said Schaffner.
In a Facebook post last month, Arizona state Representative Kelly Townsend wrote, “The idea that we force someone to give up their liberty for the sake of the collective is not based on American values but rather, Communist.”
Actually, you could say that vaccinations are about as American as apple pie. Massachusetts put the first state law mandating vaccination on the books in 1809, and later, in 1855, enacted the first state school vaccination requirement. In 1905, the Supreme Court upheld states’ rights to enforce vaccinations over individual liberties in the landmark case Jacobson v. Massachusetts. Since then, state-enforced vaccine mandates have spread throughout the United States and grown to encompass a wide range of deadly infectious diseases.
“The development and the spread of mandates throughout the states was an epitome, just a beautiful example of a democratic process,” said Schaffner.