Vaccinations are the single most important way to protect children against serious diseases. They’re also one of the most cost-effective health interventions, saving millions of lives globally each year, but still many parents choose not to vaccinate their children. With so many conflicting pieces of advice and untruths about vaccinations filling the internet, it‘s no wonder some parents distrust immunisations.
Paediatrician Dr Iqbal Karbanee busts some common vaccination myths:
My child’s immune system won’t be able to handle more than one vaccine at a time.
The immune system is able to respond to multiple challenges simultaneously. Every immune response is slightly different and some vaccines are required to be given repeatedly in order to allow the body to build up enough antibodies.
If other children in the community are vaccinated against infectious diseases, my child doesn’t need to be, because he’ll be protected.
This is only true from a public health perspective and refers to a concept called “Herd Immunity”. Due to the fact that it is impossible to predict the exact level of resistance in a community, it is unwise to not vaccinate for this reason.
Vaccines aren’t really necessary anymore now that major diseases have disappeared.
The reason we do not see some diseases is because of immunisation. Smallpox has indeed been eradicated and vaccines are no longer required. However, Polio exists in nature as the “wild virus” and, therefore, even though we do not see polio anymore, the vaccination is still needed to keep the disease at bay.
The MMR vaccine causes autism and other disorders.
This mistaken belief has been the cause of many problems. The original research and article that first came up with this theory has been retracted and found to be erroneous. There is no link between autism and the MMR vaccine. Millions of children have received the MMR vaccine and have been protected from the effects of Measle, Mumps and Rubella.
My baby might get the disease the vaccine is supposed to prevent from the vaccine itself.
The vaccine contains remnants of the original disease-causing virus or bacteria. It cannot cause the illness. The child with a vigorous immune response may develop some side-effects which can include fever, irritability, and swelling at the injection site and sometimes a mild skin rash.
The preservatives found in vaccines are dangerous for my child’s health.
There has been some criticism of the preservatives found in vaccines. The older vaccines contain egg allergens and other chemicals. New generation vaccines do not contain these but there are occasional allergic reactions which would then require treatment. This in itself is not reason enough to NOT vaccinate.
Vaccines won’t be effective if given to a child who has a cold.
When a child is ill, the immune system is not optimal. This may interfere with the response to the vaccine. The official view is that the vaccine should still be given in case the opportunity does not arise again. If the parent is absolutely sure they are able to return when the child is better, then this is a reasonable approach.
Chicken pox isn’t a dangerous disease, so we don’t need to immunise our kids against it.
Vaccination against chickenpox or Varicella is not compulsory. Children with a normal nutrition and intact immune system do not usually get complications from varicella. The problem is that occasionally a child can get a very severe neurological reaction. For this reason, if parents are able to give the child the vaccine for Varicella then it should be given.
If my child is vaccinated against infectious diseases, he’ll never be at risk of contracting an infectious illness.
Unfortunately, this is not true. The vaccine only protects against the specific illness it is aimed at. Even in these cases repeat vaccines are often required. Some illnesses such as Influenza require vaccination seasonally.
Vaccines are more effective when children are older.
Very young infants, especially under six months, do react well to some vaccines such as the measles vaccine. This is due to the presence of the mom’s antibodies in the child’s blood. These can last up to six months of age. This is why the measle vaccine is started at six months. Generally, a child with good nutrition will have a normal immune response regardless of age.
Dr Iqbal Karbanee is a leading, qualified South African paediatrician with over 28 years of medical experience. His passion for helping children and babies to live their healthiest lives led to him establishing Paed-IQ BabyLine in 2015, South Africa’s first telephonic-based helpline for medical advice given by paediatric-trained nurses. Dr Karbanee, with a special interest in childhood nutrition, particularly childhood obesity, today leads the paediatric practice at the CapeGate Mediclinic.