40 Things Your Doctor Wishes You Knew About Vaccines
For something that saves countless lives every day, vaccines sure take a lot of heat. Learn what your doctor wants you to know about these miracles of modern medicine.
Good hygiene can’t replace vaccines
Increased medical care, better nutrition, and cleaner and less crowded living conditions have certainly had an impact on the spread and treatment of infectious diseases over the years. But the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that vaccines have played an even more important role in the drastic reduction of disease.
You still need the vaccine even if you haven’t heard of the disease
WHO points to the Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine; the bacteria can cause brain and blood infections in infants that are hard to detect and treat. But thanks to infant immunization, the disease is mostly a footnote. Numerous other viruses that most of us are thankfully unaware could come back with potentially deadly results if we stopped vaccinating, warns the agency. Don’t miss the 9 vaccinations and medications you need to know about before you travel.
Even if you’ve been vaccinated, you can still get sick
In a major outbreak, says WHO, immunized people can become infected. Remember that no vaccine is 100 percent effective. The other issue is that up to 5 percent of people may not respond to a vaccine, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Vaccines don’t cause disease
A person who doesn’t respond to a vaccine can develop that disease—but they’re not getting sick because of the vaccine; only because the vaccine did not work. Check out the reasons why parents––not just children––need to be up-to-date on their vaccines.
Sometimes you need more than one shot
The CDC reports that when people get a second shot (or a booster) of a vaccine, the protection may reach nearly 100 percent effectiveness.
Vaccines won’t kill you
Vaccine-preventable diseases like measles, mumps, and even HPV can be fatal, but the vaccines that prevent the disease are not, reminds publichealth.org. The site notes that vaccines contain only trace amounts of toxins like formaldehyde, mercury, and aluminum—not nearly enough to be harmful. They also report that both the CDC and the FDA, which regulate vaccines, confirm that the human body naturally produces higher levels of these chemicals than you would get from vaccines.
You don’t have to worry about the mercury in vaccines
Some vaccines do use a preservative called thimerosal, which contains ethylmercury, but there’s been no evidence showing it can cause harm in the low doses you’d find in an immunization. A bigger concern is methylmercury, the poisonous quicksilver that can damage the central nervous system, which is not found in vaccines. The body gets rid of ethylmercury way faster than methylmercury, making it less likely to do damage. Even so, ethylmercury was taken out of childhood vaccines in 2001 to ease any concerns.
You’re helping everyone when you get vaccinated
Vaccinations contribute to a healthier community. People with weakened immune systems—and those for whom a vaccine may not be as effecxtive—are in mortal danger if they run into someone who is sick. When everyone keeps up with vaccinations, we prevent outbreaks that could have numerous fatalities.
There is no such thing as “hot lots”
Some people believe that certain batches of vaccines—known as “hot lots”—are responsible for more side effects than normal batches of vaccines. But William Schaffner, MD, the medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, points out that “all vaccine manufacturing criteria must meet the minimum standards put forth by the CDC.”
You still need vaccines—even for rare diseases
Dr. Schaffner, who is also a professor of preventative medicine and infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, suggests that a person living in rural Maine, for example, may wonder why she should vaccinate her child against polio if it only exists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. “Someday your child will travel. We know that when we have a substantial amount of parents holding back from getting their children immunized, diseases can be reimported into the United States. ” He points to the 2014 measles outbreak in California’s Disneyland as evidence that children can also enter the United States from other countries and spread diseases to unvaccinated Americans.
Vaccine combination shots won’t overload the immune system
The WHO assures people—especially parents who have vaccinated their children—that the scientific data demonstrates that combo vaccines have no adverse health effects. The organization notes that vaccines don’t burden a child’s immune system more than common illnesses like strep throat and upper respiratory infections. Even new foods introduce new bacteria into the body, according to the WHO.
Kids don’t see the HPV vaccine as a green light for unprotected sex
The human papillomavirus vaccine (HPV) protects against a virus that can cause genital warts and may cause cancer. Some parents are resistant to the idea of their children getting the shots because they worry their kids will see it as permission to have sex—unprotected. Kids are smarter than that, says Dr. Schaffer: As recently as December 2017, a study that followed 91 American women and girls for 30 months starting at age 15 concluded that their opinions about safe sex and the timing of their first sexual encounters were not influenced by the vaccine. The study’s author claimed the girls still understood the importance of condoms to protect against other sexually transmitted infections.
Boys need the HPV vaccine, too
The HPV vaccine is not only for girls, confirms Dr. Schaffner. “The vaccine was originally touted as preventing cancer of the cervix, and while that is wonderfully true, it also prevents head, neck, and anal cancers,” which are not gender-specific, he says. The vaccine can also prevent vaginal cancer.
Here are HPV myths you shouldn’t believe.
The HPV vaccine works really well
Although the HPV vaccine was first recommended as recently as 2006, the CDC points out there’s already been a 56 percent decrease in HPV infections in the United States. The safety of the HPV vaccine is always emphasized in the literature about its effectiveness.
You can still get the vaccine even if you’ve had HPV
While women who contract the virus before getting vaccinated won’t gain all the benefits that women who’ve never had it get, it’s still worth signing up, says Dr. Schaffner. Here’s the ridiculous reason your teenager might be missing key vaccines.
The HPV vaccine won’t cause infertility
Some people seem to believe this, Dr. Schaffner says, but it’s actually the opposite: Women who get HPV and don’t realize it may have a harder time conceiving than women who’ve never had HPV.
Natural immunity is not better than vaccine-acquired immunity
Some people believe that the immunity gained through getting a virus is better than a vaccination. “That’s a disturbing notion,” says Dr. Schaffner, “and it must come from people who have had no exposure to diseases that can be prevented through vaccination. Their assumption must be that the disease is trivial to the child.” Schaffner says that this dangerous idea has become more common because we have eliminated so many diseases with vaccines that people don’t have experience with how traumatic and fatal viruses can be.
Measles—preventable through vaccination—are still an issue
“In the United States, 400 or more children are dying of measles and its complications. There’s a huge price to pay for not getting your child vaccinated,” he says. “And if you’ve ever seen a child with bad chickenpox, you would not think twice about vaccinating.” Chickenpox blisters can burst and lead to bloodstream infections.
Flu shots won’t give you the flu
Low-grade fever, headaches, and muscle aches are the most extreme—and rare—side effects of the influenza vaccine, or the flu shot. But this vaccine cannot give you the actual flu, reassures the CDC. That’s because flu vaccines are made with either “inactivated” viruses or no viruses at all. Make sure not to make one of these common flu shot mistakes.
The flu shot isn’t a sure bet
It’s possible, though unlikely, to still contract flu symptoms despite getting the vaccine. Sometimes the actual bug is different than the one scientists predicted; other times, a person’s immune system simply did not respond to the vaccine or came down with another illness that mimics the flu.
Don’t skip the flu shot just because you’re healthy
It’s true that infants, people over 65, and anyone with a disease that compromises their immune system should definitely get a flu shot. But just because you don’t fall into one of those categories doesn’t mean you should skip vaccination. “Herd immunity is an important concept,” says Dr. Schaffner. “A vaccine not only protects the person vaccinated, but it also protects the community”—and that includes people will allergies to vaccines and people with weakened immune systems, including children undergoing chemotherapy.
The flu vaccine won’t make you vulnerable to other viral illnesses
Although exactly one study, in 2012, found that the flu vaccine might increase a person’s risk of contracting other respiratory viruses, numerous follow-up studies found the opposite to be true, according to the CDC. The initial study is an anomaly, according to researchers who debunked its findings. Find out 3 more debunked myths about the flu shot.
You’d be surprised how late you can still get the flu vaccine
It’s ideal to get your flu shot as soon as possible after its early fall release; the CDC recommends getting it by the end of October. But the group also stresses that a flu vaccine in November and even as late in the season as January can be beneficial. In January 2018, the FDA confirmed it was indeed not too late to get the vaccine.
Pregnant women don’t need a doctor’s approval to get the flu vaccine
The CDC encourages pregnant women to get a flu shot without a doctor’s approval, especially because pregnant women are more susceptible to complications, severe reactions, and hospitalizations from the flu. Women concerned about trace amounts of the mercury-based preservative thimerosal can take heed: Thimerosal-free flu vaccines are available at many doctor’s offices and pharmacies.
Don’t skip the flu shot if you’re sick
Just like pregnant women, anyone over the age of 6 months—whether they have a pre-existing medical condition or not—are still encouraged by health officials to get their flu shot. In fact, they should make it a priority because they may be more susceptible to complications from the flu.
The only people who should avoid the vaccine
M. A. Arkhipov/Shutterstock
The CDC and the FDA warn that some people are allergic to the flu vaccine—and they should definitely skip immunization. Find out 8 mistakes that may be messing with your flu vaccine.
The flu vaccine won’t prevent the stomach flu
Illnesses that cause vomiting and diarrhea are often referred to as the “stomach flu,” but this is a misconception, according to the CDC. Any number of bacteria, parasites, and even viruses can cause severe GI symptoms, but not the influenza virus. The primary flu symptoms are fever, chills, aches, fatigue, sore throat, and runny nose.
Vaccines definitely do not cause autism
One of the leading arguments of anti-vaccinators is that vaccines—particularly the measles vaccine—causes autism in children. “This has been totally discredited,” says Dr. Schaffner. According to the CDC, there is no link between vaccines and autism; their experts point to nine separate CDC-funded or conducted studies since 2003 that have disproven the supposed connection between the preservative called thimerosal—found in trace amounts in some vaccines—and autism. The vaccines for measles, mumps, and rubella have all been cleared of any connection to the condition. Even Autism Speaks, one of the leading autism advocacy organizations in the United States, takes this stance.
Adults need vaccines, too
Regardless of age, everyone needs vaccines—and that includes adults, says the CDC. Childhood vaccines can wear off; also, American adults who might be exposed to new viruses via foreign travel are strongly advised to get vaccinated. Seek your doctor’s opinion on what vaccines are right for you depending on where you go. However, vaccines are your best protection against dozens of diseases, such as hepatitis A and B, chickenpox, measles, rubella, and tetanus. Here’s a guide to adult vaccines.
If you’re over 50, be sure to get this vaccine
According to a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advisory committee, people over the age of 50 should add the shingles vaccination Shingrix to their health to-do list: Approximately one in three people in the United States will develop the infection at some point. Symptoms for shingles include “pain, burning, numbness or tingling, sensitivity to touch, a red rash that begins a few days after the pain, fluid-filled blisters that break open and crust over, and itching,” according to the Mayo Clinic. Make sure you know these other symptoms of shingles as well.
Vaccines are more effective than people realize
No vaccine is foolproof, but the FDA’s regulations stipulate that the shot be safe and effective: The agency won’t approve a vaccine that doesn’t work well. The polio vaccine, for instance, works 99 percent of the time; most major vaccines have an effectiveness rate in the 90th percentile. Even the flu vaccine—which is cooked up each year based on projections—is anywhere from 40 to 60 percent effective.
Don’t listen to people who say vaccines are a scam
“This is a dangerous belief,” says Dr. Schaffner. One reason measles were almost eradicated in the western hemisphere is that nearly everyone was vaccinated, he says. “I find that skeptical people have a hard time explaining this phenomenon.” The WHO is promoting measles vaccinations around the world. Some people don’t believe the information. Make sure you’re aware of these common myths about vaccines.
Don’t forget about the chickenpox vaccine
Although most adults feel like chickenpox wasn’t that bad if they got it as a child, it still makes sense to get your children vaccinated. Why? According to the CDC, before the vaccine was available, the virus led to about 11,000 hospitalizations and more than 100 deaths each year.
Don’t wait to vaccinate infants
“The reason we give vaccines to babies is that they’re at risk at that age. If you delay vaccination, you leave your child at increased risk for infection,” says Bocchini. The proper time to administer a vaccine is “as soon as their immune system will recognize antigens and develop an immune response.” Bocchini says the schedule is created based on the need to immunize, with the immune systems of babies taken into serious consideration. “We already know the immune system is capable and will respond as expected,” he says.
You’re not more likely to get sick from the vaccine than the virus
Vaccines come from killed or weakened germs, or just specific proteins from them, which won’t cause serious illness. To help the body recognize and fight the disease in the future, the immune system will have the same response it would to a real infection, says Eileen Yamada, MD, public health medical officer with the California Department of Public Health Immunization Branch. But the most you’ll get is a minor symptom like a brief fever that’s way less dangerous than anything you’d pick up from your environment.
The FDA is a careful and thorough vaccine watchdog
The FDA is proud to state that vaccines—like all products it regulates—”undergo a rigorous review of laboratory and clinical data to ensure the safety, efficacy, purity, and potency.”
The FDA’s vaccine-monitoring efforts are ongoing
The FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research will do additional studies to evaluate a vaccine’s efficacy and safety to further approve it for marketing. The CDC confirms that the FDA is a stickler, citing the administration’s multi-step approval process, which includes clinical trials and inspections of the vaccines’ manufacturing facilities.
Vaccines are working wonders
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccines have reduced preventable infectious diseases to an all-time low and now few people experience the devastating effects of measles, pertussis, and other illnesses.
Most parents are vaccinating their children
Some parents justify their decision not to vaccinate their children by claiming other parents holding out, but the CDC’s most recently published report shows that vaccination rates are on the rise in the United States, with more than 90 percent of children being vaccinated against measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), poliovirus, hepatitis B and varicella.
Vaccines may one day make it possible to not need vaccines
“When we eradicated smallpox we stopped vaccinating against smallpox,” explains Dr. Schaffner. When mass vaccination programs work the way they’re supposed to—everyone gets the shot—it can lead to the eradication of a disease. Next, find out the 55 rampant health myths that need to die.