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Truths about Vaccine Concerns and Questions

Question: Since the majority of childhood diseases have almost disappeared in Canada, why do we keep immunizing people?
TRUTH: It’s true that our immunization program has been effective and reduced the incidence of childhood diseases. We know from experience that when immunization rates drop, the diseases come back. It’s also important to remember that these diseases are under control – but the viruses and bacteria that cause them are still around. Many are still common in other parts of the world and travelers can carry them into our country.
Concern: Giving a child multiple immunizations at the same time increases the risk of side effects because it overloads the immune system.
TRUTH: The scientific research doesn’t support this concern. Studies show that the recommended vaccine combinations carry no greater risk for adverse side effects and that the vaccines are just as effective when given in combination. Children’s immune systems are exposed to many different viruses and bacteria every day, simply by eating food, coming into contact with others, and getting common illnesses. A normal case of “strep throat”, for example, exposes a child to between 25 and 50 different antigens. The immune system is able to deal with many antigens at once and the number of antigens in a combination vaccine has not been found to place any harm on our bodies.
Question: Why not give a single vaccine at a time?
TRUTH: Giving multiple immunizations at the same time means fewer visits, which saves the parents time and may be less traumatic for the child. There is no evidence to suggest that multiple vaccines, given together in one single injection, are unsafe. We want to immunize children as early as possible to give them the protection they need when they are most vulnerable.
Question: Can MMR vaccine cause autism or other developmental disorders?
TRUTH: No. However, some people believe otherwise because of the theory proposed by a British physician named Dr. Andrew Wakefield. There is no scientific evidence to support this theory. His original study had several important defects and has been withdrawn by the journal that published it. Many studies have been performed following publication of his claims. All published and unpublished evidence concerning MMR vaccine and autism has been reviewed independently by expert committees of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Both groups concluded that “there is no scientific evidence to support the theory that MMR causes autism or autistic spectrum disorders or inflammatory bowel disease." Because of the fear created by unfounded allegations about the risks of MMR, immunization rates decreased a great deal in the UK and Ireland around 1998. As a result, outbreaks of measles, mumps and rubella started occurring in 2000.
Concern: Thimerosal and vaccines
TRUTH: Thimerosal is an organic mercury compound that has been used as a preservative in some vaccines and other medications since the 1930s. Thimerosal is not methylmercury. Thimerosal contains mercury and is converted into ethylmercury in the body. Thimerosal is used to prevent bacterial contamination during production of a vaccine and in preventing the growth of bacteria and fungi in multidose vials of vaccines. If such contamination occurred, it could cause serious infections in recipients of the vaccine. Thimerosal is no longer a component of vaccines used in Canada (since 2001) for routine immunization of children.
Question: I didn’t get all these vaccines when I was a baby – are they really necessary for my child?
TRUTH: Some of these vaccines were not available when you were a baby but you were still at risk for these serious diseases. Today we are very fortunate to be able to protect our babies from so many serious diseases with vaccines.
Concern: Vaccines weaken the immune system.
TRUTH: Vaccines do not weaken the immune system. Rather they harness and train it to defend rapidly against vaccine preventable pathogens before illness can occur.
Concern: I do not want my baby to cry when she gets her needles.
TRUTH: Crying is a normal response for a baby when she gets her needles. Parents need to try and stay calm so the child is not aware of their stress. For infants, parents can use a favorite blanket or toy to distract the baby from the pain of the needles and they should touch and soothe the baby, talk softly and smile and make eye contact during the needles. Mothers may wish to cuddle or breastfeed during or immediately afterwards.
Question: Do vaccines really work?
TRUTH: Yes! All vaccine-preventable diseases have declined significantly in countries with successful immunization programs. Wherever immunization rates are high, disease rates are low. When the immunization rates decline (often because of fear of unproven dangers of vaccine), the diseases and related deaths increase in frequency.
Question: Where can I get factual reliable information on the internet?
TRUTH: The internet offers access to a lot of information about vaccines, diseases, and immunization. It also houses a wealth of misinformation. No one regulates the validity of information that is available to millions of people. So you have to judge the information and make sure it is a credible source. Tips for evaluating Immunization web sites: 1) What is the source of the information? 2) Has the medical information been reviewed by scientific experts? 3) Is there a date indicating when the information was last reviewed? 4) Is there scientific evidence to support the claims? 5) Is the site certified by the Health On the Net Foundation (HON)?