Parents get information about immunization from books, magazines, television and the Internet. Often what they find is different from what family doctors or health care providers say. Conflicting information can make it hard to make an informed choice. Here are some other common myths along with the facts about immunization and vaccines.
FACT: Vaccines go through many steps before Health Canada approves their use. As well, every vaccine lot is safety tested by the maker and by the federal Bureau of Biologics of the Drug Directorate. Canada has several systems continuously monitoring the safety of vaccines that are in use.
Like any other medication, vaccines have side effects. They are mostly mild, such as fever, redness, tenderness or swelling at the site of the shot. Taking acetaminophen before or after the shot can help. Serious side effects from vaccines are very rare. They are reported immediately to the Public Health Agency of Canada to be dealt with quickly. When we weigh the risk of vaccines against that of being sick with the actual disease, vaccines are by far the
FACT: Most young parents today have never seen the diseases that vaccines prevent. Most of these diseases have been dramatically reduced. However, immunization is still a good idea.
Some diseases are still common in other parts of the world, even pandemic (widespread and affecting a large area). Many children in India and Africa continue to be paralyzed by polio. Diphtheria attacks and kills children in Russia. These diseases are only a plane ride away from Canada.
When a person is not immunized, they are at risk. They also put other people at risk, such as those who cannot have immunizations or those who are too young to have had all their immunizations. The more people who are immunized in a population, the less risk there is to everyone, especially the most vulnerable.
Outbreaks of diseases that can be prevented by vaccination still happen in Canada, especially among people who are not immunized. A large outbreak of 179 reported cases of mumps took place in Alberta during 2001 and 2002. Somebody with mumps brought the sickness from another country. Over 80 per cent of those affected here had not been vaccinated. Early in 2010, 84 cases of measles appeared in British Columbia. Most of the patients were not immunized, partially immunized, or uncertain of their immunization. Again, the outbreak may have come from two visitors from another country.
Some diseases are still common in Canada. Children may die from these diseases or have serious complications. For instance, thousands of children are infected with pertussis (whooping cough) every year. One to three children die, usually those who are not vaccinated or not sufficiently vaccinated.
FACT: Babies are most at risk of getting diseases that can be prevented by vaccination during their first two years. If they catch a disease like whooping cough or meningitis, they can get very sick and even die. Complications and death from whooping cough are most common in infants less than six months old. To give infants the most protection as early as possible, immunization starts at the age of two months. Within hours of birth, the immune (defence) system of newborns can make a protective response to vaccines.
The timing of immunizations is important. Vaccines work best when they are given at the right time. To provide full protection, the best immunization schedule starts at two months, and continues at four and six months, between 12 months and 18 months, and between age four and six. Further immunizations are provided to children between grades four and eight. The schedule may vary depending on where you live. Check with your doctor or nurse on your child’s immunization schedule.
FACT: An increasing number of parents are worried that infants receive too many vaccines. One concern is that an infant’s immune system is not developed enough to handle vaccines safely. Another is that multiple vaccines may overwhelm the immune system.
Beginning with the birth process, a newborn is challenged by bacteria and other microbes from the mother’s birth canal, and then the surrounding environment. Within hours, a newborn’s intestine is full of bacteria. Fortunately, infants develop their immune response from birth to protect themselves from bacteria.
A baby’s immune system successfully faces many challenges every day. Compared to these, the number of vaccines given in the first two years of life has a minor effect on the immune system. Current studies show that young infants have an enormous capacity to respond to multiple vaccines and other challenges.
FACT: This concern stems mainly from the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and thimerosal, a preservative used in vaccines. Evidence from many countries shows no association between the MMR vaccine or thimerosal and autism spectrum disorder. The studies included hundreds of thousands of children, took place in several countries including Canada, and were done by multiple investigators. Since these studies were controlled well, other factors that could account for the results were ruled out.
The original study linking the MMR vaccine and autism was published in 1998. Lawyers involved in lawsuits against immunization makers funded the study. The 12 children involved were carefully selected. Many of their parents already felt MMR had caused their child’s autism. In 2004, 10 of the 13 authors of the study withdrew their support. In 2010, Lancet, the journal that published the original study, fully retracted it.
Vaccination rates dropped in the United Kingdom and Ireland around 1998, due to unsupported claims about the MMR. Outbreaks of disease began in 2000. Many large, well-controlled studies have since been done in England, Denmark, and Montreal. None show an association between the MMR vaccine and autism.
Thimerosal is an organic mercury compound. It has been used as a preservative in some vaccines and other medications since the 1930s. Thimerosal is different from methylmercury, which is known to cause brain damage. An expert committee of the Institute of Medicine in the United States reviewed all published and unpublished scientific evidence on the potential toxicity of thimerosal in vaccines. It found no evidence that thimerosal, given properly in vaccines, has caused brain damage in any child. Large studies showed no differences between children who received vaccines with or without thimerosal, who then developed autism.
Thimerosal is no longer a part of vaccines used in Canada to routinely immunize children. The MMR vaccine routinely used here has never contained thimerosal. DTaP, polio and Hib vaccines have not contained this preservative since 1997/98.
We have discussed many good reasons to have your child vaccinated. However, there are times when vaccination should be delayed.
If your child is severely ill at the scheduled time of vaccination, delay the shot until the child has recovered. With a minor illness, such as a cold, cough or low grade fever (38 to 38.5 C or 101 to 102 F), vaccination does not need to be delayed. Children with minor illnesses of this kind respond normally to vaccination and have no increased side effects.
Anyone who had anaphylaxis or any severe allergic reaction after vaccination should not be vaccinated again until the cause has been confirmed. Anaphylaxis is a severe form of allergic reaction in which a person goes into shock (a sudden lack of adequate blood flow through body tissues) and can have difficulty breathing. In general, children with a serious immune disorder or a suppressed immune system should not receive live vaccines. Oral polio, measles, mumps, rubella and varicella (chicken pox) are all live. However, talk to your doctor before you delay or avoid certain vaccines for your child.
All children deserve the best health care, including protection from diseases that can be prevented by vaccines. Parents protect their children best by keeping their children’s immunizations up to date.
Immunization has saved millions of lives, and still does.
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