Vaccination (Part 2): Myths Debunked

Would you like to be able to set your friends mind at ease if they have concerns about vaccination? Perhaps you’d like to be better prepared for when you encounter an anti-vaxxer?

Well, then this article is for you.

One by one I’ll go through some of the most common arguments raised by anti-vaxxers, and provide some scientific evidence to refute them.

If there are any arguments you’ve heard, that I’ve not listed here, feel free to leave them in the comments section, and I’ll update this article as time goes by.

The MMR Vaccine & Autism?

In 1998, the Lancet published a paper by Andrew Wakefield, which observed that both MMR vaccinations and autism prevalence were increasing. Their conclusion was that the MMR vaccine was linked to autism development. Here are a few problems with the study:

  • Wakefield was funded by solicitors who wished to sue the manufacturers of the MMR vaccine, a conflict of interest which he did not disclose.
  • The strain of measles virus used in the MMR vaccine had not been found in any of the children involved in the study.
  • Wakefield had established a venture, “Carmel Healthcare Ltd” which he predicted would make $43 million a year from diagnostic kits for MMR-induced autism. This venture depended on results that had yet to be obtained or published. This represented a serious conflict of interest which he did not disclose.
  • The claim of a sudden onset of autism following MMR vaccination (14 days) in all 12 children was a fabrication.

Groups all over the world have attempted to reproduce the findings of this paper, but none have been successful. In 2015, a major study involving 95,000 children (that’s 94,988 more kids than in Wakefield’s study) concluded that there was no link between MMR and autism.


Big Pharma, Big Profits?haha-business

There is huge distrust of pharmaceutical companies within the anti-vaxx group. A common argument is that we can’t trust vaccines due to the huge profits made by “big pharma” for each jab.

If we take the Flu vaccine as an example, in 2013 the worldwide sales of this vaccine was ~$3.1 billion. However in terms of the total worldwide sales of big pharma (~$1 trillion), the flu vaccine represents about 0.3%.

Sales of drugs like statins are ~$33 billion, that’s ten time higher than flu vaccine sales, and yet there are no big conspiracies surrounding statins.

There is also concern that rare adverse effects from vaccination will be covered up by Big Pharma, however organizations like the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) oversee these reports and are independent of Big Pharma.

Too many vaccines overwhelm the immune system?

There is no scientific basis for this argument.


First of all, the capacity of the immune system is huge, allowing infants to theoretically respond to ~10,000 vaccinations at once. Therefore, the recommended 11-18 childhood vaccinations is no problem for an infant.

Secondly, from the moment a child is born, they are exposed to billions of bacteria. Fun fact, there are 10 – 100 times more bacteria in and on your body than there are cells that make you up. The exposure to all of these bacteria in the first year of life is a far greater burden to the immune system than exposure to the contents of a vaccine. In other words, it’s a drop in a bucket.

Vaccines contain harmful ingredients?

Today, preservatives within vaccines are used in miniscule amounts. The concentrations of these components are far below harmful or toxic levels.

Think back to the amount of safety testing that goes on during clinical trials (see Vaccination (Part 1) : The Basics). If these trace elements were present at harmful levels they would be observed during general population use (Phase IV) and the vaccine would be withdrawn.

Vaccines are made using aborted foetal cells?

A few vaccines are grown in cell cultures that originated from two legal, elective pregnancy terminations in the 1960’s. The abortions were not performed in order to create vaccines.

The cells have replicated countless times in the past 50 or so years. The individual cells that continue to divide today are far removed from the original cell cultures. Large volumes of vaccine can be created in these cultures.

Importantly, when the final preparation of vaccine is made, it contains little to nothing of these cells. No newer foetal cell lines are ever produced to make vaccines.

Interestingly, the official stance of the catholic church is that it is morally tolerable due to the huge benefit of vaccination on the health of children.


Immunity from natural infection is better?

Measles infection elicits a strong immune response that lasts for life. True, it’s a stronger response than from the measles vaccine.

However, do you really want to put your life at risk? Or just take the measles jab?


Celebrity Influence

This doesn’t really fall into the category of a “vaccine myth”, but it’s something that frustrates me. I often see anti-vaxxers posting pictures of celebrities who are sceptical about vaccination.

In general, I’d advise people to trust the science, not the celebrity. However, I’m aware that celebrities are role models for many, and their views can have a powerful influence. In light of this, I’d like to show off some pro-vaccine celebs:

From left to right: John Oliver, Kirstin Bell, Salma Hayek, Bill Gates, Kim Kardashian,
Jennifer Garner, Jennifer Lopez, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Michelle Obama.


Final Thoughts

Hopefully this article will help you discuss vaccination with your peers in a more rationale manner. Perhaps it will serve as a vaccination of sorts, as now you’ll be prepared for an encounter with an anti-vaxxer. Whilst you may be unable to change their point of view, at least you’ll have some solid science you can use to hold your ground.

Once again, if there any arguments I haven’t addressed, post them in the comments!


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