The subject of vaccines is swirling with many myths and common misunderstandings. One Texas legislator even went so far as to compare vaccines to “sorcery” and called them “dangerous.” (Riley, 5-15-2019) It was a new low, even for a state like Texas. But if elected leaders are espousing such opinions, how much more confusion is swirling among the general public? I hope the following information takes the “sorcery” out of these life-saving miracles of modern medicine and helps you understand them better.

Myth: Vaccines are unnatural
Fact: Vaccines are actually the most natural type of medicine we have. Unlike medications or other intrusive interventions, vaccines take advantage of your body’s natural immune defenses to help keep you from getting sick. They merely introduce a deactivated version of the microbe in question so that your immune system learns to identify it as a threat and develops a memory with antihodies it can start cranking out if it ever encounters that virus again, thus preventing you from getting sick, even if you’re exposed.

Myth: Vaccines are a drug
Fact: Vaccines are not a traditional drug. They contain no active chemical agents, other than the inert preservatives used to keep them from spoiling-similar to the food preservatives you eat in packaged foods on a daily basis. Vaccines merely introduce a dead or weakened virus into your system so that your body learns how to fight it.

Myth: Vaccines are a scam; a way for the government and health care corporations to make a profit
Fact: As someone who has written extensively on the bloated excesses of the health care system-especially as it relates to pharmaceutical drugs-I’m no stranger to the idea that many health care companies push unnecessary and ineffective drugs on consumers in the name of profit. But vaccines are typically not in that category.

Most vaccines hold very little profit for companies or the health care system as a whole. The primary vaccines have been around for decades, meaning their patents have long since expired. Thus generic versions are readily available, leaving companies very little profit margin. Moreover, they are typically given once or twice and never thought of again, which is not where the real money in health care is made. Drug companies like high, repetitive profits … something that vaccines don’t offer.

In fact, it’s actually been tough to get health care companies to work on vaccines since, in one of the many perversions of capitalism, there’s simply not the pile of cash waiting for them at the end. A one- or two-dose vaccine isn’t exactly high profit, especially compared to the truckloads of money they can make from creating expensive drugs to be taken every day for years on end to treat chronic conditions. In other words, the profit motives of our health care system incentivize sickness and disease, and vaccines, which promote health, simply aren’t that profitable.

There are occasional exceptions, of course. Coronavirus vaccines were a profitable windfall for companies simply because of the massive amounts of government money doled out in the rush to develop them quickly. The HPV vaccine has been profitable enough for its patent owners that they market it on television. That said, these are rare exceptions, and when it comes to the standard shots your child receives, there’s almost no money in it whatsoever.

Myth: Natural immunity is better than vaccines
Fact: So-called “natural immunity,” which comes from surviving the actual illness, does indeed produce a stronger immune response, which tends to result in higher levels of immunity. Yet this is a dangerous approach, and not “better” in any sense of the word. First, allowing your child to get a potentially deadly disease means they could end up among the portion who don’t survive it. There’s a reason we have vaccines for these illnesses; prior to their invention the disease routinely killed and disabled children.

Second, vaccines don’t actually prevent a child from “catching” a particular illness. What they do is give your child’s immune system a massive head start so that when this pathogen infects them, their body can kill it off before it has a chance to multiply out of control to make them sick. So in that regard, vaccines and so-called “natural immunity” are not necessarily an either/or proposition. A child could receive a vaccine and then build further “natural immunity” when they encounter that pathogen in real life, illl withollt the ilrlrlerl rlaneer that the illness in question mil?ht kill them.

Myth: It’s safe for my child to skip their vaccines so long as other children receive theirs
Fact: This so-called “free rider” argument, which holds that some parents can safely skip vaccinations and enjoy a ‘free ride’ so long as other children receive theirs, is a dangerous delusion. It is true that “herd immunity” helps buffer the risk for unvaccinated individuals. If a high-enough percentage of a population is immune, it tends to stop that disease from taking hold and spreading within that community. A 2012 study in the Journal of Infectious Diseases looked at 3,292 cases of measles in the Netherlands, and found that the risk of contracting a disease was lower if you were a completely unvaccinated person living in a community where vaccine rates are high, compared to being a vaccinated person living in a highly unvaccinated community, since vaccines don’t always take. (Wallace, 2009)

Yet sadly, vaccination rates have dropped to the level where herd immunity is now at risk for most diseases. Herd immunity requires around 95% vaccination rates, and levels for many vaccinations have dropped substantially below that. A Wall Street Journal analysis of 48,246 schools in 32 states found that nearly 30% of schools had MMR rates below his 95%, and 44% had rates below this for vaccinations as a whole. (Abbott et aI., 2019) In many communities vaccination rates have dropped to as low as 40-50%.

Secondly, herd immunity is not a bulletproof vest. If your child goes to a party with a carrier, it won’t matter that 9 in 10 of their peers are vaccinated, your child will be the one who ends up getting sick. It also doesn’t protect them if you travel overseas to areas where vaccination rates are lacking. Studies of vaccinated versus unvaccinated children in the same communities have found unvaccinated kids face much higher risks of contracting deadly diseases, shattering the free-rider illusion. (See our page: The Danger of Skipping Vaccinations)

Myth: Vaccines give kids autism
This myth was started by a now-disgraced doctor who fudged data in a study because he took nearly a million dollars from lawyers wanting to sue vaccine companies. It has since been repeatedly discredited in numerous large-scale studies. (See our page on vaccines & autism)

Myth: Vaccines are dangerous and can cause serious side-effects
Vaccines are generally safe and the side effects they cause fairly mild (swelling or redness at the injection site, for example, which is bound to happen whenever someone pokes you with a needle). Extreme reactions are rare and usually caused by allergies.

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