Vaccination related misconceptions continuously spread on different websites, social media sites and via e-mails. They convey unrealistic conspiracy theories, cite non-existing researcher’s international scientific results, they spread factual errors, mistakes, and sometimes report facts erroneously.
Due to the high number of vaccinations (vaccines are routinely administered within the Hungarian population) and great vaccination surveillance in Hungary, the prevalence of vaccination-preventable diseases is outstanding. It is important to remember that vaccine-preventable infectious diseases are dangerous. Depending on the severity of the illness, patients without immunization might need hospitalization, permanent damage might persist in their health condition, or in some cases even lethal outcome might occur. hence, vaccines play a crucial role in preventing severe disease and complications.
In the first part of the 20th century, an average of 4 children died out of 1000 home-nursed children with measles. In infectious diseases’ wards and other pediatric facilities, this ratio was even worse: death occurred in almost every 2nd case. As a result of vaccination, we have not come across such dreadful data recently.
Those parents who believe that their children need to develop immune response against these infections by the natural way (i.e. to get actually infected) expose them to unnecessary risks. It is important to note that the vaccination-related risks are incomparable, an order of magnitude lower than the complications of the vaccine-preventable diseases.
Let’s see an example:
- In 1974, Japan conducted a successful vaccination program against whooping cough (pertussis).
- Eighty percent of the Japanese children were vaccinated.
- In that year, there were only 393 reported pertussis cases and zero ended up in death.
- After, rumor spread stating that the vaccines are unsafe.
- Therefore, by 1976, only 10% of the infants had been vaccinated against the disease.
- In 1979, a severe whooping cough epidemic occurred with 13.000 reported cases and 41 deaths.
- In 1981, the government started vaccination with acellular pertussis vaccines (vaccines that do not contain cells), which resulted in a decrease in the number of reported cases.
There are also more recent examples available. Measles caused several great epidemics widely in Europe, while in Syria infantile paralysis is still a serious problem. This (formerly successfully restricted) disease started to spread again, since the wartime situation impedes the implementation of the vaccination program.
Important! Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent infectious diseases and the serious course of the infections.
Vaccine-preventable diseases have become rare nowadays, since a great percentage of the population has been vaccinated against them for a long time. Immunization, however, must be continued until the disease is eradicated completely.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why are there countries in Europe where vaccines are not mandatory?
In those countries, where the vaccination system is different than that of Hungary, children are only allowed to attend children communities if parents can certify with official documentation that they have received particular vaccines. Though vaccines are not mandatory, children can only attend daycares, kindergartens, and schools if they have received their vaccination. As schooling is mandatory, vaccines are also mandatory – indirectly.
Are unvaccinated children healthier?
The arguments stating that unvaccinated children are healthier than the vaccinated ones lack any scientific background and thereby they are erroneous. Vaccines are used to strengthen the immune system against infections, thereby the infections or their severe complications can be prevented.
Are vaccines and allergic reactions related?
The Robert Koch Institute (Germany) conducted a study in 2011, called KiGGS (Studie zur Gesundheit von Kindern und Jugendlichen in Deutschland), about the children’s and youngsters’ health condition. This study observed the health condition of children aged 13-17 between 2003 and 2006 in Germany. More than 13.000 non-immigrant German children were included in the study and 0.7% of them were unvaccinated.
Based on the results, the researchers conducted that there is no scientifically proven difference in predisposition to allergies or immunity to diseases which are not vaccine preventable between vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals.
Do vaccines contain mercury?
People of the anti-vaccination movements often argue with the harmful effects of mercury and thiomersal contained in vaccines, but their statements are invalid. Thiomersal is an organic compound containing ethylmercury. It has been used in very low quantity in certain vaccines since 1930 against bacterial and fungal infections.
Mercury is a metal which is present in the nature in three forms: metal, inorganic (that can be found in the nature and in animal tissues) and organic form (methylmercury and ethylmercury are the two most common forms).
Different mercury compounds can be found in the air, in the soil, in water sediment, and in fish (especially in fish with a long life-expectancy, e.g., in sharks). Mercury is used in the industry, in dentistry, in thermometers and in vaccines, too.
The two organic forms of mercury, the methylmercury and the ethylmercury have several common features, but there are also important differences, too. Methylmercury is more harmful to humans, since its clearance from the body is around 50 days. The ethylmercury containing thiomersal does not build up in the body like that, since its half-life is around 7 days, hence it is not considered to be harmful in low doses. Ethylmercury transforms into inorganic mercury in the body and then is excreted through the gastrointestinal tract.
Thiomersal (or thimerosal) is a mercury-based preservative of vaccines, and the mercury content of these vaccines are very low. Although it has never been proved to be harmful, it was removed from most vaccines. Studies conducted on children and adults have not shown any (early or late) harmful effect of thiomersal.
Do vaccines cause autism?
Several studies had been conducted on the topic in Denmark, Sweden, in the United States and in the United Kingdom, but they have not found connection between developmental or neurological anomalies and vaccines. In 2004, the Institutes of Medicine, an independent advisory board of the United States declared that there is no relation between autism and thiomersal-containing vaccines.
Another comprehensive study was published in 2004 in the International Journal of Pediatrics about possible relationship between thiomersal-containing vaccines and autism and neurological disorders. The study examined the prevalence of autism, mental impairment, speech difficulties and attention deficit disorders. Evidence showed that autism and mental impairment do not have a connection with thiomersal-containing vaccines. Researchers also concluded that previous epidemiological studies that suggested a linkage between vaccines and autism lacked significant requirements of evidence synthesis, including study design and the validity of the conclusions.
See the striking example of the fraud by Wakefield et al., in which the hypnotized correlation between the MMR vaccine and autism was built on provenly falsified data.
Currently, most of the age group-specific mandatory vaccines do not contain thiomersal. The MMR, IPV, HIB and BCG vaccines do not contain that specific preservative agent that can be found in low quantity in some flu-vaccines. The currently available vaccines’ mercury content is much less than that is recommended by epidemiological and public health studies. There were several studies which determined the mercury concentration in the blood of infants and young children, but the results showed lower concentrations than the recommended threshold.
Some people say that pharmaceutical companies corrupt doctors, thereby increasing their income. What legal regulations prevail against it?
It is important to know that the legal regulations applying to this subject throughout the whole Europe are one of the strictest in Hungary, and rules apply not only to the authorization of medicines, but also to the pharmaceutical lobby and its sponsoring activities and promotion campaigns.
What tools the anti-vaccine movement use to confuse people?
It is important to highlight that the anti-vaccine movements usually spread insecure or manipulated data and false facts. They usually “cite” dubious studies without references, and they often understate the deleterious effects or “just” permanent consequences of particular infectious diseases, thereby manipulating the public. Sadly, these manipulating anti-vaccine campaigns have been spread recently via widely accessed, popular social media sites and portals.
These studies also deny the fact that advantages of vaccination obviously exceed the potential risks of vaccine-related adverse events.
In Hungary, with age group-specific mandatory vaccination we were able to prevent and practically eradicate several infectious diseases with severe or potentially deleterious complications.
For whom is it dangerous if a parent does not get their children vaccinated?
In this case, not only the unvaccinated children are at risk of getting infected, but also other individuals present in the child’s environment who -for some reason- are not properly immunized against the infection (e.g., the elderly – grandparents-, peers or people with chronic diseases). Widely administered vaccines also protect the community – this is what we call herd immunity. The expression “herd immunity” means that if a large proportion of a community is vaccinated against a pathogen, that provides protection for the unvaccinated individuals as well, since they cannot get the infection from anyone. This phenomenon has a great role in preventing epidemics. However, if the proportion of the unvaccinated individuals falls below a critical threshold the herd immunity effect ceases.
With measles, this threshold is 95%, with mumps it is 86% - it means that 95 and 86% of the population needs to be vaccinated in order to protect the unvaccinated “train-jumpers/stowaways”. One of the dangers of vaccine-criticism is that with an incorrect decision, we might put smaller or greater communities’ health at risk.