9 VACCINE MYTHS BUSTED
There are many stories around vaccines that just aren’t true. We help you arm yourself with the truth
VACCINES CAN CAUSE SUDDEN INFANT DEATH SYNDROME (SIDS)
The primary cause of SIDS is suffocation, which is why parents are warned to place their babies on their sides or backs to sleep rather than on their stomachs. Since this official recommendation was made by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the number of SIDS deaths has dropped dramatically. This is in spite of the fact that the number of babies who received the hepatitis B vaccine (the vaccine which was thought by some to cause SIDS) increased at the same time. So there really is no truth to this myth.
VACCINES GUARANTEE 100% PROTECTION
No vaccine is 100 percent effective. Most are 85 to 95 percent effective. Vaccines may fail if they haven’t been stored properly or because an individual has reduced immunity due to illness, explains Dr Allison Glass, a virologist at Lancet Laboratories. If you didn’t stick to the timetable of vaccinations and didn’t have your booster shots when recommended, the performance of the vaccine may be compromised. But, says Dr Glass, when infected, the disease is likely to be milder than it would have been without vaccination.
I HAD MEASLES WHEN I WAS A CHILD AND IT WAS NO BIG DEAL!
“Complications of diseases like measles are unpredictable. So while in most cases the disease may be mild, there are plenty of cases where the disease is severe enough to cause death or permanent damage such as blindness, deafness and intellectual disability,” says Dr Melinda Suchard of the Centre for Vaccines and Immunology at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD). According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), in 1980, before widespread vaccination, measles caused an estimated 2.6-million deaths each year and remains one of the leading causes of death in children. “Some parents may be lucky and their child may have a mild infection, but for the one unlucky parent whose child becomes blind or deaf from meningitis caused by haemophilus or measles, there’s no going back. The complications of these infections are well known, are highly possible and one shouldn’t take them lightly,” says Dr Suchard. Consider others’ safety too. Women infected with measles while pregnant are at risk of severe complications and the pregnancy may end in miscarriage or preterm delivery.
POLIO AND MEASLES HAVE ALMOST BEEN COMPLETELY WIPED OUT, SO MY CHILD DOESN’T NEED TO BE VACCINATED AGAINST THEM
Polio has indeed been eliminated in SA – we haven’t had any cases since 1989. But there is still polio circulating in the world. “While there is still some ‘wild type’ polio circulating in the world, no one is safe against polio and that’s why we continue to be vaccinated,” says Dr Suchard. Infections for diseases you’re vaccinated for may be low in SA, but if too many people don’t vaccinate their children, they open up opportunities for diseases to (re-)enter our population and spread. With global travel being so prevalent, all it takes is one infected person to arrive in South Africa and you (and your children) will be at risk. Indeed, one baby in KwaZulu-Natal died three years ago from diphtheria, while five more were critically ill. These may seem like small numbers, but they are alarming facts when you consider these children needn’t have caught diphtheria at all. The reason people may feel that they no longer need to be vaccinated for these diseases is actually because of the success of vaccines, says Dr Suchard. “Because these diseases are so rare, we’ve lost our fear of them. But if you speak to your grandparents about these types of diseases, they can tell you stories about how common they were and the deaths they caused.”