From claims of toxic compound presence to disease risk after immunisation, five vaccine myths busted


With a few COVID-19 vaccines already in phase 3 and final trials, and several more nearing the final phase, the race for a vaccine is becoming heated. Though the researchers have not even shared an ETA yet, concerns about potential rejection from anti-vaxxers have already been raised in the past months.

According to a 2019 article published in The Lancet, vaccine hesitancy, which is the refusal of vaccines or delay in accepting vaccines, has been around since the first vaccine was developed.

However, with the advent of social media, anti-vaccination messages are spreading more quickly than ever before. The article suggested that a lot of people have difficulty accepting a vaccine because of their concerns about vaccine safety, general distrust and the many conspiracy theories doing the rounds.

Here are five common myths associated with vaccines and the truth behind them.

Myth 1: There is no proof that vaccines are safe.

Truth: Most vaccines go through several levels of testing, both for their safety and immunogenicity before they are made available to the masses. The studies and their results are available in various journals and government websites.

An article published on the website of Rush University Medical Center suggests that one of the best ways to notice the efficacy and safety of vaccines is the gradual reduction in the number of cases of a particular disease soon after a vaccine became available against it.

Myth 2: Proper sanitation and hygiene can eliminate disease 

Truth: As per the World Health Organisation (WHO), previous incidences have shown that if we avoid or, worse, stop vaccination, certain diseases would come back and may cause outbreaks. The most recent example is from the UK, which the WHO no longer considers to be free of measles due to reduction in MMR vaccination and an increase in measles cases.

It is also worth noting that it is difficult to ensure hygiene and sanitation. COVID-19 cases have been increasing in the past eight months despite widespread information about the importance of handwashing, masks and hygiene maintenance.

In fact, there have been conspiracy theories around precautionary measures like mask use, even while research studies have shown that masks may be effective in reducing the spread of the disease.

Myth 3: Not getting vaccinated will only affect me

Truth: It is apparent from the recent measles outbreaks that this is not really true. To prevent an outbreak, a certain number of people have to be immunised in an area to reach what is called herd immunity. The more people reject vaccines, the higher are the chances of a new outbreak of a disease.

Myth 4: A lot of people get the disease they were vaccinated against.

Truth: Vaccines are made from a weaker, inactivated or killed version of a pathogen or a part of it. Upon exposure to a vaccine, your body will develop immunity against the disease the vaccine targeted, without you ever developing the disease. This is because a vaccine makes your immune system believe that you have been exposed to the disease.

However, there is a catch: not all vaccines are 100 percent effective. So if a vaccine is 99 percent effective, 1onepercent of people will not develop immunity to it even after getting vaccinated. Such people are susceptible to the disease and may get it.

However, this does not mean that the vaccine wasn’t effective. The WHO explains this with an example of a class of 1,000 students where all but five are unvaccinated against a disease and the vaccine is more than 99 percent effective. In case the class is exposed to a pathogen, all five unvaccinated will get the disease and out of the rest 995, less than 1 percent (say 7) get the disease too. The total number of cases would be 12 instead of 1000.

Myth 5: Vaccines contain ingredients harmful to the body

Truth: Experts suggest that any ingredient is harmful when taken in large amounts. Vaccines do contain certain ingredients like formaldehyde, and aluminium, but they are in highly minute amounts and are needed to make the vaccines safer. In fact, we are exposed to much higher amounts of these chemicals in everyday life.

For example, humans consume about 30 to 50 mg of aluminium in food and drinking water every day, while vaccines have no more than 0.125 to 0.625 mg of aluminium in a single dose.

Similarly, formaldehyde in vaccines is much lower than what we are exposed to through cosmetics, paint, automobile exhaust, and furnishings like carpets and upholstery.

For more information, read our article on How vaccines are made.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.

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