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Common Vaccine Misconceptions Debunked with Dr. Barnish

October 14, 2019

When it comes to the topic of vaccines, it can be difficult to know what to believe and who to listen to. Unfortunately, false information shared online can scare many people away from preventing life-threatening diseases.

In honor of International Infection Prevention Week, Dr. Michael J. Barnish, infectious diseases specialist at Jefferson Health in New Jersey, shares the truth behind some of the most common vaccine misconceptions.

Misconception #1: The MMR vaccine causes autism.

This common misconception was sparked by a 1997 study conducted by Andrew Wakefield. Wakefield tailored his data to meet his hypothesis, that MMR causes autism, among a small, hand-picked group of children. The U.K. General Medical Council ruled his research dishonest and fraudulent, and his findings were dismissed. His work, however, inspired other medical professionals to lead similar studies. There has been no evidence of causality so far.

It’s important to realize that autism often onsets around the same time-frame/age as when the MMR vaccine is administered.

Misconception #2: Thimerosal causes autism.

Thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative that was once used in most vaccines, has been removed due to fears of possible harm. No evidence of harm has ever been recorded, and rates of autism have not decreased since its removal, nearly two decades ago. In addition, the form of mercury found in thimerosal does not cause damage to the nervous system, unlike other forms.

Misconception #3: Babies’ immune systems cannot handle multiple vaccines.

Babies are exposed to various challenges to their immune system from the moment they are born, and they get sick all the time! If you wait until they are no longer sick, you leave dangerous time gaps when they can become infected. Vaccines only use a tiny portion of a baby’s immune system’s ability to respond, due to the fact that newer vaccines contain far less antigens (sugars and proteins) for them to process.

Note: Vaccines can be safely administered, at any age, to individuals with mild acute illnesses, such as common colds, sore throats, and earaches.

Misconception #4: Natural infection is better than immunization.

Some people believe that natural infection will give them an even stronger immunity to dangerous diseases, however, this has not been proven. Why risk it, when the price to pay could include paralysis, permanent brain damage, liver failure, liver cancer, deafness, blindness, loss of limbs, and ultimately, death?

Misconception #5: Pregnant women should not get vaccinated.

Pregnant women should not receive LIVE vaccines, such as varicella, MMR, and HPV. However, it’s safe and essential to their health to receive the flu shot, as the immune systems is compromised during pregnancy. It’s also highly recommended that they receive the Tdap vaccine, to protect their child against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough), for a few months after birth. Tdap should be administered each pregnancy, regardless of when it was last given.

Other inactive vaccines may depend on the mother’s individual risk factors and should always be thoroughly discussed with a physician.

This information was presented as part of Jefferson Health in New Jersey’s Healthy Living Series at Camden County College. To learn more about infectious diseases services offered at Jefferson Health in New Jersey, click HERE.