4 Common Misconceptions About Vaccines


Immunization ranks as one of the most significant scientific discoveries in human history. Prior to the advent of vaccines and an understanding of immunization, humanity experienced truly terrifying epidemics. The horror of the Spanish Flu, a global pandemic that struck in 1918 and killed between 50 and 100 million people. In comparison, World War One would claim 20 million lives in total.

In response to the Spanish Flu, scientists rushed to find an effective vaccine for the influenza virus. Today, while influenza still infects people every year, it is very rare for it to kill. This is partly because we are better at treating it, but also because we are able to immunize the most vulnerable people and prevent them from becoming infected at all.

The following are the most common misconceptions about vaccines, according to the World Health Organization.

Hygiene and Sanitation

The misconception is that it is because of improvements to our hygiene and sanitation systems, and not because of vaccines, we have seen a decline in many diseases. While there is no doubt that better hygiene, sanitation, nutrition, and education have all contributed to a decrease in the prevalence of many diseases, vaccines have also played a role.

Take measles as an example. Measles cases have risen and fallen throughout human history, yet there is a sustained and measurable drop in the number of cases, which coincides with the introduction of the measles vaccine.

In some cases, such as hepatitis B, there is a delay before the effects of the vaccine can be measured in the population. While infants are now routinely vaccinated against hepatitis B, they are not at risk of the disease until they are teenagers. This means there is a 15-year gap between the introduction of the vaccine and a measurable drop in incidence.

Most of Those Infected by Diseases Have Been Vaccinated

This is an argument often found in anti-vaccine literature and it makes people believe that vaccines don’t prevent disease. However, while it is true that in most outbreaks, the majority of infected people have been vaccinated, this is not because vaccines don’t work. This apparent paradox is actually easily resolved.

Consider a group of 1,000 people. Of these, 995 are given the measles vaccine while five are left unvaccinated. The measles vaccine is >99% effective when administered properly and we expect 85-95% of people to respond to it. However, no scientist or doctor claims any vaccine is 100% effective; we expect some people to still become infected.

If we expose these 1,000 people to measles, then ~7 of them (0.7%) will become infected. This means we will have 12 infected people, five of whom were unvaccinated and seven of whom received the vaccine. So, while 58% of those infected in this case were vaccinated, the vaccine has still been 99.3% effective.

Bad Batches

The misconception here is that there are certain batches of vaccines that are associated with an increase in adverse health events. Again, this often arises from a misunderstanding of statistics, in particular, the difference between correlation and causality.

There are a number of surveillance systems in place to monitor the efficacy of vaccines. This is important because we know that viruses can evolve and adapt and our current vaccines may not always be effective. These surveillance systems report any adverse health events that occur in recently vaccinated individuals, particularly children.

An adverse health event following a vaccine is not necessarily caused by the vaccine. Regardless of whether children receive a vaccine or not, some of them will become ill with a disease entirely unrelated to their vaccination. Just because x number of children become ill after receiving a vaccine, that doesn’t mean that the vaccine is the cause of any illness.

It should also be remembered that batches of vaccines can range in size from a couple of dozen doses to a couple of million. Just because one batch is associated with seven adverse events and another one with 7,000 this doesn’t mean that the latter batch is more dangerous.

Vaccines Cause Harmful Side Effects

This is one of the most prevalent lies from anti-vaccination groups and it plays to parents’ natural caution when it comes to their children. While there is no evidence - and never has been - that vaccines cause serious harm, there are still a large number of parents who are concerned that vaccines might be harmful to their children.

As we mentioned above, there are numerous surveillance systems in place that are designed to report any adverse events. But an adverse event isn’t necessarily a serious event. A sore arm persisting after receiving the jab would be classed as an adverse event even though it won’t cause any serious damage.

If you want to work in the healthcare industry then you will need to familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of vaccines. You will need to be able to lay to rest any fears that your patients might have. Knowing what the most common misconceptions are will make this much easier. If you are passionate about vaccines and ensuring patient safety, a nursing master’s degree like this one from Walsh University Online is worth checking out.

Vaccines are a vital part of modern medicine and have saved countless lives since they were first introduced. Education about why vaccines are important has never been more essential. There is a growing movement of people who claim that vaccines don’t work. The tragedy is that misinformation about vaccines costs real lives.

Knowing what the most common misconceptions about vaccines enables you to educate yourself and others on one of the most important topics of our times. If you want to work in any kind of healthcare field then you will need to be able to explain clearly to uncertain patients why vaccines are important. It is understandable that new parents are cautious about what they put in their children's bodies, but it is also important to understand that misinformation about vaccines has serious real-world repercussions.

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