The introduction of vaccines for the dreaded Covid-19 has lead to much misinformation, especially on social media. This can endanger lives. Most vaccine adverse events are minor and temporary such as a sore arm or mild fever. Serious adverse events occur rarely and various myths should be countered by scientific facts and figures, writes DR. KAFEEL KHAN.
SINCE Edward Jenner’s discovery of the cowpox vaccine in 1796, the arguments of persons who opposes vaccination or laws that mandate vaccination were frequently found in anti-vaccine literature. In this era of social media, anti-vaccination messages have got wings and are proliferating. The rapid development of coronavirus vaccines has fuelled this hesitancy and various myths. WhatsApp and Facebook messages and tweets are filled with rumours, unscientific views and infodemics.
People are more likely to see negative messages about vaccines on social media than positive ones.
Disinformation and misinformation around vaccines can endanger lives.
Adverse event following immunisation is any untoward medical occurrence after immunisation which does not necessarily have a causal relationship with the usage of the vaccine. Most vaccine adverse events are minor and temporary.
Let us try to dispel some of them. A vaccine uses the body’s natural defence to build resistance to specific infections by training the immune system to create antibodies, just as it does when it’s exposed to a disease. However, because vaccines contain only killed or weakened forms of germs, they do not cause the disease or put one at risk. The immune system remembers the disease and if one is then exposed to the germ, it can quickly destroy it before one becomes unwell.
An adverse event following immunisation is any untoward medical occurrence after immunisation which does not necessarily have a causal relationship with the usage of the vaccine. Most adverse events related with the vaccine are minor and temporary such as a sore arm or mild fever. Serious adverse events occur rarely (1 per 1,000 to 1 per 1,000,000 doses).
Some of the myths surrounding vaccination are as follows:
MYTH: Natural immunity is better than vaccine-acquired immunity. A vaccine may weaken the immune system
REALITY: Vaccines stimulate the immune system to produce a response similar to natural infection.
They do not weaken or overload the immune system.
If one wants to gain immunity to measles by contracting the disease, one would face a 1 in a 500 chance of death from symptoms.
n contrast, the number of people who have had severe allergic reactions from an MMR vaccine is less than one in a million.
MYTH: *Vaccinations cause the diseases that they are meant to prevent
REALITY: Vaccines mimic the diseases they prevent.
The process of producing antibodies can sometimes cause low fever or minor swelling, but not the actual disease.
MYTH: *Vaccines contain unsafe toxins
REALITY: It’s true that vaccines do contain trace amounts of formaldehyde, mercury and aluminium as an adjuvant, but that’s safe even for children.
The number of cases for every vaccine-preventable disease plummets as the vaccine is made widely available. Smallpox killed hundreds of millions of people and was one of the most feared diseases for over 3,000 years. Today, it has been eradicated, thanks to immunisation.
MYTH:* The effectiveness of vaccinations has never been proven
REALITY: The number of cases for every vaccine-preventable disease plummets as the vaccine is made widely available.
Smallpox killed hundreds of millions of people and was one of the most feared diseases for over 3,000 years. Today, it has been eradicated, thanks to immunisation.
Polio and syphilis once affected millions, but are rarely diagnosed now.
Vaccination prevents 20 -30 million deaths worldwide.
MYTH:*Vaccines cause autism
REALITY: There’s no relationship between any vaccine and autism. Autism usually is determined before birth. A 1998 study which raised concern about a possible link between measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism was later found to be seriously flawed and fraudulent. The paper was subsequently retracted by the journal that published it and the doctor that authored it lost his medical license.
MYTH:* Not vaccinating my child affects only my child
REALITY: Herd immunity means having a high enough percentage of people in a population who are so immune to a disease that there are few left to infect. But when a population dips below that amount of vaccinated people needed to prevent an illness from spreading, a disease that was nearly eradicated can resurface with a vengeance — spreading quickly and threatening many lives. Not getting vaccinated is like failing to stop at a four-way intersection. If three people stop and one doesn’t, the risk of an accident is relatively small. If two or three people don’t stop, the risk is much higher to everyone at the intersection.
MYTH:* I know some child who was vaccinated and still got the disease.
REALITY: No vaccine is 100% effective. For reasons related to the individual, not all vaccinated persons develop immunity. Most routine childhood vaccines are effective for 85% to 95% of recipients.
MYTH:* Infant immune systems can’t handle so many vaccines. The vaccine schedule is too aggressive and should be spaced out.
REALITY: The immunisation schedule is determined by decades of medical evidence. Infant immune systems are stronger; a baby would theoretically have the ability to respond to around 10,000 vaccines at one time. Babies are exposed to countless bacteria and viruses every day and immunisations are negligible in comparison. Though there are more vaccinations than ever before, today’s vaccines are far more efficient. Small children today are actually exposed to fewer immunologic components than those in the past.
MYTH:*Vaccines cause infertility.
REALITY: There is no scientific evidence to suggest that any vaccine can cause infertility in either men or women. I remember as a child I used to hear that the oral polio vaccine could cause impotency. This had a negative impact on the polio eradication drive. The same lie is being propagated about the coronavirus vaccine.
MYTH:* If you’ve had Covid-19, you don’t need to get vaccinated.
REALITY: While a previous coronavirus infection might provide people with antibodies against reinfection, experts are not yet sure how long this protection lasts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that “people may be advised to get a Covid-19 vaccine even if they have been sick with it before”.
MYTH:* Once you receive the coronavirus vaccine, you’re immune for life.
REALITY: It’s not known how long the immunity from the vaccine will last and whether it will need to be administered more than once, or even on a regular basis, like the flu shot.
MYTH:*Coronavirus vaccines use a live version of the virus.
REALITY: None of the vaccines uses the live virus that causes Covid-19. The leading vaccine candidates use scientific techniques to train the human body to recognise and fight the coronavirus by either introducing a lled virus or a harmless piece of it (not the entire germ) to the body.
No vaccine is 100% effective. For reasons related to the individual, not all vaccinated persons develop immunity. Most routine childhood vaccines are effective for 85% to 95% of recipients.
MYTH:* Coronavirus vaccines can alter your DNA.
REALITY: While vaccines send genetic instructions to the body, these disappear quickly and do not alter the DNA. Think of mRNA/dsDNA as an instruction manual: It directs the body to build an immune response to a specific infection. The time that this dsDNA/mRNA survives in the cells is relatively brief—a span of hours. What you are really doing is sticking a recipe card into the cell making protein for a few hours.
MYTH:* You don’t need both doses of the coronavirus vaccine.
REALITY: You need both doses 3-12 weeks apart. The first shot starts building protection; the second boosts that protection.
MYTH:* If you got the flu shot this year, you don’t need the coronavirus vaccine.
REALITY: While the flu and Covid-19 share similar symptoms, they are two different illnesses, caused by two different viruses.
MYTH:* You can ditch your mask and forget social distancing after you get vaccinated.
REALITY: A vaccine will complement the other tools we have, not replace them. Contact tracing, testing more and more people, isolation and quarantine will need to continue. We have to continue to follow social distancing norms, mask-wearing and hand hygiene practices.
India’s immunisation programme with the Intensified Mission Indradhanush strategy is the largest in the world, with annual cohorts of around 27 million infants, 30 million pregnant women and about 400 million doses over nine million sessions. The whole programme has been derailed because of the coronavirus pandemic. With the target of administering 500 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine by June 2021, India has to double up its already stretched vaccination delivery system and educate its under- and misinformed population. Well-planned communication is an important component of limiting the spread of rumours.
There is no scientific evidence to suggest that any vaccine can cause infertility in either men or women. I remember as a child I used to hear that the oral polio vaccine could cause impotency. This had a negative impact on the polio eradication drive. The same lie is being propagated about the coronavirus vaccine.
In short, there are many takeaways from this dreaded disease:
*There is no such thing as a “perfect” vaccine which protects everyone who receives it and is safe for everyone.
- Effective vaccines may produce some undesirable side-effects which are mostly mild and clear up quickly.
- The majority of events thought to be related to the administration of a vaccine are actually not due to the vaccine itself–many are simply coincidental events, others are due to human or programme error.
- It is not possible to predict every individual who might have a mild or serious reaction to a vaccine, although there are a few contraindications to some vaccines. By following contraindications, the risk of serious adverse effects can be minimised.
The article was originally published in The Leaflet.
(Dr Kafeel Khan is from the Department of Paediatrics, BRD Medical College, Gorakhpur, UP. The views expressed are personal.)