Vaccines are one of the single most important medical advances of the last century, and we literally live longer and healthier lives because of them. Yet suspicion against vaccinations is virulent, with various anti-vaccine groups contesting their safety, efficacy and necessity. We know it can be hard to sort science from pseudo-science. And there is considerably more appeal to riveting personal stories over the less compelling prose of rigorous studies, right? We decided to jump in and look at some of the scariest symptoms attributed to vaccines, and then we compared those fears with the research. Here are eight ailments you’re not going to get from vaccines. (So, calm down Jenny McCarthy and Kristin Cavallari, because you’re not doctors.)
16 years ago, Dr. Andrew Wakefield published an article in The Lancet linking vaccines to autism, creating a fear that has persisted despite the retraction of the article and the revelation that Wakefield falsified much of his data. There is currently no good science linking vaccines and autism, but plenty of good science against the link.
A study published in JAMA Neurology found that while Hep A and HPV shots may “accelerate the transition from subclinical to overt autoimmunity in patients with existing disease,” they do not cause MS. They cite the link as an age-based coincidence, since MS symptoms usually appear around the same time kids get the shots.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is so tragic that scientists would love to pin down a cause. But it’s not vaccines. The Institute of Medicine reports that “all controlled studies that have compared immunized versus non-immunized children have found either no association…or a decreased risk” of SIDS in immunized kids.
Flu shots don’t cause the flu, says Mt. Sinai Hospital microbiologist Dr. Allison McGeer. Yes, it’s true that attenuated nasal sprays contain a weakened virus and may cause a mild infection, and it’s still possible to catch a respiratory virus or a milder or different flu strain after getting the shot, but ultimately flu shots prevent the flu.
Some skeptics blame standard vaccination schedules–and not vaccines themselves–for triggering diseases like diabetes. But according to a study in Pediatrics, there is no link between Type 1 diabetes and “any of the routinely recommended childhood vaccines,” regardless of timing.
Asthma and eczema
Fact: food allergies and allergic diseases are on the rise and we don’t really know why. But a University of Nottingham study found “inconsistent evidence for a relation between vaccination and the development of allergic disease,” and concluded that “recommended routine vaccinations are not a risk factor for asthma or eczema.”
Fears about thimerosol–an organic mercury compound used as a preservative in some vaccines–has led to a decrease in its use. Dr. McGeer is not convinced, noting, “The amount you get in an influenza vaccine is about the same amount that you would absorb from a liter of milk. There is good evidence that this amount is not harmful.”
Actually, there is a link between flu shots and Guillain-Barré syndrome. However, a study funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research found that the flu itself is more likely to cause the paralyzing condition than the flu shot.