The topic of vaccination has always generated an endless debate. What was once a life-saving marvel of modern technology is now occasionally viewed with doubt. There are many today who choose to not get vaccinated amid all this mistrust.


It is a fact that many infectious diseases have been controlled or eradicated thanks to vaccines and we certainly need to ponder whether the benefits of vaccination outweigh its alleged risks.


Vaccination has been estimated to avert about 2 to 3 million deaths every year. It is the process by which a person is made immune or resistant to an infectious disease. Vaccines help stimulate the body's immune system. Vaccination is also a cost-effective health investment, does not require any changes to lifestyle, and can be made accessible in the remotest areas.


Let us look at some myths and facts surrounding vaccination. Explained by Dr M Udaya Kumar Maiya, Medical Director, Portea Medical.


Myth: Diseases can be prevented through improved hygiene and sanitation. Vaccines are not necessary.


While hygienic habits and healthy living conditions can definitely help against infectious diseases, there are infections which spread despite maintaining hygiene and cleanliness. Avoiding vaccination will only make the preventable diseases return. This statement is therefore a myth.


Myth: Vaccination can even be fatal. 

 

This statement may be partially true. Vaccination is mostly safe and is followed by a sore arm or mild fever which subsides soon. In some rare cases, children may develop neurological symptoms, seizures, and high fevers few days post vaccination. However, such side effects occur very rarely, and are monitored and investigated by doctors.


Myth: Vaccine-preventable diseases are almost eradicated in my country, so there is no reason to uphold and increase investment in immunization


Even thoughdiseases preventable by vaccination may have become uncommon in India, they may still exist in other countries. Many may still not be protected from certain diseases. As an example, there was recently an outbreak of measles in many WHO European Region countries with traditionally high immunization coverage.


Myth: A child can get a disease even after vaccination.


This can happen in rare cases. Vaccination is given to provide immunity. However, in a small percentage, the person may fail to develop complete immunity. In rare cases, the doctor may need to administer an additional dose to stimulate an immune response. There are times when the person may get exposed to a certain infection before being vaccinated. In such cases, the symptoms can develop before the vaccine gets to work. In many cases, the ensuing infection post vaccination may be of less er intensity and heal quicker!


Myth: Natural immunity is better.


This may not always be true. Leaving a child to natural immunity is like taking a chance and increases the risk of complications, which is not the case with vaccination. Vaccines cause an immune response in the body which is similar to the response produced by a natural infection. However, they do not put a person under risk of potential complications and hence are a better option always. Sometimes, leaving a person or child to develop natural immunity can lead to dangerous results. For example, polio infection can cause permanent paralysis.


Myth: Vaccines contain mercury. 


This is partially true. Certain vaccinations such as flu shots contain thiomersal. This is an organic, mercury-containing compound added as a preservative. However, it is present only in trace amounts and no research till date has suggested that this can prove to be dangerous to health.


Myth: Vaccines can cause autism.


This is not true. A study conducted in 1998 raised some serious concerns about vaccination. As a result of this study, vaccination rates dropped leading to an outbreak of diseases. This study was later found to be flawed and the journal retracted the published paper. There is thus no evidence to suggest that vaccination can cause autism.


Myth: Giving a child more than one vaccine at a time can overload the immune system.


A child is exposed to far more antigens from a common cold or sore throat than from vaccines. There are no side effects on a child's immune system due to vaccination, according to scientific evidence. Though there never can be a united view on the topic of vaccination, it is good to understand and acknowledge both angles, positive or negative, and make an informed decision.