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Published: Thursday February 5, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Monday February 9, 2015 MYT 11:47:48 AM

Clearing up vaccination myths

Despite its success at preventing diseases, vaccinations are still viewed with distrust by some people.

MY brother’s wife recently gave birth to a baby. They were given a vaccination schedule and told to adhere to it strictly. Why do we need vaccinations?

First, we have to understand what a vaccine is. It is a biological preparation that provides immunity to a particular disease and usually contains an agent resembling a micro-organism which causes a certain disease. By “resemble”, I mean that the agent is structurally similar to the real micro-organism. In fact, vaccines are often made from the weakened or killed forms of the micro-organism, its toxins, or surface proteins. Once introduced into the body, the agent inside the vaccine will stimulate the body’s immune system to mount antibodies against it. The body’s complex immune system will store this “information”, and when the real micro-organism comes along, the body is ready to mount an immune response against it.

But I have heard that vaccines are dangerous, that we can get damaging side-effects from them, like paralysis and such.

Vaccines are generally very safe. Most reactions are minor and temporary. For example, your arm may be sore at the site of the injection, or you may get a mild fever after a flu shot. There are indeed some cases of serious side effects after vaccination, but they are rare.

You must remember what a vaccine is for. It is to prevent you from getting the disease itself, which can cause far more damage. For example, if you get measles as a child, this can lead to brain inflammation (encephalitis) and blindness. If you get chickenpox, you can also get encephalitis, not to mention unsightly scarring. Therefore, although there are rare cases of vaccine reactions, the benefits greatly outweigh the risks.

I heard that the DPT vaccine (diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus) vaccine given to infants can result in infant death. Is this true?

No. There is no link between the DPT vaccine and Sudden Infant Death syndrome (SIDS). The deaths that occurred were found to be coincidental and not linked to the vaccines.In the same way, there was also a debate about whether the DPT vaccine can cause childhood autism. No link has been found. Autism was simply coincidental.

I don’t hear of polio anymore in Malaysia. Do I still need to ensure my baby gets the vaccine?

Yes, you still need to. Although many of these diseases have been eradicated in many countries in the world, the infectious micro-organisms that cause polio are still circulating in less developed countries. These micro-organisms can cross borders through air travel and tourism and such. Therefore, you are not fully protected if you don’t have vaccination. For example, I have a friend who contracted polio during adulthood. He is Vietnamese.

Every year, my company runs an influenza vaccination programme. I am afraid to sign up for it. Besides, having the flu is not very dangerous and I can live with that.

Influenza is more serious and dangerous than most people give it credit. It still kills up to 500,000 people worldwide every year, especially children, old people, anyone with a chronic disease and pregnant women.

Influenza vaccination proffers immunity to the three most prevalent strains of influenza circulating around the world at any given year. Companies like to run flu vaccination programmes to prevent you from getting the flu and missing work days. You should take the flu vaccine to prevent yourself from getting the flu, which can truly be a miserable experience.

My grandmother told me as a child that it is better to get immunity from getting the disease itself than through vaccinations.

Not at all. The vaccine-mounted immune response is the same as the one produced by infection of the actual disease.

So why suffer through the actual disease (e.g. measles, mumps, hepatitis B, etc) when you can get immunity through vaccination? Moreover, the actual disease can lead to a lot of complications. For example, if you get mumps when you are pregnant, this can lead to birth defects in your unborn baby. Do you want to risk yourself and your children in that manner?

What about the cervical cancer vaccine for young girls? Is that dangerous?

Once again, as with all vaccinations, there will always be girls who experience side effects. One out of 10 girls will experience injection site problems and headaches. There are also very rare side effects like seizures and the Gullain Barre syndrome that you have probably read about. But these are very rare. The benefits of not getting cervical cancer far outweigh the risk of these side effects.

Dr YLM graduated as a medical doctor, and has been writing for many years on various subjects such as medicine, health, computers and entertainment. For further information, e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle, Opinion, vaccination myths

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