Health organizations, doctors, and scientists agree that vaccines are safe and effective. Despite this, there is a growing movement of parents and caregivers choosing not to vaccinate their children. Anti-vaccination myths are almost certainly contributing to this trend.

Many health organizations advise that children receive vaccinations for their individual health and for the health of others. If vaccinations caused more harm than good, they would revise their advice.

In this article, we discuss and debunk anti-vaccination myths with the latest scientific evidence. We also cover why it is vital for children to receive vaccinations.

Young girl receiving a vaccinationShare on Pinterest
Vaccine-preventable disease rates have dropped because immunization is now common.

Reading blog or social media content suggesting that vaccinations may be harmful can be concerning for parents and caregivers who want the best for their children.

Conspiracy theories that link vaccinations to chronic conditions may cause them to question whether vaccinations are safe.

In this section, we explore the questions that five widespread anti-vaccination myths have raised. We will discuss the origins of these myths and what science has to say about them.

Why do we use vaccines when disease rates are low?

Some people believe that there is little benefit in giving children vaccinations because the risk of contracting vaccine-preventable diseases is so low.

This is a harmful anti-vaccination myth. Vaccine-preventable disease rates have dropped because immunization is now a widespread and common practice.

In recent years, however, the number of people contracting vaccine-preventable diseases has increased. Research has found that children who do not undergo immunization are a contributing factor to this troubling trend.

To prevent the spread of several diseases, it is vital that children continue to receive vaccinations.

Do vaccines weaken a child's immune system?

Another common anti-vaccination myth is that vaccines can overwhelm a child's immune system.

Vaccines introduce a weakened or deactivated version of a virus or bacteria into a child's body, which will protect them from certain illnesses in the future. Some people fear that this process may weaken the immune system or make a child unwell.

In fact, the opposite is true. Vaccines expose the body's immune system to small, weakened version of a disease. This process prompts the body to produce antibodies to fight off the infection, teaching the immune system how to fight off the disease.

For example, after a child has had chickenpox, they will be immune to further chickenpox infections because their body has produced the right antibodies to fight them off. Vaccines work in the same way but do not make a child sick.

In this way, vaccination strengthens a child's immune system.

Can vaccines cause autism?

The notion that vaccines cause autism is a common and very harmful anti-vaccination myth. This myth comes from a retracted study that appeared in the late 1990s.

The authors of this study claimed that receiving the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccination increased the chance of a child developing autism.

However, ethical violations, conflicts of interest, and other errors in the study led to many discrediting it. It is also worth noting that the study included only 12 children.

Giving a child an MMR vaccination protects them from developing measles, mumps, or rubella. Scientists do not believe that receiving the MMR vaccine affects a child's chance of developing autism.

According to a research review by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no valid scientific evidence linking the MMR vaccine to autism.

Is natural immunity better than immunity through vaccination?

Some people believe that it is better to develop immunity to diseases naturally than through vaccination.

Natural immunity occurs when a child becomes unwell and has to fight off an infection. If they survive the infection, they will become immune to the virus that caused it, such as with chickenpox.

It is true that natural immunity may sometimes be stronger than vaccine-acquired immunity, but the risks of this approach far outweigh its benefits.

For example, to develop natural immunity to measles, a child would need to contract it first. However, it can cause many uncomfortable symptoms and give rise to several complications.

About 1 in 20 children develop pneumonia during the infection, and a quarter of people who get measles will require a stay in the hospital.

Measles complications can be life-threatening. The World Health Organization (WHO) state that in 2000–2017, vaccinations contributed to an 80% decrease in measles-related deaths.

Developing vaccination-acquired immunity to measles involves a far lower risk of harm. It is extremely rare that someone reacts to the vaccine. Vaccination is a safer choice than naturally acquired immunity and can save a child from having to go through a serious illness.

Do vaccines contain unsafe toxins?

MMR vaccineShare on Pinterest
Vaccines contain toxins but in quantities so low that they cause no harm to the body.

Another anti-vaccination myth is that vaccinations may be harmful because they contain unsafe toxins.

Although it is true that some vaccines contain substances that are harmful to the body in high amounts — such as mercury, formaldehyde, and aluminium — these chemicals are not as harmful as one might believe.

The body has exposure to these substances from various foods and through other products. For example, people consume formaldehyde when they eat fruit, vegetables, and even meat, including seafood and poultry.

Humans often come into contact with aluminum, which is present in water, food ingredients, and preservatives. Some fish also contain moderate or even high levels of mercury.

The quantities of these substances in vaccines are so low that they cause no harm to the body.

It is natural for parents and caregivers to be concerned about their children's well-being and to investigate their options thoroughly. However, there is a lot of unverified health content online.

When reading about vaccination and other health choices, it is crucial to consider the accuracy of the content.

Here are some ways to assess whether online health content is trustworthy:

  • Does it come from a health organization, government source, or reputable health publisher? These websites may have less bias than private companies or health blogs. Private companies may have vested interests in particular products. Some blog authors may not fact-check their content.
  • Does it link to scientific evidence contained in primary sources? Trustworthy content is well-referenced. For example, it might link to recent scientific studies in reputable journals.
  • Is it written in a balanced way? Quality content considers both sides of the argument.

Scientific research does not support claims that vaccination is unsafe. Vaccinations are not linked to autism, and scientists believe that vaccines strengthen, rather than weaken, the immune system.

Natural immunity may sometimes be stronger than vaccine-acquired immunity, but acquiring immunity naturally involves exposing children to unnecessary health risks.

Vaccines do not contain toxins in levels that are unsafe for the human body. In fact, people have exposure to these naturally occurring substances from foods and many other products.

Vaccination is the safest way to help a child develop immunity to vaccine-preventable diseases.

Anti-vaccination myths should not dissuade parents or caregivers from vaccinating their children. Vaccination is necessary to keep the rates of vaccine-preventable diseases low.