Debunking false ideas about vaccines

“Why are there doctors still encouraging parents to get vaccinated when it can cause harm to our children?”
“My baby died because of the vaccine injected to her.”
“Vaccines can cause autism.”

It has been a while since I remained silent about my thoughts with regards to this current hot issue in the Philippines. I try to ignore the rants of every citizen that happens to be irrational because it’s just giving me another headache. However, I realized that as part of the healthcare team, instead of staying quiet, I will try to do the best of my ability to make people understand what’s vaccine before their minds are polluted by negative opinions of people. Note: these people have no background knowledge with what vaccines do in our bodies, so they can just say things that aren’t even evidence based.

Just recently when I was scrolling in my Facebook feed, there’s this news that caught my attention. It says that a 10-year old girl died due to the dengue vaccine. It’s not a different article that I read a month ago saying that there were 2 kids who died when they were vaccinated with anti-measles.

First of all, why do I find the media over-exaggerating things? It seems like they’ve been spreading lies to thousands of netizens that this vaccine did killed the child. Can they do more research before implying that this vaccine really caused the death of the child?

For everybody’s information, the child died due to her sickness that was triggered by the vaccine. Any vaccine could have triggered her sickness and not only dengvaxia. She had an underlying autoimmune disease that’s called Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its healthy tissue. The disease is characterized by a variable clinical course with periodic episodes of inflammation and damage to the joints, tendons, other connective tissues, and organs as heart, lungs, blood vessels, brain, kidneys, and skin.

What is a vaccine?

Vaccines are classified into two groups. The first group, live attenuated vaccines, comprises weakened versions of the pathogens; these mimic the kind of protective immunity induced in people who survive live infection. The second group includes inactivated vaccines, subunit vaccines, toxoid vaccines that consist of inactivated toxins, carbohydrate vaccines and conjugate vaccines. (Source: CDC)

How does it work?

Vaccines help develop immunity by imitating an infection. This type of infection, however, does not cause illness, but it does cause the immune system to produce T-lymphocytes and antibodies. Sometimes, after getting a vaccine, the imitation of infection can cause minor symptoms such as fever. Such minor symptoms are normal and should be expected as the body builds immunity. Once the imitation infection goes away, the body is left with a supply of “memory” T-lymphocytes, as well as B-lymphocytes that will remember how to fight that disease in the future.  (Source: CDC)

Why did it cause the child’s death?

The dengvaxia is an attenuated virus to trigger the immune system to produce antibody. Therefore, if the immune system of the patient is weak due to its illness, how can her body make her immune system work to produce antibody when it is being attacked by its own? While most vaccines are effective and safe in SLE patients, in certain cases immunogenicity may be sub-optimal and vaccination can trigger a flare. So, instead of causing good, it posted more harm on the child. Bottom line is, there should have been thorough assessment.

Is vaccination 100% effective?

No, vaccines are never 100% effective. But close. Maybe 95% – 97% – and what that level of efficacy is really doing is building what’s known as herd immunity.

Herd immunity or herd effect, also called community immunity, describes a form of immunity that occurs when the vaccination of a significant portion of a population provides a measure of protection for individuals who have not developed immunity. Herd immunity theory proposes that, in contagious diseases that are transmitted from individual to individual, chains of infection are likely to be disrupted when large numbers of a population are immune or less susceptible to the disease. The greater the proportion of individuals who are resistant, the smaller the probability that a susceptible individual will come into contact with an infectious individual.

Let’s take the smallpox vaccine as an example. It was estimated to be about 95% effective for each individual. Once the majority of people were vaccinated, it became so hard for the virus to find new targets. Viruses can’t survive without infecting something. By denying the virus access to hosts, it died out. Even though the smallpox vaccine was not 100% effective in terms of individual humans, it is 100% effective in practice, because smallpox doesn’t exist anymore.

If a vaccine is close to 100% effectiveness in individuals (let’s say >90%), then 100% effectiveness can be achieved in practice on the large scale through herd immunity.

Does it cause autism?

No. Some people have had concerns that Autism might be linked to the vaccines children receive, but studies have shown that there is no link between receiving vaccines and developing ASD. If you want, you can just google it or visit CDC.

Due to these news about how vaccine can affect children, it has grew concerns about “vaccination hesitancy”. What is “vaccination hesitancy”? Simply put, it as a psychological state where parents are unsure about whether or not to vaccinate their child. Some hesitant parents will fully vaccinate. Others will leave-out or delay certain vaccines. Hesitant parents are different from declining parents who never did or no longer vaccinate at all. Declining parents have often made their decision and are less likely to change.

So, what to do now?

I’m encouraging doctors and nurses to discuss issues of concern about vaccination with parents and carers. By doing this, it will make vaccination decisions more informed and more satisfying for parents. It also move them towards vaccinating; increase parental satisfaction and build trust in health professionals.

Take-Home Messages

  • Although the history of vaccination in SLE patients had been controversial, the risk benefit balance is in favor for vaccination to reduce the risk of infection as compared to the risk of flare.
  • Educate yourselves. Always do research before posting things online about vaccines because this is an alarming effect for parents and carers.
  • As a supporter of vaccination, I want to see children protected with safe and effective vaccines. For the parents, I understand the challenges of raising children. It’s easier said than done.
  • I’ll say it again, even if it’s not 100% effective, even if there are mild side effects, I believe that the benefits of preventing diseases through vaccination outweigh the risks.