Myths and facts about back-to-school vaccinations

August 15, 2018
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  • To keep your children healthy, have them immunized.
  • Facts and research make it clear that vaccines help keep us all healthy.

Summer is ending, and back-to-school items are on sale. Whether for the first time or the 12th time, your child is preparing to join his or her classmates for a new school term. As all these young people come together after a summer apart, you can expect them to share stories, homework — and germs.

That’s why so many schools and athletic programs ask you to vaccinate your child — a common-sense precaution that has become oddly controversial in recent years. Let’s explore some of the myths and facts surrounding vaccinations:

Myth 1

Vaccines haven’t really eradicated any diseases, including polio.

Fact: This is false. Vaccines have eradicated smallpox, which once killed three in 10 of the people who contracted it. Polio may be the next to be eradicated, but it still occurs in some circumstances. Still, it is considered fully eradicated in the United States, where vaccinations are routine, and 85 percent eradicated worldwide, by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Myth 2

Vaccines are linked to autism. One paper that found links was retracted under pressure.

Fact: A 1998 paper that suggested such a link was so seriously flawed that it was withdrawn by Lancet, the medical journal in which it had been published. Editors concluded that the lead author, whose research was funded partly by parents suing pharmaceutical companies, had violated ethical canons and shown “callous disregard” for the children in the study.

Myth 3

Flu vaccines are created by researchers who guess which strain of the flu will spread each year. Sometimes they’re wrong.

Fact: In fact, this is generally true. But as the CDC explains, researchers do everything they can to track the way flu viruses evolve and are propagated, and they update their findings regularly. They do so because the vaccine must be manufactured and made available before flu season arrives.

Myth 4

Vaccines contain dangerous toxins, like formaldehyde and ethylmercury. It’s a terrible idea to inject these into a child.

Fact: It’s true that very small amounts of these compounds are contained in some vaccines. But as Public Health.org explains, these are at trace levels and often pass quickly through the body. For example, the body of a 2-month old baby naturally has 55 times the amount of formaldehyde used in vaccines.

Myth 5

“Herd immunity” is a fallacy promoted by pharmaceutical companies.

Fact: Herd immunity is a real phenomenon and for some people, such as the frail, elderly and immune-compromised, it is the best protection against infection. As the Oxford Vaccine Group at the University of Oxford puts it, “If you live in an area where vaccine coverage is low, and your child is not vaccinated, it's quite likely that many of the people they come into contact with will not be vaccinated either. If one of these people gets an infectious disease like measles, they can easily pass it on to the other unvaccinated people around them, and in some cases the disease can then spread very quickly through the population.”

By ensuring your child is vaccinated, you can help give him or her a robust set of defenses to fend off the germs and viruses that inevitably circulate among schoolmates.

Also, parents should know that Washington state calls for schoolchildren to be vaccinated, though it permits some exemptions, including for reasons of religious belief. 

Here at Swedish, we aim to make sure every child is immunized against common diseases. We’ve begun a more rigorous system of comparing databases to make sure our primary care providers and specialists can check to make sure vaccinations are up to date.

If you’d like your family to get vaccinations from a Swedish physician, you can find one near you in our directory. You can also get vaccinations at Swedish Express Care or Urgent Care clinics.

You can also download Circle by Swedish, our mobile app with pregnancy and parenting resources and provider-approved answers to your questions about how to parent healthy kids.

Sophia Conley, M.D. is a pediatrician at Swedish and practices at the Redmond clinic.

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.