The truth about vaccines

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By: Ben Hess, M.D., TCHC Chief Medical Officer

 

Every year, thousands of people fall ill with preventable diseases such as whooping cough or measles (read more here). Some recover. Some develop complications. Some even die.

Vaccines could stop that from happening. In fact, vaccines have the potential to completely wipe these diseases off of the planet. We did it with smallpox, we just about did it with polio, and we hope to someday eliminate them all.

But that can’t happen without vaccines.  vaccine in vial

 

How do vaccines work?

When germs cause an infection in your body, your immune system fights off that infection to make you well again. By doing so, it builds immunity to that illness so that you’re less likely to catch it again.

A vaccine imitates specific infections so that your body can build immunity to a disease without actually getting it.

 

Are they safe?

New vaccines always go through rigorous testing to determine risks and side effects. They are then regularly monitored while in use.

Just like any medication, there are side effects to vaccines, though minor and few. Most often, you might feel achy or develop a mild fever, but that’s actually good news. It’s a sign that your body is responding to the vaccine.

You might also experience bruising or muscle soreness at the site of injection. This is usually caused by being poked with a needle, not necessarily by the medication.

In rare cases, serious allergic reactions could occur, but that number is extremely small. Here are some statistics to show you how your chance of a serious reaction stacks up:

  • Break a bone: 1 in 55
  • Die in a motor-vehicle crash: 1 in 114
  • Die from measles: 1-2 in 1,000
  • Get struck by lightning: 1 in 12,000
  • Make the U.S. Olympic team: 1 in 380,000
  • Have an allergic reaction to measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) or Hepatitis B vaccine: 1 in 1 million

(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Safety Council, Sanofi Pasteur)

 

Vaccines and autism: Is there a link?

In recent years, many people have declined to receive vaccinations, specifically MMR, because of a belief that they cause autism.

In order to understand that reasoning, it’s important to know where the idea first started.

British former physician Andrew Wakefield published a study in 1998 in The Lancet, a medical journal, suggesting a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

However, an investigation later revealed that Wakefield had manipulated and modified the data. Other violations included conducting invasive tests on children without ethical approval, using a pre-selected test pool of only 12 children, and accepting funding from lawyers whose clients were suing MMR companies.

Ultimately, The Lancet retracted the study, and Wakefield was stripped of his medical credentials.

Since then, many scientific entities have spent millions of dollars on studies involving millions of children worldwide. These studies show beyond a reasonable scientific doubt that there is no link between vaccines and autism.

child vaccines

Ask an expert

Having completed many years of medical school to become experts on topics like vaccines and diseases, my colleagues and I are here to help you interpret vaccine research so that you can make confident, informed decisions about your health and the health of your children.

If you have any questions, please reach out to your provider or another medical professional.

 

Here are some additional trusted resources related to vaccines:

Minnesota Department of Health

World Health Organization

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

How Vaccines Work – CDC

Case Studies – CDC

 

Dr. Hess

About the Author: A board-certified family practitioner and Chief Medical Officer at Tri-County Health Care, Ben Hess, M.D., was inspired to study medicine because he wanted to make a difference in people’s lives every day. While not at work, Hess enjoys hunting, fishing, bowling and listening to public radio. He and his wife have three daughters and make their home in Verndale.