Dr Michael Barnish, Head of Genetics and Nutrition at REVIV, busts the myths associated with Vaccinations and answers some of the most asked questions:
- What are Vaccines?
- What are the risks from Vaccines?
- What are the benefits of Vaccines?
- Vaccinations for children?
- Toxins in Vaccines?
- Extra ingredients that people are concerned about?
- Actual accuracy of the vaccines?
- Sometimeswe get it wrong
- COVID19 Vaccination
Vaccines are designed to generate an immune response that will protect us from future exposure to the disease in question. Pathogens, or ‘bugs’ are always trying to invade our various protection strategies and we are always in a constant battle against them. The key concept of vaccinations is herd immunity. This is how vaccines keep the general population free of disease causing pathogens. This protects those with weaker immunity from potentially life-threatening diseases. The more people that are vaccinated, the less chance that an outbreak can occur. If the majority of people have immunity, then the virus or bug cannot infect others easily and will die off easier.
What are the risks from Vaccines?
Like any medical intervention they do have risks, however they are usually minor. Unfortunately, the possibility of side effects, alongside media-fuelled fraudulent research has created a growing population of anti-vaccination people. If current trends continue, the number of measles cases, this year, will be the highest in decades. Let us put the risks of vaccination into perspective. Vaccines are vigorously tested and most routine ones now have routine safety data.
What are the benefits of Vaccines?
Vaccination offers the opportunity to eradicate particular diseases across the entire population, protecting the individual and the community, as described above with the term herd immunity. Vaccination can also help reduce the occurrence of other diseases as well. Children that are routinely vaccinated against meningitis have the added benefit of a reduced risk of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, the most common childhood cancer. Similarly, the measles vaccine actually helps protect from other dangerous infectious diseases, such as rubella and mumps and therefore the vaccinated immunity would be more advantageous than naturally made immunity following this dangerous infection.
Vaccinations for children?
A common question that is asked by anxious parents when making decisions on vaccinating their children is that they worry that the immune system can be overwhelmed by so many vaccines within a vaccination schedule, particularly if the immune system is perceived or noted as immature. Travellers needing several vaccinations before they travel can also often worry about the amount of vaccine administer in the short period of time.
There is no proof that spacing out vaccines is safer. What is known, is that the recommended vaccination schedule is designed to provide the greatest possible protection and these schedules have been monitored closely for safety and efficacy over many years. The diseases they protect us from often are a far worse attack on our immune systems and bodies.
Toxins in Vaccines?
Vaccines contain small pieces of the pathogen they seek to protect against. These are either alive, but inactivated, or dead. Vaccines do require additional ingredients to stabilise the solution or increase its effectiveness at stimulating antibody production. The dose is the most relevant factor, with regards to these other ingredients. The volume of the solution contained in vaccination injections is so low that it is harmless. Being exposed to a healthy diet, rich in minerals, antioxidants and vitamins following vaccination will ensure that these extra ingredients are processed and removed quickly from the body and will also feed the immune response.
Extra ingredients that people are concerned about?
Vaccines do contain aluminium salts though, to enhance the body’s immune response, stimulating greater antibody production. This helps to make the vaccine more effective. Although aluminium can cause greater redness or swelling at the injection site, the tiny amount of aluminium salts in vaccines has no long-term effect on the body and has been safely used in some vaccines since the 1930s.
Also amounts of formaldehyde can be found, used to inactivate potential contamination, may also be present in some vaccines. This may sound worrying, but the dose of formaldehyde is 100s of times less than what we get from other sources, such as fruit. So, really it isn’t a valid concern.
Actual accuracy of the vaccines?
Many people worry about whether vaccines work or not. Well, research shows that 85-95% of vaccines are affective for most infections. We are all so different and so are the invading pathogens, so the effectiveness of each vaccine does differ. Even our unique community of good bacteria on our skin and in our gut, can influence the response to vaccines. Something that we are learning more and more about in recent years.
Sometimes we get it wrong
The vaccine’s effectiveness depends on the decisions made by Public Health Authorities. Sometimes they do get it wrong. For example, the 2018 vaccine was only 23% effective at preventing flu. The flu virus is constantly reshuffling its genes. Scientists predict which strain will be predominant during that season with variable degrees of confidence. Public health agencies then have to make educated guesses on this, but of course educated guesses are not always perfect. Just like our weather predictions. So, the flu vaccine is not guaranteed to be 100% effective. So, does this mean that it is not worth having? The flu vaccine carries very little risk and cost, with potentially huge benefits to communities around the world. It can significantly reduce the risk of getting sick with the flu, but also reduces the risk of you infected others that may be more vulnerable. Flu can be life threatening for some people and so vaccination does play a potential lifesaving role.
Vaccines are developed over many years and undergo vigorous trials before they are released to the population. They cost vast amounts of money to get to a safe and effective vaccine. Many people worry that a vaccine for COVID-19 will be developed too quickly, worrying about a reduced safety or efficacy of the vaccine and potential long-term side effects. These are absolutely warranted concerns and I think everyone should question and educate themselves fully when it comes to their health or immunity.
However, the laboratories and science institutions of the world collaborating and working together on a vaccination, sharing important findings about the virus with each other on a mass scale, really for the first time, I have every faith that this collaboration and team work can speed up the process of developing an effective and safe vaccination for COVID 19. We live is a safety obsessed world and creating vaccines is no exception. The vaccine will only be ready when it is deemed safe long term and they will be able to achieve this faster working together to figure out the lifecycle, genetics and make up of this virus. No vaccination will be given to the population if it causes any harm, they are created to help us not harm us.
Vaccinating children and adults, to protect them from life threatening diseases can produce short term side effects, such as redness and swelling at the injection site, fever and rash. All usually self-limiting and minor. The most serious risks, such as severe allergic reactions are so rare, occurring at just 1 in a million. There is a vast amount of data on the safety and efficacy of vaccines. They have saved countless lives, but we are still learning about their broader effects. Investing in more randomised control trials for the proper evaluation of vaccinations and their outcomes would be a step to help validate vaccinations further and alleviate suspicion and vaccine hesitancy.
Vaccination plays such an important role in the fight against infectious disease with little risk to us as children or adults, whether in early-life, travelling abroad or protecting your body from seasonal flu attacks.