Myth: Do vaccines cause autism?
The widespread fear that vaccines increase risk of autism originated with a 1997 study published by Andrew Wakefield, a British surgeon. The article was published in The Lancet, a prestigious medical journal, suggesting that the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine was increasing autism in British children.
The paper has since been completely discredited due to serious procedural errors, undisclosed financial conflicts of interest, and ethical violations. Andrew Wakefield lost his medical license and the paper was retracted from The Lancet.
Nonetheless, the hypothesis was taken seriously, and several other major studies were conducted. None of them found a link between any vaccine and the likelihood of developing autism.
Today, the true causes of autism remain a mystery, but to the discredit of the autism-vaccination link theory, several studies have now identified symptoms of autism in children well before they receive the MMR vaccine. And even more recent reserach provides evidence that autism develops in utero, well before a baby is born or receives vaccinations.
Myth: Infant immune systems can't handle so many vaccines.
Infant immune systems are stronger than you might think. Based on the number of antibodies present in the blood, a baby would theoretically have the ability to respond to around 10,000 vaccines at one time. Even if all 14 scheduled vaccines were given at once, it would only use up slightly more than 0.1% of a baby’s immune capacity. And scientists believe this capacity is purely theoretical. The immune system could never truly be overwhelmed because the cells in the system are constantly being replenished. In reality, babies are exposed to countless bacteria and viruses every day, and immunizations are negligible in comparison.
Though there are more vaccinations than ever before, today’s vaccines are far more efficient. Small children are actually exposed to fewer immunologic components overall than children in past decades.
Myth: Natural immunity is better than vaccine-acquired immunity.
In some cases, natural immunity — meaning actually catching a disease and getting sick– results in a stronger immunity to the disease than a vaccination. However, the dangers of this approach far outweigh the relative benefits. If you wanted to gain immunity to measles, for example, by contracting the disease, you would face a1 in 500 chance of death from your symptoms. In contrast, the number of people who have had severe allergic reactions from an MMR vaccine, is less than one-in-a-million.
Myth: We don't need to vaccinate because infection rates are already so low in the United States.
Thanks to “herd immunity,” so long as a large majority of people are immunized in any population, even the unimmunized minority will be protected. With so many people resistant, an infectious disease will never get a chance to establish itself and spread. This is important because there will always be a portion of the population – infants, pregnant women, elderly, and those with weakened immune systems – that can’t receive vaccines.
But if too many people don’t vaccinate themselves or their children, they contribute to a collective danger, opening up opportunities for viruses and bacteria to establish themselves and spread.
Not to mention, as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warn, international travel is growing quickly, so even if a disease is not a threat in your country, it may be common elsewhere. If someone were to carry in a disease from abroad, an unvaccinated individual will be at far greater risk of getting sick if he or she is exposed.
Vaccines are one of the great pillars of modern medicine. Life used to be especially brutal for children before vaccines, with huge portions being felled by diseases like measles, smallpox, whooping cough, or rubella, to name just a few. Today these ailments can be completely prevented with a simple injection.
So as science continues to advance and tackle new challenges, people should not forget how many deaths and illnesses vaccines have prevented, and how they continue to protect us from potentially devastating forms of infectious disease.
Myth: Vaccines aren't worth the risk.
Despite parent concerns, children have been successfully vaccinated for decades. In fact, there has never been a single credible study linking vaccines to long term health conditions.
As for immediate danger from vaccines, in the form of allergic reactions or severe side effects, the incidence of death are so rare they can’t even truly be calculated. For example, only one death was reported to the CDC between 1990 and 1992 that was attributable to a vaccine. The overall incidence rate of severe allergic reaction to vaccines is usually placed around one case for every one or two million injections.
Myth: The COVID-19 vaccine can affect women’s fertility.
The COVID-19 vaccine will not affect fertility. The truth is that the COVID-19 vaccine encourages the body to create copies of the spike protein found on the coronavirus’s surface. This “teaches” the body’s immune system to fight the virus that has that specific spike protein on it.
Confusion arose when a false report surfaced on social media, saying that the spike protein on this coronavirus was the same as another spike protein called syncitin-1 that is involved in the growth and attachment of the placenta during pregnancy. The false report said that getting the COVID-19 vaccine would cause a woman’s body to fight this different spike protein and affect her fertility. The two spike proteins are completely different and distinct, and getting the COVID-19 vaccine will not affect the fertility of women who are seeking to become pregnant, including through in vitro fertilization methods. During the Pfizer vaccine tests, 23 women volunteers involved in the study became pregnant, and the only one who suffered a pregnancy loss had not received the actual vaccine, but a placebo.
Getting COVID-19, on the other hand, can have potentially serious impact on pregnancy and the mother’s health. Learn more about coronavirus and pregnancy. Johns Hopkins Medicine encourages women to reach out to their medical providers to discuss other questions they have about COVID-19 as it relates to fertility or pregnancy.
Myth: If I’ve already had COVID-19, I don’t need a vaccine.
Evidence continues to indicate that getting a COVID-19 vaccine is the best protection against getting COVID-19, whether you have already had COVID-19 or not.
- A study published in August 2021 indicates that if you had COVID-19 before and are not vaccinated, your risk of getting reinfected is more than two times higher than for those who were infected and got vaccinated.
- While evidence suggests there is some level of immunity for those who previously had COVID, it is not known how long you are protected from getting COVID-19 again. Plus, the level of immunity provided by the vaccines after having COVID-19 is higher than the level of immunity for those who had COVID but were not subsequently vaccinated.
- Getting vaccinated provides greater protection to others since the vaccine helps reduce the spread of COVID-19.
At the time of vaccination, be sure to tell your care provider about your history of COVID-19 illness, including the kind of treatment, if any, you received and when you recovered. Wait until your isolation period ends before making an appointment to get the vaccination.
Myth: Researchers rushed the development of the COVID-19 vaccine, so its effectiveness and safety cannot be trusted.
Studies found that the two initial vaccines are both about 95% effective — and reported no serious or life-threatening side effects. There are many reasons why the COVID-19 vaccines could be developed so quickly. Here are just a few:
- The COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna were created with a method that has been in development for years, so the companies could start the vaccine development process early in the pandemic.
- China isolated and shared genetic information about COVID-19 promptly, so scientists could start working on vaccines.
- The vaccine developers didn’t skip any testing steps, but conducted some of the steps on an overlapping schedule to gather data faster.
- Vaccine projects had plenty of resources, as governments invested in research and/or paid for vaccines in advance.
- Some types of COVID-19 vaccines were created using messenger RNA (mRNA), which allows a faster approach than the traditional way that vaccines are made.
- Social media helped companies find and engage study volunteers, and many were willing to help with COVID-19 vaccine research.
- Because COVID-19 is so contagious and widespread, it did not take long to see if the vaccine worked for the study volunteers who were vaccinated.
- Companies began making vaccines early in the process — even before FDA authorization — so some supplies were ready when authorization occurred.
Myth: Getting the COVID-19 vaccine gives you COVID-19.
The vaccine for COVID-19 cannot and will not give you COVID-19. The two authorized mRNA vaccines instruct your cells to reproduce a protein that is part of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which helps your body recognize and fight the virus, if it comes along. The COVID-19 vaccine does not contain the SARS-Co-2 virus, so you cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine. The protein that helps your immune system recognize and fight the virus does not cause infection of any sort.
Myth: The side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine are dangerous.
The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines can have side effects, but the vast majority are very short term —not serious or dangerous. The vaccine developers report that some people experience pain where they were injected; body aches; headaches or fever, lasting for a day or two. These are signs that the vaccine is working to stimulate your immune system. If symptoms persist beyond two days, you should call your doctor.
Although very low risk, due to potential blood clots following administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the CDC updated its recommendations in December 2021. The CDC noted that the two mRNA vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna, are preferred over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which remains available for those who prefer it and for use in certain circumstances.
If you have allergies — especially severe ones that require you to carry an EpiPen — discuss the COVID-19 vaccine with your doctor, who can assess your risk and provide more information about if and how you can get vaccinated safely.
Myth: The COVID-19 vaccine enters your cells and changes your DNA.
The COVID-19 vaccines are designed to help your body’s immune system fight the coronavirus. The messenger RNA from two of the first types of COVID-19 vaccines does enter cells, but not the nucleus of the cells where DNA resides. The mRNA does its job to cause the cell to make protein to stimulate the immune system, and then it quickly breaks down — without affecting your DNA.
Myth: The messenger RNA technology used to make the COVID-19 vaccine is brand new.
The mRNA technology behind the new coronavirus vaccines has been in development for almost two decades. Vaccine makers created the technology to help them respond quickly to a new pandemic illness, such as COVID-19.
Myth: The COVID-19 vaccine was developed with or contains controversial substances.
The first two COVID-19 vaccines to be authorized by the FDA contain mRNA and other, normal vaccine ingredients, such as fats (which protect the mRNA), salts, as well as a small amount of sugar. These COVID-19 vaccines were not developed using fetal tissue, and they do not contain any material, such as implants, microchips or tracking devices.
Myth: Now that we have a vaccine for COVID-19, we can make vaccines for the common cold, HIV and other diseases.
The thousands of viruses that cause various diseases are very different. Many change (mutate) year by year, making it difficult to develop one vaccine that works for a long period of time.
Developing vaccines for some disease-causing viruses is tough. For example, the virus that causes HIV can hide and make itself undetectable by the human immune system, which makes creating a vaccine for it extremely difficult.
The common cold can be caused by any one of hundreds of different viruses, so a vaccine for just one of them would not be very effective.
Myth: The flu vaccine protects you against COVID-19.
There is no evidence to support the claim that the flu vaccine protects against coronavirus.
However, it’s still important to get both of these vaccines. In fact, getting your flu vaccine is even more important in 2023. If you fail to get your flu vaccine, you could potentially be infected with coronavirus and the flu at the same time, putting strain on both your health and our health care system.
Myth: We don't get vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States.
Diseases that were once common in the United States, like measles or polio, are now rare or even eliminated completely because generations of people were vaccinated to protect themselves and their communities.
In our globalized world, the potential exposure to vaccine-preventable diseases is only a plane ride away. As the coronavirus pandemic has painfully reminded us, if one country has an outbreak, it’s the world’s concern. In all of human history, smallpox is the only disease to be eradicated from the plant completely.
Failing to get vaccinated can put yourself and your entire community at risk.
Myth: Vaccines are used to microchip people.
The internet can be beneficial for learning more about your health, but it can also be fertile ground for misinformation — particularly during the coronavirus pandemic.
There are some claims that vaccines are or will be used to microchip people so they can be tracked or controlled through 5G cell phone towers. This is not only false, but impossible. Evidence suggests that this conspiracy theory was spread by people seeking to sow disinformation and confusion among Americans.
There are ways to find reliable health information online, but the best thing to do if you have questions about your health is to speak to a doctor.
Myth: You can catch the flu from the vaccine.
The flu shot is made from an inactivated virus that can’t transmit infection. So, people who get sick after receiving a flu vaccination were going to get sick anyway. It takes a week or two to get protection from the vaccine. But people assume that because they got sick after getting the vaccine, the flu shot caused their illness.
Myth: Healthy people don't need to be vaccinated.
While it’s especially important for people who have a chronic illness to get the flu shot, anyone — even healthy folks — can benefit from being vaccinated. Current CDC guidelines recommend yearly vaccination against influenza for everyone older than 6 months of age, including pregnant women.
Myth: The flu is just a bad cold.
Influenza may cause bad cold symptoms, like sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, hoarseness, and cough. But according to CDC, the 2019-20 flu season led to at least 18 million medical visits, 24,000 deaths and 410,000 hospitalizations. The cumulative hospitalization rate for children ages four and under this flu season was 95.1 per 100,000 people as of the week ending on April 25, 2020. Experts attribute the high number of pediatric deaths to a “double barrel” flu season where both influenza A and B were dominant. It’s not too late to get a flu shot. Even if it doesn’t prevent you from getting the flu, it can decrease the chance of severe symptoms.
Myth: You don't need to get a flu shot every year.
The influenza virus changes (mutates) each year. So, getting vaccinated each year is important to make sure you have immunity to the strains most likely to cause an outbreak.