Vaccines have experienced resistance globally, including in Kenya where parents have been arrested for declining to have their school-going children vaccinated. In Kenya, most anti-vaccination proponents base their arguments on religion. However, do the arguments against vaccination hold true?
Vaccines cause autism
This argument was based on a study published in a leading medical journal in 1998. The study tried to link MMR (measles, mumps and rubella vaccine) to the development of autism. The study was found to have serious flaws and the doctor who published lost his license to practice medicine. There is no relationship between any vaccine and autism. Autism develops while a baby is in the womb (before vaccination).
Vaccines can lead to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)/Cot Death
There have been concerns that polio and DPT (Diphtheria, Pertussis and Tetanus combined vaccine) can cause SIDS. SIDS is a poorly understood condition in which healthy infants are found dead in bed. Although vaccines are given at an age when SIDS is most prevalent, there has been no evidence to link the two. SIDS also happens in unvaccinated children.
Vaccines contain harmful ingredients
Vaccines contain safe ingredients. Some contain traces of mercury (thimerosal), aluminium and formaldehyde. In large amounts, these compounds can be harmful. However, the amounts in the vaccines are negligible and they are used solely for preservation purposes.
Vaccines cause infertility
There has been great concern locally that vaccination (specifically those administered during pregnancy) can lead to infertility. First, there is no drug that can cause infertility after a single dose. Most drugs that interfere with one’s fertility require multiple regular doses to become effective. Most women who have received anti-tetanus vaccination in pregnancy have gone on to have several children after that.
Why vaccinate yet people who were not immunised in the past led long and healthy lives?
My grandfather was not immunised yet he lived to be 93 years old. Why should I immunise my children? This is a common argument amongst people who do not believe in vaccination. What they do not mention is that during their grandfather’s time, most children did not live to see their fifth birthday. Women would give birth to 16 children but only six to eight would live to adulthood. Why? Most died of preventable (immunisable) childhood diseases.
Natural immunity is more important than vaccinations
Some parents believe that childhood diseases are a way of life and allowing a child to get the illness will help her or him acquire a natural immunity. Vaccines target diseases that are disabling or fatal to a child. For example, you cannot wait for your child to get polio and then seek medical care. By the time you get proper treatment, there will be irreversible damage to your child’s well-being.
Immunisation schedule is too aggressive
Most parents are worried by the number of vaccines their children get before the age of six months.
They feel that the immunisation schedule should be spread over the first five to 10 years of life.
For most vaccines to be effective, they need to be administered within the first few months of life.
There are also concerns about giving multiple vaccinations on the same day. Most children can handle more than one vaccination in a day without overwhelming the immune system.
My child may get the disease from the vaccine
Vaccination can trigger fevers and this has raised concerns that it may cause a child to have the disease that it is meant to prevent. This is not true. Most vaccines are not active and cannot cause a disease.
Instead, they trigger the immune system to behave as though one has been exposed to the disease. The body then produces antibodies (soldiers) which would be called upon should one ever be exposed to the disease.
Vaccines may lead to cancer and other lifelong health problems
There have been concerns that vaccines may be linked to cancer, allergies, auto-immune diseases and asthma. There is no evidence linking these conditions to immunisation. These diseases can occur in both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. They are due to other factors such as genetics, lifestyle and environmental factors.
I do not need to vaccinate my child because all the other children around him are immune.
If a large population of people is vaccinated against a disease, we develop something known as herd (communal) immunity.
This means that if members of this community were exposed to an infectious disease, which they have been vaccinated against, there is unlikely going to be an outbreak.
However, this herd immunity does not protect a child from the disease. If a vaccinated child is exposed to measles, he/she is likely to get it even though the entire school has been immunised against it.
Currently, Kenya does not have 100 percent immunisation rates because of some people decline vaccination. (This has been evident by the re-emergence of polio and measles).
Vaccines can cause disability
This is a genuine concern amongst rural Kenyan parents. It stems from incidents where children developed walking problems after injection with a vaccine. Usually, if a vaccine is properly stored, not expired and injected in the correct place, it should not cause disability.
A common medical error that occurs when injecting medication into the buttocks is inadvertently injuring the nerves supplying the leg. For this reason, most vaccines are now administered on the upper arm or thigh.
Vaccinations have been created to prevent unnecessary infections, disability and loss of life. If you have any concerns about vaccinating a child, speak to the paediatrician and iron out any doubts that you may be having.