3 Myth Busters for Vaccine-Hesitant Parents

JANUARY 12, 2017
Controversy has been sparked now that anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. claims that Donald Trump has asked him to chair a new commission on vaccine safety. This is a great opportunity for pharmacists to counsel patients, and especially parents on the benefits of vaccines. Check out these 5 vaccine myths that can easily be busted by pharmacists through communitywide public health education.
  1. Myth: Vaccines cause autism.
Fact: Studies have proven there is no link between vaccines and autism.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) emphasizes that numerous clinical studies have demonstrated that there is no link between receiving vaccines and developing autism.1,2 The study published in the journal Lancet in 1998 with principal author Dr. Andrew Wakefield suggesting that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine might be linked with autism was retracted in 2010 since the findings were false.3 The British General Medical Council in the United Kingdom reported that Wakefield acted unethically and dishonestly in conducting research. This study has sparked unnecessary concerns among parents, and pharmacists should reiterate the robust evidence showing that there is no link between vaccines and autism. 
 
  1. Myth: Thimerosal is harmful.
Fact: Studies have demonstrated that vaccine ingredients such as thimerosal (mercury-based preservative) do not cause autism.  Between 1999 and 2001 thimerosal was removed or reduced to trace amounts in all childhood immunizations except for some flu vaccines as a precaution before studies were conducted showing that it is not harmful.4 Educate patients that vaccines are actively monitored by the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 
 
  1. Myth: Children should not receive multiple vaccines at the same time.
Fact: The currently recommended schedule is safe and effective and endorsed by the AAP and the CDC. Delaying vaccines leaves children at risk of contracting diseases. Children too young to receive vaccines are left vulnerable to serious illness from unvaccinated individuals. The CDC recommends vaccinations before the age of 2 years to protect children against 14 infectious diseases (See Table). Studies have demonstrated that receiving several vaccines at the same time does not cause any chronic health problems.
 
 
 Table: 14 Infectious Diseases Prevented by Vaccines
 
Measles
Mumps
Rubella
Varicella
Hepatitis A
Hepatitis B
Diphtheria
Tetanus
Pertussis
Haemophilus influenza type B
Polio
Influenza
Rotavirus
Pneumococcal disease
 
Pharmacists can collaborate with pediatricians to educate parents on the importance of childhood vaccines. Provide the CDC’s childhood vaccine chart to parents as an educational tool. Additionally, it is important to educate the new federal commission on immunizations to protect children from serious diseases. Becoming involved in both the state and federal legislative process can help to ensure that vaccine myths are dispelled. The AAP says it best: “Vaccines are safe. Vaccines are effective. Vaccines save lives.”2                  
                     
References

  1. Edwards KM, Hackell JM.  Countering vaccine hesitancy.  Pediatrics.  2016;138(3):e20162146.
  2. American Academy of Pediatrics emphasizes safety and importance of vaccines.  AAP website.  https://healthychildren.org/English/news/Pages/AAP-Emphasizes-Safety-and-Importance-of-Vaccines.aspx.  Accessed January 11, 2017.
  3. Barrett S.  Lancet retracts Wakefield paper.  Autism Watch website.  https://www.autism-watch.org/news/lancet.shtml.  Accessed January 11, 2017.
  4. Vaccines do not cause autism.  CDC website.  https://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/concerns/autism.html.  Accessed January 11, 2017.


Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh
Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh
Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh, received her PharmD degree from Nova Southeastern University (NSU) College of Pharmacy in 2006 and completed a 2-year drug information residency. She served as a pharmacy professor at NSU’s College of Pharmacy for 6 years, managed the drug information center, and conducted medication therapy management reviews. Dr. Gershman has published research on prescription drug abuse, regulatory issues, and drug information in various scholarly journals. Additionally, she received the Sheriff’s Special Recognition Award for her collaboration with the Broward, Florida Sheriff’s Office to prevent prescription drug abuse through a drug disposal program. She has also presented at pharmacist and physician continuing education programs on topics that include medication errors, prescription drug abuse, and legal and regulatory issues. Dr. Gershman can be followed on Twitter @jgershman2
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