Dispelling fear of vaccinations

From NST Sunday Spotlight

By Chandra Devi Renganayar
14th Oct 2012

Modern day science has made it possible to prevent more than 30 common infectious diseases through immunisation. Yet, 1.7 million children die from vaccine-preventable diseases every year and a majority of these deaths occur in developing countries. Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (Gavi) estimates this to be one death every 20 seconds.

What are the major obstacles in ensuring infants and children get age-appropriate vaccines? Apart from public funding and availability, experts say they are the personal beliefs of parents and their safety concerns.

Dr Sanjay Woodhull, a consultant paediatrician, says although vaccines are one of the most powerful and cost-effective ways to save lives and prevent fatal infectious diseases, there remains a segment of parents who oppose it.

He says parents are generally concerned about the risk or side-effects of vaccinations, with some fearing that they cause autism. "That is the most common reason I find in my practice. "This came about as a result of a fraudulent study published in a reputable medical journal in 2004 suggesting a possible link between autism and the MMR vaccine.

This led to many parents around the world opting not to vaccinate their children. "It predictably caused a surge in measles infection in the United Kingdom and many parts of the developed world."

The MMR, an immunisation shot against measles, mumps and rubella is generally administered to children around the age of 1 and the second dose at the age of 4 or 5.

The second dose is given to ensure immunity in those who fail to develop an immunity to measles after the first dose. Dr Sanjay says the debate over the MMR-autism link continues till today despite there being no clinical evidence to suggest such a link.

"The relationship between MMR and autism is coincidental because most cases of autism can only be diagnosed when a child is between 1 and 2 years old, at the time the vaccination is administered."

Most of the vaccine concerns are fuelled by parents who have autistic children. Perhaps a biased media, too, he says, contributed to the false assumption.

Similarly, says Dr Sanjay, there are also objections against vaccines that contain traces of mercury (Thimerosol), such as the influenza vaccine. "Studies have shown that the amount of mercury present in our daily environment is more than that present in the vaccines.

"Nonetheless, in recent years, vaccine manufacturers have made current vaccines practically mercury- free. "Currently the only vaccines containing traces of mercury are the multidose influenza vaccine. All single dosage vaccines do not contain mercury."

Another misconception is that diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP) vaccine which provides immunisation against pertussis or whooping cough causes sudden infant death syndrome (Sids). Reports of Sids occurring soon after the DTP vaccine has fuelled this myth.

"Many studies have found that no such link exists. "The relationship is coincidental as cot deaths typically occur around the same time the DTP vaccines are administered, which is between 2 and 5 months of age." The other parental fear is that giving too many vaccines can overwhelm an immature immune system. However, parents fail to realise that children are exposed to a host of foreign antigens in food, their surroundings and viral infections almost daily.

Read more: SUNDAY SPOTLIGHT: Dispelling fear of vaccinations - General - New Straits Times