The Most Common Anti-Vax Myths, Debunked With Simple Facts

The Six Most Common Anti-Vax Myths, Debunked With Simple Facts

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Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a lot of conversation about the need for an effective vaccine. Because of the global havoc the novel coronavirus is causing, vaccine development has become a priority. Scientists all over the world are working to try to make a safe, effective vaccine as quickly as they possibly can.

When people hear the vaccine might be available within months, it causes some understandable trepidation. A lot remains to be seen about the effectiveness of a COVID vaccine, but I have my fingers crossed!

Unfortunately, these unprecedented circumstances have made people nervous. An accelerated timeline for a COVID vaccine can sound unnerving to a layperson. If you dare to raise a concern in a public space, there is one thing you can be absolutely sure about: an anti-vaccine whackadoodle is going to come out of the woodwork to take the opportunity to scare the bejeezus out of you.

I have compassion for parents who have heard a lot of scary stuff that has made vaccines seem dangerous.

Nobody can blame you for getting spooked when people set out to try to convince you that vaccines are the devil. Needing to pause until you get the education you need to feel comfortable makes total sense. (I found a great Facebook group for that!)

But I’m going to be very clear: I have no compassion whatsoever for people who actively campaign against life-saving vaccines. I don’t care what they say their credentials are. There is so much science to support vaccination, and only a bunch of pseudoscience nonsense to support not vaccinating. Anyone who is actively against vaccines is either confused, has been misled, or is financially invested in keeping people from vaccinating. End of story.

Since vaccines are in the headlines right now, I thought this would be a good time to do a quick refresher course on some pervasive vaccine-related myths. There are not enough hours in a day to hit all of the absolute quackery that comes out of the AV camps. Here are a handful of the myths I see over and over, and some solid truth to ease your mind.

1. Myth: The vaccine inserts contain damning information about vaccine safety, and anyone can find it.

Fact: Vaccine inserts are legal documents, and most laypeople can’t interpret them properly.

Anti-vaxxers don’t trust the government until it comes to inserts, then bam! They’re telling you to look up the vaccine insert on CDC.gov.

The reality of inserts is that they are complicated legal documents. They contain all kinds of information that the average person with no training just can’t properly interpret. For example, I have seen countless memes and fear-mongering posts about section 13.1 of vaccine inserts that usually say things like “vaccine has not been evaluated for carcinogenic or mutagenic potential or impairment of fertility.” The anti-vaxx crowd takes that seemingly damning info and runs.

What they don’t tell you is that manufacturers don’t run those tests anymore because every vaccine ingredient has been tested before. We already have that data. Redundant tests would be a waste of resources.

Basically section 13.1 doesn’t mean the vaccine wasn’t tested for safety. It means it’s been tested so thoroughly that no further study was needed. It’s really great news.

2. Myth: Vaccines cause autism.

Fact: No, they don’t.

Seriously, anti-vaxxers. Let this nonsense die.

There have been many studies trying to prove this link. They’ve all been unsuccessful. In a 10-year study of over 650,000 Danish children, the rate of autism in children who received the MMR vaccine was just slightly lower than the rate in unvaccinated children. The exact causes of autism remain unproven, but all current evidence points to the fact that autistic kids are born that way. You can’t “get” autism and you can’t “cure” it.

But you can embrace it! Support autistic people in ways that actually help them succeed. Stop using dangerous, ableist, harmful language like “vaccine-damaged” to describe neurodiverse people.

3. Myth: Vaccines contain dangerous levels of toxins and chemicals, namely mercury and aluminum.

MarianVejcik/Getty

Fact: Vaccines contain tiny, safe amounts of substances we encounter every day.

For a long time, mercury was the anti-vax chemical villain of choice. Then due in part to widespread, unwarranted panic, thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative, was taken out of every vaccine on the childhood schedule. When the mercury was gone, anti-vax people just found another thing to be afraid of: Aluminum. Aluminum is often cited by the anti-vaccine crowd as a terrifying toxic chemical, but actual science says the amount of aluminum in a vaccine is of zero concern.

According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, “While infants receive about 4.4 milligrams of aluminum in the first six months of life from vaccines, they receive more than that in their diet. Breast-fed infants ingest about 7 milligrams, formula-fed infants ingest about 38 milligrams, and infants who are fed soy formula ingest almost 117 milligrams of aluminum during the first six months of life.”

Side note: Ingestion is not that much different than injection, so we can lay that myth to rest, too.

4. Myth: Vaccines contain aborted fetuses and full strands of human DNA.

Fact: They just…don’t.

To make vaccines, scientists need to use pieces of the viruses we are vaccinating against. That means scientists have to grow them, and some of these viruses grow best in human cells. Scientists obtained fetal tissue from two elective abortions performed in the 1960s, and they still use cells from those lines today to make a handful of vaccines. The actual cells and DNA are not present in the vaccines in more than trace amounts, and are not a health concern in any way.

A doctor once explained to me this way: Carrots are grown in the dirt. No reasonable person would consider dirt an ingredient in carrot cake. Although on a microscopic level a few fragmented bits might make it through, DNA is not present in a vaccine any more than dirt is baked into your tasty dessert.

5. Myth: Vaccines shed and make other people sick.

Fact: This is very rarely a concern.

Edward Nirenberg, a recent biochemistry graduate and evidence-based vaccine blogger, agreed to explain to Scary Mommy why shedding isn’t a concern. Here’s what he had to say:

“For one thing, only live vaccines have the potential to shed, period. That means that pneumococcal, Hib, hepatitis B, DTaP- none of them can possibly give someone else the disease they are intended to prevent. They don’t contain a whole pathogen in them,” he explains. “There are only 2 vaccines where shedding can be a legitimate concern. The oral polio vaccine (which isn’t used in the US) and the rotavirus vaccine. These are given by mouth, and so live virus can occasionally be found in the stool. But as long as people wash their hands with diaper changes, it’s really not an issue. And again, these are still attenuated [weakened] viruses. The probability that they can actually make someone truly sick is very, very low.”

6. Myth: Vaccines contain microchips and are used by the government for tracking and mind control.

Fact: Seriously? If you believe this, I can’t help you. 

Honestly, anyone who has ever had a pet microchipped knows this is BS. Have you seen the size of that needle versus the itty-bitty vaccine needle? I’m not consulting any expert source to refute this point because this is not plausible in any way. The fact that I am even mentioning it makes me embarrassed for humanity. Honestly, this one bonkers belief serves to show how completely implausible the entire anti-vaccine philosophy is. Any kind of nonsense can slip into the mix when actual science is of no concern.

These myths represent just a tiny fraction of the anti-vaccine misinformation that floods social media every single day.

It took me just a few minutes of consulting actual expert sources to lay each and every one of these claims to rest. I’ll never know why the anti-vaccine crowd is hellbent on vilifying one of the greatest advances in medicine in the history of time. Some people can’t be reasoned with.

Anti-vaxxers will see this list and send out a Bat Signal in their private groups. They’ll come swarming in like angry bees to the comments section. These kinds of anti-vaxxers will be armed with passionate but incorrect assertions to defend their baseless, unsupported claims that vaccines are responsible for every illness, disorder and personality quirk know to mankind. They’ll start rambling on and on in my inbox about about how we need to “believe mothers.” I’ll hear all about how people who vaccinate are “sheeple.” They’ll squawk about “vaccine injuries” and say nasty, ableist things about autistic children. Rabid, vocal anti-vaxxers are just like that.

But here in reality where the rest of us live, vaccines are well-tested and found to be safe and effective. It’s totally normal to have some trepidation, but you can rest assured that the childhood vaccine schedule is safe for almost every child. Your pediatrician will know if your child is one of the few that cannot be vaccinated safely. A global pandemic is not the time to leave your child unprotected against any childhood illnesses. You can vaccinate with confidence.