Health Matters: Common vaccine myths and what the anti-vaccinationists fail to mention, part 1

March 13, 2013

By Zachary Crees & Shawn Joseph
Medical students and members of the student group, Physicians for Social Responsibility, University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford

Many scientists and physicians consider the discovery and development of vaccines to be one of the greatest advances of medical history. Nevertheless, as long as vaccines have been saving human lives from preventable disease, there have also been a few anti-vaccinationists loudly proclaiming the dangers of vaccines.

For the past 200 years in the face of deadly and terrifying diseases, the benefit of vaccines has far outweighed the fear of the anti-vaccinationist myths, and because of this, deadly diseases like smallpox, measles and polio have either been eradicated worldwide or at least eliminated in well-vaccinated populations.

In the absence of such powerful reminders, however, the anti-vaccine movement has enjoyed increasing popularity and spread many harmful myths about vaccines. The result has become a very serious public health concern, with preventable and potentially lethal diseases breaking out among unvaccinated populations where the disease was previously well-controlled.

So, what are some of these myths that are showing up in magazines, online, on TV, and being discussed around the water cooler? Some popular ones include “the flu vaccine causes Alzheimer’s,” “childhood immunizations cause autism” and “vaccines contain toxins and poisons.”

In the coming weeks, we will examine these popular anti-vaccine claims to separate the myth from the facts, beginning with the flu vaccine and Alzheimer’s.

The flu vaccine and Alzheimer’s

Myth: Some anti-vaccinationists argue that repeated exposure to the annual flu vaccine can lead to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, which is a disease of the brain causing memory loss and eventual death. This myth was popularized by Dr. Hugh Fudenberg, who argued that metals like aluminum contained in flu shots can build up in the brain, eventually causing Alzheimer’s.

What anti-vaccinationists fail to mention: Federal regulations limit aluminum content in vaccines to 0.85-1.25mg, while the average human body contains 30-50mg and is quite capable of eliminating excess aluminum in the urine. This means a healthy body naturally contains 30 to 50 times more aluminum than a vaccine like the flu shot.

Furthermore, Dr. Fudenberg’s claims have never been published in any credible scientific journals, and several attempts to replicate his claims have failed.

Published research from reputable scientists has revealed that exposure to vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus, polio and the flu is NOT associated with higher risk of Alzheimer’s compared to unvaccinated individuals. In fact, one study found exposure to vaccines was correlated with LOWER risk of Alzheimer’s. The authors hypothesized that early protection from flu and other diseases may actually protect against development of Alzheimer’s.

In addition, the influenza virus is a major threat to children and the elderly, whose weaker immune systems leave them susceptible to infections and other complications, like pneumonia. Data gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recorded 53,667 deaths associated with the flu and flu complications in 2011 alone. In fact, the flu ranks as one of the top 10 causes of death in the USA, rivaling diseases like cancer and heart disease.

The bottom line: If a vaccine could protect you from cancer or heart attacks, would you take it? If so, then why not the flu vaccine? Considering that the flu vaccine is widely available at a relatively low cost and after comparing the risks and benefits, the evidence suggests getting your yearly flu shot is both safe and effective.

Stay tuned for “Common vaccine myths, part 2,” where we’ll discuss the Holy Grail of anti-vaccinationists: Childhood vaccines and autism.

From the March 13-19, 2013, issue

8 Comments

  1. Bill

    March 13, 2013 at 9:26 am

    It may not cause Alzheimer’s in adults but it most certainly does in children. They just call it autism in children.

    Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry, 2012

    Do aluminum vaccine adjuvants contribute to the rising prevalence of autism?

    Conclusions

    By satisfying eight of the Hill’s criteria for establishing causality applicable to our study (Table 9), we show that Al-adjuvanted vaccines may be a significant etiological factor in the rising prevalence of ASD (autism spectrum disorders) in the Western world. We also show that children from countries with the highest ASD prevalence appear to have a much higher exposure to Al from vaccines, particularly at 2 months of
    age. In addition, the correlation between ASD prevalence and Al adjuvant exposure appears to be the highest at 3–4 months of age. Of note, these periods (i.e., first 4 postnatal months) coincide with several critical stages of human brain development and biobehavioural transitions that are known to be impaired in autism (i.e., onset of synaptogenesis, maximal growth velocity of the hippocampus [3], onset of amygdala maturation [81] and development of rain-wave and sleeping patterns [82] and [83]).

  2. Karen

    March 13, 2013 at 10:42 am

    I commend you on this clear, factual piece. There’s no need to treat the anti-vaccinationists as though they have a legitimate position in the conversation about immunization, and your work debunking their myths is certainly a great public service. Thank you.

  3. Hugh

    March 13, 2013 at 11:03 am

    a) Autism is NOT Alzheimers. The two are not related in any way, shape or form.

    b) The article you mention is in the Nov 2011 edition of that Journal, not 2012.

    c) The article is very poorly done and make the most common mistake the anti-vaccine movement makes. It implies that correlation equals causation. Just because the US has had an increase in the number of autism diagnoses, that doesn’t mean that the high level of vaccination in the US population is to blame.

    Want more information? Read this: http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2011/12/08/and-global-warming-is-caused-by-the-decr/

  4. Eosine

    March 13, 2013 at 11:08 am

    Vaccine and Al are not a cause of autism either, namely for all the same reasons outlined in the article. Reading comprehension Fail.

  5. Dorit

    March 13, 2013 at 11:16 am

    Thank you for this interesting, informative piece, explaining so clearly why this anti-vaccine is untrue. I am looking forward to other pieces addressing other claims.

  6. Eosine

    March 13, 2013 at 11:19 am

    And the rest of the story behind the quoted study…
    …Clearly, we cannot draw definite conclusions regarding the link between Al adjuvants and autism based on an ecological study such as
    the present one and hence the validity of our results remains to be confirmed.
    A case control study with detailed examination of vaccination
    records and Al body burden measurements (i.e., hair, urine, blood) in
    autistic and a control group of children would be one step toward this
    goal…
    We have thus provided a hypothesis which we hope will encourage
    future research into this area in order to resolve the issue of
    whether or not vaccines might be responsible in some part for the
    growing prevalence of autism in the developed world. Such future researchshould consider the following: (i) the postnatal period represents a very sensitive phase in development during which the physiologyof the nervous as well as the immune system can be influenced andsometimes permanently changed…http://omsj.org/reports/tomljenovic%202011.pdf

  7. Tom

    March 13, 2013 at 11:45 am

    For starters, the flu vaccine doesn’t even contain aluminum. It does contain mercury though. If you want to reduce your chances of exacerbating the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, avoid mercury at all costs.

    Why? All the main features of Alzheimer’s disease are present in studies examining cell and tissue damage caused by mercury. These include deterioration of neurotubulin, creation of neurofibrillary tangles and deposits of amyloid-B protein plaque. In addition, a main genetic marker, apolipoprotein E-4, is present at a rate 15 times higher in Alzheimer’s patients as compared to the general public. This allele, as opposed to the more common apolipoprotein E-2, has no available sulfhydryl groups, which greatly reduces a person’s ability to bind and excrete mercury.

    Recent studies have examined the role of mercury in the inhibition of the heme biosynthetic pathway. Reduction of heme limits one’s ability to efficiently manage the build-up of amyloid-B proteins as seen in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients. In living cells produced in a lab, mercury, and mercury only, produces the same neurofibrillary tangles as found in Alzheimer’s patients.

    Unfortunately, the most damaging sources of mercury today are mercury dental amalgams and vaccines (including seasonal flu shots). While we teach our children starting in kindergarten about the serious health consequences of mercury, when someone in the real world is affected by it they just give it names like autism, Alzheimer’s, MS (and the list goes on).

  8. Hugh

    March 13, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    Tom,

    The CDC has looked and reported no health effects from the use of dental amalgams and no benefit in the replacement of them. They are not, however, recommended for children under the age of 6, which is entirely understandable.

    As to vaccines, there has never been any link between the ethylmercury from Thimerisol any any health effects, at least in anywhere near vaccine-level concentrations. Ethylmercury is readily passed from the body, unlike methylmercury which primarily comes from fish . Also note that fish is the primary source of mercury, not dental amalgam or vaccines.

    In addition, the only vaccines that have any source of mercury above trace levels are for influenza and all of those vaccines are available without Thimerisol.

    In other words, don’t worry about your teeth or your flu shot, but watch out for that mackerel.

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