Local pediatrician debunks vaccination myths

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a list of 10 threats to global health in 2019. The list includes air pollution, antimicrobial resistance, weak primary care, fragile settings, noncommunicable diseases, influenza, e...

Sanford Health pediatrician Nabeel Manzar discussed common vaccination myths. (Kayla Henson / The Dickinson Press)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a list of 10 threats to global health in 2019. The list includes air pollution, antimicrobial resistance, weak primary care, fragile settings, noncommunicable diseases, influenza, ebola, dengue and HIV. Also on the list: vaccine hesitancy, which the report defines as "the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines."

In the report, the CDC states that vaccination prevents 2-3 million deaths a year. So why do people choose not to vaccinate their children? The CDC states in its report that an advisory group to the World Health Organization identified complacency, inconvenience in accessing vaccinations, and lack of confidence as key reasons. Watch the news and you'll see there is also a growing anti-vaccination movement spreading misinformation.

Sanford Health pediatrician Nabeel Manzar, who is also an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of North Dakota, addressed some of the myths about vaccinations.

One common myth is that vaccines cause autism. Manzar explained the origins behind the theory.

"There was a doctor in England, Dr. Wakefield," he said. "He was the person who published an article in a prestigious medical journal called The Lancet, and in that article, the result was that he found a link between autism and the MMR vaccine - the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine."


Manzar said the article has since been retracted from The Lancet, the doctor's license was revoked and he can no longer practice medicine in England.

"Over the years, there have been studies involving thousands and thousands of people, and they have dispelled the theory altogether that MMR is linked to autism," he said.

Another belief is that vaccines have unsafe toxins in them, such as mercury. Manzar said that this typically refers to thimerosal, a preservative made up of thiosalicylate and ethyl mercury.

Manzar said the form of mercury found to cause damage to the brain is not ethyl mercury; it's methyl mercury.

Despite the distinction, he said thimerosal has been taken out of almost all of the vaccinations currently given in the United States due to parents' concerns. Some flu shots still include them, but people are given the option of thimerosal-free flu vaccines, he said.

We do ingest methyl mercury in small amounts, from seafood.

"Our waters are contaminated with mercury, so the amount that we eat in the fish or the seafood is probably more than we encounter in a vaccine - very minimal," he said.

Another misconception about vaccinations is that a small child's immune system cannot handle the amount of vaccinations that are recommended by the CDC.


"They did a study on this, and they found out that even if you give 11 vaccines to a child at the same time, the child will probably end up using only .1 percent of his or her immunity," Manzar said.

He said they never give that many shots at one time and usually three or four. He also said that children are exposed to germs all day long through normal behaviors like shaking hands, so vaccinations are a small part of a child's germ exposure.

Another common belief is that vaccines can actually give you the disease they're meant to prevent.

Manzar says that has been seen in only one one vaccine in history. "There was a case in which old polio vaccine caused the actual disease of paralysis in a child," he said.

That older polio vaccination is no longer used in the United States.

Most vaccinations are not live viruses, he said. Those that are live vaccinations, such as the chickenpox vaccine, may cause symptoms that people may mistake for the disease, he said.

"Some people do get a small reaction with (the vaccine) afterwards, but if you compare it with the actual disease of chickenpox, it's very minimal, and it goes away in a day or two," he said.

Some people may not see a need to vaccinate, as cases of these diseases in the U.S. are few or nonexistent.


Manzar said he thinks that the increase in vaccinations has led to a decrease in those diseases, and that has caused society to become complacent.

"Now because of that, young parents who have not seen those bad diseases are thinking that 'Oh, my child will not get the disease,' so they don't vaccinate their kid," he said.

Manzar warned people against such complacency.

"When they go out to travel - they go out to Disneyland, they go out to New York - there are people coming from all over the world who are not vaccinated and have the disease," he said. "That's why we're getting all these outbreaks right now."

Manzar said that he believes a lot of the misinformation comes from the internet.

"There's a lot of stories out there which are unverified," he said. "Anybody can write anything and put it on the net and people will believe that over the professional advice or opinion of a doctor."

Manzar urged parents to go to verify their sources and seek authentic websites like CDC and WHO.

He said it is better to seek vaccinations rather than rely on the body's natural immunity to fight off the disease if it is contracted.


"Would you rather have a disease and get complications from it, or would you rather prevent that disease altogether?" he said. "That's the question we have to ask ourselves. ... Measles can cause death and blindness."

He stressed the importance of vaccinations.

"(Measles) was eradicated from the U.S., and suddenly we are getting all these outbreaks because of the same thing. We have to remain vigilant. We have to continue to vaccinate our kids."

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