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FOR RELEASE: April 6, 2000
CONTACT: Dick Gunn

Health Officials Debunk Myths about Infant Immunization

Almost every month newspaper articles and television programs discuss the safety and efficacy of childhood vaccination. While parents should have access to any information that will help them make informed decisions about vaccinating their children, many of these stories are inaccurate and misleading. Some of the most dangerous aspects of these stories are that children miss vaccines, are exposed to unnecessary risk of disease and death, and the myths are presented as if they were true facts.

"State health officials have identified some of the most common myths about infant vaccines and we are getting the factual information out to better inform the public, parents and care givers that immunization is one of the most effective ways of preventing disease," said J.R. Nida, M.D., commissioner of health.

The level of vaccine-preventable disease has been reduced by more than 99 percent since the introduction of vaccines. Children need 80 percent of their vaccinations in the first two years of life. This requires multiple doses of vaccine given in about five visits to a health care provider. Immunization prevents the following infections that can cause disease, disability and death: diphtheria, tetanus (lockjaw), pertussis (whooping cough), polio, measles, mumps, rubella (German measles), Hib meningitis, hepatitis B, varicella (chickenpox), and hepatitis A.

"For every dollar spent on immunization, as much as $29 can be saved in direct and indirect health care costs," Nida added. Below are three of the most commonly aired myths about vaccines and the true facts about the importance of immunizations in preventing unnecessary disease and deaths among infants:

1. MYTH: Vaccines Do Not Work

Probably the best example of the impact of vaccines is the Hib vaccine, a vaccine that prevents meningitis caused by the bacterium Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib).

The current Hib vaccine was first introduced to this country in 1990. At that time, Hib was the most common cause of bacterial meningitis, accounting for approximately 15,000 cases and 400-500 deaths every year. After the current Hib vaccine was introduced, the incidence of Hib meningitis declined to fewer than 50 cases per year! Health officials assert that vaccines not only work, but they work phenomenally well.

2. MYTH: Vaccines Are Not Necessary

In some ways, immunization is a victim of its own success. Most young parents today have never seen a case of measles, mumps, German measles, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, or whooping cough. Vaccines need to be given for at least one of three reasons:

  • Some diseases are so prevalent in this country that a decision not to give a vaccine is a decision to get that disease, for example, chickenpox.
  • Some diseases continue just below the surface but at low levels, for example, measles, mumps, German measles, and pertussis. If immunization rates drop, outbreaks of these diseases will again occur and children will die from a lack of vigilance. This happened in the late 1980s when immunization rates against measles dropped resulting in 100,000 cases of measles and more than 100 deaths! Last year, due to increased measles immunization rates, there were only 89 cases of measles and no deaths.
  • Some diseases have been virtually eliminated from this country, such as polio and diphtheria. However, these diseases continue to cause outbreaks in other parts of the world and given the high rates of international travel, these diseases may be easily imported by travelers or immigrants.

3. MYTH: Vaccines Are Not Safe

All recommended vaccines are extraordinarily safe. Side effects from vaccines are usually limited to pain and tenderness where the shot was given or low-grade fever. However, side effects from two particular vaccines are more worrisome: the "old" pertussis vaccine, and the oral polio vaccine (OPV). Fortunately, the new pertussis vaccine (DTaP) is purer than the old vaccine and will likely reduce or eliminate these rare side effects.

Another vaccine that is problematic is OPV, which can be an extremely rare cause of complete and lifelong paralysis, usually after the first dose. To eliminate this problem, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently recommended that OPV no longer be used in this country. Instead, four doses of inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) are now recommended.

"National Infant Immunization Week will be observed April 16 - 23, so we hope this information will help parents make appropriate decisions in vaccinating their children," Nida said.


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