Blog post 5 – Are Vaccines safe? A closer look at an ongoing debate.

Although vaccines are essential in providing immunity, there is always a certain risk of developing side effects. In this post, I will look into this risk, debunking some of the common arguments against vaccination used online.

When a disease isn’t very common, mild side effects may seem very scary compared to the real thing.
Because of this, it’s hard for us to weigh the risk of getting the vaccine against the risk of opting out. However, if we imagine a society in which no one got vaccinated, we would all suffer consequences way more serious in comparison to vaccine side effects (according to previous data). To see this comparison, I recommend watching the video I have linked down below! It compares the two situations in a very clear, unbiased manner. In summary, the risk of NOT getting vaccinated is generally much worse than the worst case scenario of vaccine side effects. (1)

Well, what is the worst case scenario of vaccine side effects? I did a quick google search about the danger of vaccines, and was bombarded by quite scary information about the dangers of vaccines, claiming to be factual. Much of this information is put out onto the internet by “anti-vaxxers”, a large group of people who advocate against the use of vaccines. Here are some common arguments that they use, and why they are false:

“Vaccines contain MSG, antifreeze, phenol, formaldehyde, aluminum, lead, and mercury, which are toxic, and should not be injected into the body”

Yes, vaccines do contain chemicals that can be toxic. But most things we consume can become toxic, such as water, coffee, or even apples. That’s because things only become toxic when given a large enough dose. We tend to immediately label something as toxic when it requires a smaller dose to become lethal, and rightfully so, because that means it is more dangerous. But, scientists are very careful, so although these chemicals are considered to be toxic, vaccines contain a very minimum amount of them, making the perfectly safe.

“It’s healthier to let your child’s immune system develop naturally.”

In previous research, I explained how vaccines strengthen our immune system. This forces the “natural process” to occur in a safer, more secure way. Yes, babies, are born immune to certain diseases, but even so, they are at the highest risk of death caused by disease. Children are only vaccinated against the most harmful of the diseases that could leave their immune systems weakened.

“Vaccines cause allergies.”

People started to speculate that vaccines cause allergies in 1997, so a test was done with 2,100 participants (ages 5-6). This study found that vaccines have the opposite effect, helping prevent the development of allergies.

“How bad are the diseases anyways? Are vaccines really necessary?”

As previously mentioned, many people have never seen the diseases we are preventing by using vaccines, which makes it easy to write them off as insignificant. However, these diseases are way, way worse than the average flu, causing millions of deaths and serious symptoms.

“Vaccinating your kid only affects you and your baby anyways, so why should other people get a say in whether you do or don’t?”

This claim is simply incorrect. As we were told time and time again throughout this pandemic, preventative measures such as vaccination and wearing masks not only protect you from getting sick, but they keep you from spreading the disease to someone with a weakened immune system.

“Vaccines cause autism.”

A lot of the anti-vaxx movement is linked to a paper published in the late 1990s, which connected the measles vaccine to problems with gut absorption, then claiming these gut issues lead to an increase in autism cases. Not only was this paper was confirmed to be a fraud, being proven wrong over 25 times by international research papers involving huge studies, 10 out of 13 of the authors have taken back their original statements. (2)

However, autism diagnoses are increasing, but since diagnosis is also become more effective, we can’t say that incidences of autism are necessarily increasing. We have no idea what factors cause autism, so we are not able to properly identify any dangers.

So why were people so quick to believe this hypothetical link between anti-vaccination and autism? This is because of cognitive biases, which change the way we process certain information. There are so many kinds of biases, some causing us to ignore information, others causing us to put too much emphasis other information.

One of the most common one of these biases is the negativity bias. We tend to spend way more time and energy trying to determine why a bad thing happened, rather than why a good thing happened, it’s just in our nature. When something bad occurs, we feel the need to find a reason, to blame something, anything, for the problem. Since one of the most recent events in a child’s life before the average age of autism diagnosis is vaccination, it can be easily identified as a potential cause, even if it is not so.

Okay, but haven’t we proven it’s not the cause of autism? Why don’t people believe scientists? Because we do not yet know what causes autism, many parents or relatives of people with autism can get frustrated by the lack of answers provided by the medical community, leading to a loss of trust. Since there is a big group of people on the internet claiming that the government is covering up “the real facts”, people may turn to these sources to find the answers that there are not yet factual answers to.

Other biases that play a part in this issue are:

  • Confirmation bias – we tend to look for information that confirms our existing beliefs.
  • Omission bias – when confused by potential harm a choice will cause, we automatically assume no action is the least harmful option.
  • Naturalness bias – a tendency to assume that naturally derived products are safer than artificial ones. (3)(4)

Another thing people seem to be quite worried about is the speed in which the COVID vaccine appears to have been developed. Although the vaccine was developed faster than most, the technology needed to make this vaccine has been in the works for years and years! It wasn’t a spur of the moment idea, it was a well developed concept well before COVID. At some point during the pandemic, scientists though, “hey, maybe we can use this to solve our problem”, and well, it worked! (5)

Based on the information I have gathered in this round and in previous rounds, I believe that overall, vaccination is the best option. To return to my question, “are vaccines safe?”, there are a variety of factors that can make vaccination especially risky, such as other treatment or disease. However, a doctor will take into consideration these risks for you while assessing if they can administer the vaccine. If you are a healthy person, the safest thing for you, and the ones around you, is no doubt vaccination.


2 Replies to “Blog post 5 – Are Vaccines safe? A closer look at an ongoing debate.”

  1. Hey Jasmine,
    Amazing work! I love the detail you went into and how you formatted your work by stating a misconception and then effectively debunking it by providing clear facts and research. Your writing and information were very comprehensible and easy to follow!

    I know with Covid there are several rumours that are spreading about the vaccine and the virus in general. I have a couple of question:
    1. Why do you think fake news spreads so easily why do you think such claims resonate so easily within a broad population?
    2. Do you think the scientific community should do more to prevent such rumours or misconceptions from spreading?

    Great work! Good luck with your celebration of learning!:)

    • I think that fake news spreads so quickly when discussing vaccines because many people are already misinformed and confused about it. When looking for information about vaccines, I found that false information blends in easily with actual facts, making it easy for someone to get the wrong idea. For someone who doesn’t no much about vaccination or science in general, the fake information can sometimes sound more realistic than actual facts. A good example of this is the fact that some people believe vaccines cause autism. Vaccines most certainly do not cause autism, however, if we look at the fact that autism diagnosis increased after vaccination became wide spread, and that many children are diagnosed with autism after their third set of vaccination, it seems obvious that vaccination is the cause. The fact that these are simply coincidences does not seem very realistic, but it is however true.

      The scientific community is making a big effort to prevent such misconceptions, especially now during the pandemic, so I don’t believe the amount of effort has to change. However, I think that the way the information is shared needs to change. Most individuals who have a good scientific understanding do not need to be convinced that vaccine rumours are false. So these “awareness campaigns” being run are targeted at people with less scientific knowledge, but are being created by full on scientists. From what I’ve seen, I feel like scientists have difficulty switching off their scientific language, and often end up talking to their target audience in a language they cannot understand, leaving them more confused than before. I think it’s important to use common, every day terms, because that way everyone will be able to follow and process the information they are being given.

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