Myth-busting immunisation

Just because diseases such as measles, polio and whooping cough have almost completely disappeared from our society, don’t be fooled into thinking that they are not serious. The vaccine preventable diseases are severe and immunisation prevents them.

Myth #1 – Vaccines are unsafe.

For opponents of immunisation, one of the major concerns is that vaccines cause harm, whether or not they prevent disease. In general, no biological product can be considered 100% safe. However, all vaccines available in New Zealand are required to pass quality, safety and efficacy requirements before they can be licenced.

Myth #2 – Infectious diseases are not serious and are a normal part of growing up.

Some parents believe that the vaccine preventable diseases of childhood do not cause serious illness and are a normal part of a child’s growth. However, over the years, immunisation has controlled and stopped many of the diseases that cause illness or death in children.

Myth #3 – Improved living standards and sanitation have reduced the incidence of infectious diseases, not immunisation.

It is often said that factors other than immunisation are responsible for the decline of communicable diseases. There are many reasons for the decline in communicable diseases, and an improved living standard is one of them. However, vaccination has also had a clear and significant impact. Measles and pertussis are spread by coughing and sneezing and the attack rates are almost 100% no matter what the living and cleanliness standards are. Polio is caused by an intestinal virus which spreads more easily under conditions of poor hygiene, but has caused epidemics in countries like Holland, Finland and Israel, all of which have high standards of hygiene. All the vaccine preventable diseases have shown dramatic reductions in incidence after the introduction of vaccination.

Myth #4 – The vaccines don’t do their job because some immunised children still get sick.

Some parents believe that, since some children still get infected with vaccine-preventable diseases, then the vaccines don’t work. While it’s true that no vaccine has a 100% efficacy rate, there is a simple link between the numbers of vaccinated children, the vaccine’s effectiveness and the number of vaccine failures. For example, measles will attack 100% of a non-immunised population, but where the vaccination has been given, 95% of the population will not get the disease if they are exposed to it.

Myth #5 – The side effects of DTP include brain damage.

The DTP vaccine contains material that will produce immunity to tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. During the 1970s there was concern that the pertussis part of the vaccination could cause brain damage and encephalopathy, but as a result of ongoing and extensive scientific studies, it has been proven that there is no risk. Not immunising your child against pertussis, however, can lead to brain damage in the event of the disease being contracted.

Myth #6 – Vaccines cause the diseases they are supposed to prevent.

Live vaccines such as the MMR vaccine can display symptoms that replicate the diseases it is vaccinating against; however, these symptoms are not contagious and are not part of the actual diseases. In extremely rare cases, the oral version of the polio vaccination – which is no longer used in New Zealand – could cause paralysis at a rate of 1 in 2.5 million doses.

Myth #7 – Additives in vaccines are toxic.

Formaldehyde (used in the preparation of several vaccines) and aluminium (used in some vaccine adjuvants) are additivies that work to enhance the efficacy or lifespan of a vaccine. These ingredients have been assessed as safe and necessary by The Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

Myth #8 – MMR vaccine causes inflammatory bowel disease and autism.

Suggestions that the MMR vaccine can cause inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and autism came about in 1998 as a result of research that focussed on the decreased absorption of vitamins and minerals due to IBD in children and its resulting developmental disorders including autism. Since 1998 there has been ongoing research and the initial research has been proven to be deeply flawed. After an extensive study of 6,100 French school-aged children, it has been conclusively proven that there is no association between the MMR vaccine and either autism or IBD.

Myth #9 – Hepatitis B vaccine causes multiple sclerosis (MS)

There was concern over the association of multiple sclerosis and the hepatitis b vaccine after a mass vaccination program in France showed a few cases of MS or MS-like illness associated with hepatitis b vaccine. After halting the program, the data was examined and it was shown that the incidence of the onset of MS in vaccinated people fell within the normal boundaries of the entire population. Mass hepatitis b immunisation programs in New Zealand, Taiwan and Alaska have not shown any illnesses that suggest MS.


HPV Immunisation has an excellent safety profile similar to any other childhood immunisations and recommended by health professionals. To protect your child against most HPV cancers, get them immunised at school or visit your local GP.

For more information about the HPV school immunisation programme, visit



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