Are Vaccines Safe For Your Children?
Interview With A Vaccines Expert
To help us better understand vaccine safety, I interviewed public health physician and vaccinologist Dr. Melvin Sanicas. Dr. Sanicas is a medical doctor and vaccinologist. He finished his medical degree from the Philippines and did further studies in Infectious Diseases in London. He also studied Vaccinology and Clinical Development in Italy.
Why are vaccines getting a bad reputation?
Despite being one of the most successful public health measures (in fact, second only to safe drinking water), there are those who perceive vaccines as unsafe or unnecessary or both by different groups. Vaccines are victims of their own success.
Why are vaccines “victims of their own success”?
They have been so effective in fighting diseases. Most parents today have never seen or heard of a case of smallpox, polio, measles, rubella. These diseases have become so rare that people are not aware of them. Out of sight, out of mind. We rarely see people infected with these diseases. We think they no longer exist. That is why we judge vaccines differently.
Why do some people view vaccines negatively?
Past experiences with health services, family histories, and feelings of control. There are people who do not the government to tell them to do things like getting vaccinated.
Why do vaccines deserve better press?
People focus more on the adverse events (like pain, swelling, fever). We think we do not need our kids to experience these adverse events because the diseases are not there. Also, the media likes to talk about the “negative side” of vaccination. We do not hear about the millions of children protected from polio in the news, but we hear about 1 child who was “allegedly” harmed by the vaccine. Media likes to sensationalize only one side. This is doing more harm than good and devalues vaccines.
What does science actually tell us about vaccines?
The science is clear- vaccines are safe and effective. Vaccines routinely recommended today provide high levels of protection against targeted diseases. Please look at this table. It clearly shows the impact of vaccines (in the US). This is in terms of numbers of reported cases and deaths associated with the disease before and after the vaccination is introduced.
In all the other countries with good surveillance, the same is true – once the vaccine is introduced and properly used, the disease incidence goes down. As with any other medicine, there are some adverse events. But the benefits of vaccines greatly outweigh their risks.
What’s the real deal behind the concerns on the dengue vaccine?
The vaccine is approved in many countries in Asia and Latin America. Philippines and Brazil are the only 2 countries where the vaccine is in the national immunization program. The Philippines made headlines with public outrage and a suspension of the vaccine programme, as well as threats to sue the manufacturer. Brazil has stood by scientific evidence and, recognizing that the vaccine still has benefits stressing the high effectiveness and safety of the vaccine for those who already had Dengue.
More Information about the Dengue Vaccine
I can share with you this article from an external vaccine and public health expert Professor Heidi Larson from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, my alma mater.
To those who want to know more, they may read this Q&A from the WHO. It is lengthy but to summarize, the WHO acknowledges that in high seroprevalence settings (places where a high number of people have had dengue), the vaccine can have significant benefits.
However, until a full review is conducted, WHO recommends vaccination only in people who were infected with dengue in the past (by a diagnostic test or by a documented medical history).
How can doctors convince parents that vaccines are safe?
Firstly, to effectively communicate with parents, doctors must first understand the concerns. Have an open, non-confrontational dialogue to provide clear and easily comprehensible answers about known vaccine adverse events. Provide accurate information about vaccination.
Second, it is important to highlight the long track record of safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. Stress the number of lives saved by immunization, as a positive approach, rather than focusing on the number of deaths from not immunizing.
Parents should be made aware that unvaccinated children are at increased risk of acquiring disease and transmitting these diseases to other children. For example, parts of Europe and some states in the US have seen outbreaks of measles as some parents are refusing measles vaccines for their children.
What is the best way to communicate these facts to all parents?
There are different kinds of parents:
- The uninformed but want to be informed
- The misinformed but correctable
- The well-read and open-minded
- The convinced and content, or
- The pure anti-vaccine / anti-science / anti-government.
Regardless of the kind of parent, ALL parents want to do what is best for their child, even those who are vaccine-hesitant.
Everyone has a different style of communication. I believe that it is best to be straightforward, honest, and simple. Tell the parents what we know and what we do not know.
Why do we need to correct anti-vaccine myths?
Science is a very interesting field because we do not know everything but we constantly learn something new. Doctors need to be patient, as correcting anti-vaccine myths and changing parent attitudes do not happen overnight.
Why do we always need to check the facts?
I have previously written about fake news and the need for everyone to speak up for scientific facts. We all agree that there is so much misinformation on the internet. With anything we read, check the facts! There are free, fact-checking organizations like FactCheck.org or Snopes.com. Trust only verified and credible websites.
Thank you, Dr. Melvin Sanicas!
Read Dr. Sanicas’s recent article: Vaccines Don’t Overload Children’s Immune Systems
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