The answer is yes. Thanks for reading. Goodbye.

Just kidding. There’s more but given that I’ve already spilled the beans, here’s some important information on vaccines. It might even convince you that they do really work.

What are vaccines?

Isn’t it just a clear liquid the nurse injects into your arm or backside? No. Here’s how I want you to think about it: Think of vaccines as training wheels for your immune system to fight a disease. Vaccines are typically a formulation of dead or weakened germs – they can’t cause disease but they set off your body’s stranger danger alarm. In response, the immune system produces antibodies that bind to the germ and mark it for destruction. Immune cells called macrophages come in and destroy the germs, but hold onto a souvenir (called an antigen). This antigen is how your body chooses to remember the infection. Next time that son-of-a-b**** germ comes knocking, the body knows how to easily kick its butt.

So in essence, you should love vaccines. Think of them as free immunity without the cost of being sick.

How do you know vaccines work?

The scientific method is well developed to answer questions like this. We call it statistical hypothesis testing. Controlled studies or trials are performed where vaccines are extensively tested in the laboratory to pick the best options. The most promising candidates are then (typically) tested on mice because their immune system is quite similar to ours.

In these trials, one group of mice is given the vaccine (the experimental group) while the other is not (the control group). This control group is given a placebo, a fake vaccine with no “active” substance (e.g. a saline solution). After this treatment (vaccine or saline), both groups of mice are exposed to the actual germ and analyzed for disease symptoms. The focus here is on identifying differences in symptoms between the two groups. If the vaccine worked, only the group given the vaccine should be immune while the control group (given the saline solution) should get really sick. Only if the scientists find a statistically significant improvement because of the vaccine (that was not seen in the control) will it move to further trials.

Vaccines are rigorously and extensively tested further for other symptoms like long- and short-term side effects. In fact, many drugs that were approved years ago are actually still under Phase IV clinical trials. These trials focus on evaluating long-term symptoms of approved drugs on patients. Vaccines (and other drugs) for use on humans are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and they are very, very particular. About everything. Like, annoyingly particular. They’re looking very closely for a reason to shoot down candidates and you and I only see the ones that pass with flying colors.

So there you have it – vaccines are carefully tested to make sure they work well and correctly. A drug will only be approved if the FDA is 100% convinced that the drug works and that nothing fishy is going on. All of the vaccines you can get today (for polio, TB, measles and mumps, chicken pox, tetanus, etc.) have been extensively tested and are given to you only because they are really good at what they do – protecting you.

Debunking some common myths:

  1. “Vaccines have chemicals that will kill you” – it’s true that some vaccines might have some dangerous chemicals but it’s the dose that matters! A commonly cited number is that some vaccines can have up to 0.25 mg of aluminum. But what most people don’t know is that they consume between 10 and 50 mg of aluminum through food and water every single day! You are in no danger at the doses that you would encounter aluminum in vaccines. There is no literature anywhere that suggests these chemicals are harmful for humans. If it was, they wouldn’t be approved!
  2. “Vaccines cause autism” – there was one (and only one) fraudulent publication (see image below) that indicated this. Of the 13 authors, 10 have retracted their involvement with the paper and, in fact, the entire publication was retracted later.
  3. “I prefer the all-natural route to building immunity” – your body still naturally builds its defenses to the weakened germs that vaccines contain. Because babies are born with some immunities (from breastmilk and pathogens they encounter from the moment they are born), you only vaccinate for diseases that are highly dangerous that babies don’t have immunity to. Babies are most susceptible to serious illness and death at early ages, which is why vaccinations are recommended at that point.
  4. “What about allergies? I don’t want my baby to develop allergies” – literature actually convincingly proves that vaccines have the opposite effect – they lower the risk of developing allergies.
  5. “Let other kids get vaccinations. I don’t my kid to get affected negatively by a vaccine” – vaccines protect you and, more importantly, others around you that cannot get vaccinated or have weak immune systems (e.g. chemotherapy patients, really old people like your grandparents). If everybody is vaccinated, you can form herd immunity – if you’re not sick, you can’t make others sick. That works for everyone and works best when everyone is involved.
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The 1998 paper published in Lancet that was retracted in 2010.

For more information, check out these reliable sources of information:

  1. What patients need to know about clinical trials (directly from FDA.gov)
  2. The basics of clinical trials – the research process, the four phases, participation, etc. (directly from the National Institutes of Health)
  3. Understanding how vaccines work (directly from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention)

P.S. if any of these links are ever down, please let me know! Thanks.

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