Andrew Wakefield’s paper claiming that the MMR vaccine caused autism has been widely discredited and described as fraudulent. Alongside poor experimental design, small sample size, and manipulated evidence, Wakefield also had multiple conflicts of interests and received payments from lawyers seeking evidence against vaccine manufacturers. Despite the overwhelming proof condemning his claim, the scandal has led to a decline in vaccination rates and the easily preventable conditions, measles, mumps, and rubella, have all seen a rise in outbreaks and deaths.

the scandal has led to a decline in vaccination rates

The media played a major role in igniting the controversy, allegedly having given the study more credibility than it deserved, and misleading readers. Problems with public opinion on vaccines is an ongoing issue since misinformation is frequently shared on social media about their damaging effects.

Current anti-vaccine images circulating Facebook and other platforms have suggested that this winter’s flu jab contains ‘deadly poisons’ and causes Alzheimer’s Disease, a claim with no significant evidence.

images circulating Facebook and other platforms have suggested that this winter’s flu jab contains ‘deadly poisons’

The ingredients of the flu jab can be found on the NHS website, alongside a reference to the lack of evidence for past concerns linking vaccines to autism. Vaccines can contain the disease antigen in a killed or active (attenuated) form. The flu jab contains the inactive antigen, which has been killed by chemicals or heat.

An ingredient of vaccines that people are often worried about is mercury. Vaccines contain Thiomersal, which is a preservative that contains trace amounts of the substance. Thiomersal prevents the growth of bacteria in the vaccine, much like preservatives used in food products. Although mercury in high levels can cause damage, no harmful effects have been linked with the Thiomersal used in vaccines.

Aluminium is also cited as a dangerous ingredient in anti-vaccine claims. Adjuvants are added to vaccines to increase the body’s immune response, decreasing the amount of antigen needed. Killed vaccines often contain a very small amount of aluminium-based adjuvant, however, according to The British Immunology Society, this trace level of aluminium is much lower than the safe amounts also found in many foods.

It is estimated that approximately 600 people die each year in the UK from flu complications. Although at risk groups, such as pregnant women, the elderly and people suffering with heart, kidney, or liver disease, are most frequently affected by flu, last winter showed a rise in strain A (the most severe) flu affecting healthy individuals. Those eligible for the NHS flu vaccine can receive it for free at their local GP or Boots pharmacy.

The flu vaccine is grown on hen’s eggs, and therefore people with egg allergies are advised to seek information from their GP about an alternative, egg-free flu vaccine.

The spreading of misinformation could lead to high risk individuals being deterred from getting vaccinated.  The media should be held responsible for distributing harmful false claims, but in the meantime, take care to assess for yourself, the validity of these scaremongering headlines.

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