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About Vaccines

When it comes to the history of vaccines, it’s been a long, bumpy ride. Once hailed as lifesaving wonders of modern technology, vaccines are now more likely to be a source of suspicion and angry playground debate.

# Docs make money off them

Vaccines aren’t a cash cow for docs. “It’s probably more of a money loser than anything,” says Dr. Nelson, because they’re labor intensive. Some doctors do receive financial incentives from HMOs, but “the bonuses are there to support high-quality practice and help the physicians justify the manpower that goes into administering them,” she says.

# Some vaccines contain mercury

Thimerosal, a preservative containing about 50% mercury, prevents contamination by bacteria. It can be found in most flu shots, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

# Vaccines aren’t necessary because disease has been eradicated

The only infectious human disease that has been eradicated worldwide is smallpox, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Even today there are outbreaks of conditions like measles, mumps, and pertussis.

# Natural immunity is better

Dr. Nelson says infections are more likely than vaccines to trigger lifelong immunity. (An exception is the flu; it changes strains every year.) But you may think twice about taking your little one to a chicken pox party.

# Pregnant women can’t get vaccines

Well, this is partially true. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, pregnant women should not be given vaccines for varicella (chicken pox) or MMR.

# The HPV shot is for girls only

There are two HPV vaccines: Cervarix, for girls and women 10 to 25, and Gardasil, for females 9 to 26. But Gardasil can also be given to boys and men between ages 9 to 26, according to the CDC. Gardasil protects against types 6 and 11 of human papillomavirus, which cause about 90% of all genital warts.

# Vaccines are for kids only

There are numerous vaccines that can help keep adolescents and adults, both young and old, healthy. Most obvious is the flu shot, which is given annually.

# Too many shots weaken the immune system

Dr. Brown says it’s quite the contrary. “Each dose allows the body to mount an immune response and make defense [antibodies] so the body can fight off a real infection if it showed up,” she says.

#  Vaccines guarantee protection

Vaccines are not a 100% guarantee you won’t get sick. But they are a huge help.

# You’re safe if everyone else is vaccinated

Unfortunately that’s a big if. “Often, like-minded unvaccinated families by choice attend the same preschools, playgroups, and schools, thus making it very easy for vaccine-preventable diseases to spread,” says Ari Brown, MD, pediatrician and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

# Vaccines can have side effects

Vaccines aren’t risk free. The most common side effects are soreness at the injection site and fever, which are best treated with acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Less common are seizures (defined as “jerking or staring”), and risks