Vaccinations: Facts vs Myths


Veronika Bradley, Editor for Children's Health and Safety Association – April 16, 2013 and Republished by Diligencia Investigative Reporting – April 2019

Vaccinations are provided free of charge to all Canadians, so it's a conundrum to health officials why vaccination ratings remain at 85% instead of 95%, the overall rating required to protect a population against a particular disease. 

It can be difficult to convince parents that your children require vaccinations especially when the disease in question is not visible and therefore not a part of your daily lives.  Diseases that were once common have almost disappeared steering parents to the misguided conclusion that their children do not require vaccinations. 

Measles were almost eradicated but made a comeback because parents opted against immunizing their children.  Also, take into consideration that diseases that are rare in one country can be re-introduced by people from other countries via international travel and infect people that are not immunized.  

The Canadian Paediatric Society, a national advocacy association that promotes the health needs of children and youth, represents more than 3,000 paediatricians, paediatric subspecialists and other child health professionals across Canada.  

Their research demonstrates that the advice provided by health care providers is a major influence on parent's decision-making and therefore worthwhile to take the time to understand and address the specific vaccine-related concerns.

"It's important to reassure parents that vaccines are safe and effective, and to explain that if they decide not to vaccinate, they're exposing their child and entire family to risk," said Dr. Jane Finlay, co-author and member of the CPS Infectious Disease and Immunization Committee.  "Because of vaccinations, today's generation of parents haven't seen diseases like measles or meningitis, so it's important they understand these [diseases] are still a very real threat."

A MESSAGE to Parents Who Have Decided NOT to Immunize Their Children


If you have chosen not to immunize your children, I kindly ask for a few minutes of your time. 

I implore you to speak with reputable and professional organizations that can provide you with statistical, analytical and scientific data that has been documented in numerous research studies over a period of many decades.

Whether your choice to not immunize your children is based on someone else's belief that they are projecting on you or your own fear, you owe it to your family to provide them with the best health care possible.  You're the parent and I understand all too well how difficult it can be especially during this 'age of information' where everybody and anybody has an opinion. 

I challenge you to call the organizations that I linked at the end of this article.  Talk to them about your fears and anxiety over vaccinations and have the courage to own your beliefs by speaking your truth.  Show me where you are getting your information and I promise to research your source and get back to you.  

I believe many parents are confused and befuddled by the muddled, multitude of unqualified stories that have been circulating on the internet even though they have been refuted time and time again.  Be wary of false arguments that surreptitiously include a power of suggestion.  The only reason these people place fear in you is so they will have another follower.  They do not have your best interest at heart – they place their own interest above yours because they don't believe you can make an intelligent, independent decision based on your knowledge, sense of responsibility and integrity.  

As a parent you teach your children to look both ways before they cross the street, well I am asking you to research, and take into consideration, both sides of this story before you come to a conclusion regarding the health and well-being of your children.

How fortunate we are to live in Canada – a country where the healthcare we receive is not only of the highest quality but also free.  It just doesn't get any better than that – and you know it.

Proof of Immunization Required

Currently, students in Ontario and New Brunswick must be immunized against measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, diphtheria and polio, unless they obtain an exemption for religious, medical or philosophical reasons and it is signed by a notary.  Students will be placed on suspension for failing to provide proof of immunization.  Students from Manitoba must provide proof of immunization for measles only. 

Toronto is one of the few cities that provide parents with an online option for transmitting the dates their children received immunizations required for school attendance. 

Toronto Public Health urges Ontario to expand the list of immunization to chickenpox, meningitis, Human Papillomavirus (HPV), Whooping Cough (pertussis), influenza, invasive pneumococcal disease and Hepatitis B.

Please click Online Tool Helps Parents Report Kids' Vaccines or online vaccine reporting system to update your children's vaccination records.


In 1916, 1931, and 1946 there was a major polio epidemic (ever fifteen years). The polio vaccine was introduced in 1955, which prevented an epidemic that was expected to occur in 1961. 

Vaccinations are among the safest medical products available. Prior to approval, they are extensively tested and continue to undergo rigorous and ongoing evaluations of their safety.

Polio, diphtheria, measles and pertussis (whooping cough) can lead to paralysis, pneumonia, choking, brain damage, heart problems and even death. The dangers of vaccine-preventable diseases are many times greater than the risk of a serious adverse reaction to the vaccine.

Vaccinations strengthen the immune system & protect children & adults from specific diseases. Scientists estimate that the immune system can recognize and respond to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of different organisms.  The vaccines recommended for Canadian children and adults use only a small portion of the immune system's overall capacity. 

The first time a child encounters a vaccine-preventable disease it takes time for the immune system to respond – from days to weeks. Until immunity develops, the disease can take hold, and in severe cases cause irreparable damage and even death.  

The vaccine stimulates the immune system's memory so that there is an immediate response, eliminating germs before they can establish a significant infection.

The vast majority of vaccine-related side effects are minor and temporary, i.e. sore arm, slight fever, and a mild rash at the injection site, which can be controlled by acetaminophen.

Some people cannot have vaccines because of special medical conditions. When you are vaccinated, you help protect those people that cannot be immunized.


Receiving too many vaccinations will overwhelm my child's immune system.

Your children can receive up to 23 shots by the time they are two years old and as many as 6 shots on a single visit at the doctor, so it's not surprising that many parents have concerns about how vaccines might affect a child's developing immunity. 

A baby's body is barraged with immunologic challenges from bacteria in food to the dust that they breathe but compared to what they encounter during the course of a typical day, vaccines are literally a drop in a bucket. 

It's safe to give your child simultaneous vaccines or vaccine combinations, such as the 5-in-1 vaccine called Pediarix, which protects against hepatitis B, polio, tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough).  Vaccines are as effective in combination as they are individually.

As long as other children are vaccinated, my children don't need to be vaccinated.

Skipping vaccinations puts your baby at greater risk for potentially life-threatening diseases.  To prevent the spread of infection within your family all your children need to be immunized. 

Now that major illnesses have, for the most disappeared, we don't need vaccines anymore.

Many Canadian communities still have outbreaks of diseases like measles and pertussis (whooping cough).  Unvaccinated children can spread infections to vulnerable family members who don't have the immunity to fight it off, for example, a six-month-old baby or a grandparent living at home. 

You are not safe from a vaccine-preventable disease just because it is uncommon in Canada.  Recent outbreaks of measles have been spread by people travelling to Canada from foreign countries.  Air travel has extended the range of diseases from countries where people aren't immunized. 

Vaccines cause autism and other disorders.

This is probably the biggest misconception of them all.  Concerns about a link between a combination vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR vaccine) and autism, a developmental disorder, received a lot of hype from a single case reported in England, which was discredited numerous times.  The notion that a link exists has persisted because autism tends to emerge around the same time that vaccinations are given to children – at one year of age.  Not only is there no evidence that vaccinations cause autism, there's evidence compiled from fourteen (14) specific studies around the world that prove it doesn't cause autism.

Parents have also expressed similar fears about vaccines and the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).  Numerous vaccines are given to babies during their first year when many developmental changes are simultaneously occurring, therefore, it is easy to see how parents would link the two together.

My baby might get the disease even though she received the vaccination.

Since 1994, children have received polio vaccine made from killed virus so there's no risk of contracting the disease from the shot.  A few vaccines that are on the schedule do, however, contain live weakened virus to provoke an immune response.  These include the MMR and chickenpox immunizations wherein these vaccines have the potential to cause a little fever and rash but the illness is much less severe than if a child naturally contracted measles or chicken pox.

Vaccines contain dangerous preservatives.

Until recently, many vaccination concerns centred on the safety of thimerosal, a compound that prevents the vaccine from being contaminated by bacteria and contains a form of mercury called ethylmercury.  

Mercury in large quantities is known to be harmful to a child's developing brain.  Worries about thimerosal's effect on children prompted its removal from nearly all childhood vaccines in 1999.  Ethylmercury does not pose the same health hazard as its cousin, methylmercury, a metal found in the environment that's known to accumulate in the body and cause harm to developing children.  Children are exposed to mercury from many environmental sources such as the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the type of fish we eat.

Canada's 'National Advisory Committee on Immunization' is comprised of recognized experts in the field of paediatrics, infectious disease, immunology, medical microbiology, internal medicine and public health.  They reviewed the latest scientific evidence and concluded: "…there is no legitimate safety reason to avoid the use of thimerosal-containing products for children or older individuals."

Vaccines do not contain anti-freeze and formaldehyde.  Formaldehyde is used to inactivate or weaken the virus or bacteria used to make the vaccine but it is removed during the manufacturing process.  Any trace amounts that may remain are safe – in fact, our bodies produce more formaldehyde naturally than what is contained in the vaccine.

Vaccines contain 'adjuvant', which helps stimulate the immune response and ensure that the vaccine is safe.  Every batch of vaccine in Canada is tested before it is released for public use to ensure it meets rigorous standards.

Children with colds should not receive a vaccination.

It's logical to assume that children would be more likely to have a bad reaction to a vaccine or that it might present an added burden to their immune system if they are fighting off a cold and yet studies show that having a mild illness doesn't affect children's ability to react appropriately to the vaccine.  If your child has a fever of 102° and an ear infection, it's not the best time to receive a vaccination but a low-grade fever, mild respiratory infection, or a little diarrhea shouldn't be reasons to delay a vaccination, especially if your child's illness is on the way out.

Vaccinations can trigger side effects including fever and rash as well as soreness at the site of the injection, but these are rarely cause for alarm.  The 5-in-1 Pediarix is more likely to cause a low fever than the individual shots.  In any event, contact your paediatrician or health care provider and voice your concerns.

I had chicken pox when I was a kid and it wasn't a big deal.

Like several common childhood diseases, chicken pox isn't a big deal for most kids but on rare occasions, children have died from it.  Before the chicken pox vaccine was introduced, many children were hospitalized each year with serious complications, including pneumonia and dangerous skin infections where chicken pox lesions became infected with staph, including necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating bacteria). 

Getting the vaccine is especially important now because less of the chicken pox virus is in circulation.  Children who don't get chicken pox or the vaccine are at risk of getting it as an adult, which is a much more intense and serious illness.

Vaccines provide 100% disease protection.

The best vaccines are those made with a live weakened virus, such as MMR and chicken pox, which are about 95% effective.  The effectiveness of vaccines made with killed, or inactivated virus is between 75-80%, which means there's a chance you could be vaccinated against a disease and still get it.  Almost 100% of people that are not immunized will get sick.  If all children are vaccinated against an organism, it's less likely to be present, which is why vaccinating an entire population is so important. 

It's best to wait until children are older before giving them vaccines.

Immunization schedules are designed to protect the most vulnerable patients from disease and suffering.  If you wait to give your children the vaccinations, you may miss the window of opportunity and place them at greater risk. 

Some vaccines aren't safe because they are released to the public too soon.

Canada exercises tight scrutiny and strict criteria over the manufacturing of vaccines.  All vaccines intended for use in Canada are subject to the provisions of the 'Food and Drug Act' and the 'Food and Drug Regulations'.  Before a new vaccine is authorized for use within the Canadian market, the manufacturer must submit scientific and clinical evidence that demonstrates the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine and that the manufacturing process meets the highest standards of quality for all Canadians.

One Million+ UK Children at Risk of Measles

On April 17, 2013, BBC News reported that many parents refused to have their children vaccinated ten years ago after Andrew Wakefield's claim of a link between the MMR vaccination and autism. 

The precise number of children with no protection against measles is uncertain, but health professionals say it is at least one million children and may be significantly higher. 

Dr Helen Bedford, from the UCL Institute of Child Health stated there have been outbreaks across the country with over 1,200 cases and further epidemics could be expected.  Measles is characterised by a high fever and a rash and it can lead to severe complications such as pneumonia and inflammation of the brain in 1 out of 15 cases.

Uptake is now as high as ever with more than 91% of children under the age of two getting their first dose of the MMR vaccination.  Two doses of the MMR vaccination gives near complete protection against the infection.  Emergency vaccination clinics were held during the month of April in Wales, the epicentre of the outbreak.  Officials are aiming to reach one million children from 10 to 16 years of age. 

A paper published in 1998 by Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues suggesting a link between autism and the MMR vaccine was widely rejected by scientists and at least a dozen major UK medical groups.  The paper was eventually retracted by the journal that published it.

On May 20, 2013, The Associated Press stated:  "UK's top medical board stripped Andrew Wakefield of the right to practice medicine in the UK, ruling that he and two of his colleagues showed a "callous disregard" for the children in the study, subjecting them to unnecessary, invasive tests.  As part of his research, Wakefield took blood samples from children at his son's birthday party, paying them about £5 (pounds) each, the Canadian equivalent of $7.60, and later joked about the incident." 

Measles, a highly contagious disease that is spread by coughing, sneezing and close personal contact with infected people, is still one of the leading causes of death in children under five years of age and kills more than 150,000 people globally every year, mostly in developing countries.

The UK does not have regulations requiring children to be vaccinated against measles before starting school and still has no plans to introduce mandatory immunization.  Where the UK once recorded only several dozen cases yearly presently ranks second in Europe behind Romania.

Global Polio Eradication Initiative

"Canada remains a world leader in supporting immunization and is committed to joining the final global push to eradicate polio once and for all," said Mr. Fantino, Minister of International Cooperation during the Global Vaccine Summit held in Abu Dhabi, UAE.  "By helping to eradicate polio, Canada will help children and their families lead healthy and productive lives, reducing poverty worldwide."  

Canada is allocating $250 million between 2013 and 2018 to the 'Global Polio Eradication Initiative', which will address both immediate and long-term needs particularly in the three countries where polio remains an ongoing problem – Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.  This dollar value represents a 41% increase compared to the average amount contributed per year to the eradication of polio since 2006.  This financial commitment will advance Canada's development priority in securing the future of children and youth and improving maternal, newborn, and child health.   

It was at this time the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched by national governments, the World Health Organization, Rotary International, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and UNICEF wherein it is estimated that 2.5 billion children throughout the world were immunized against the disease.  The number of polio cases has declined by over 99% - from approximately 350,000 cases in 1988 to 233 cases in 2012.

The World Health Organization (WHO) on May 23, 2013 stated that a 4-month-old girl in the Dadaab Refugee Camp, the world's largest refugee camp in the world, came down with paralysis caused by polio on April 30th, and as well two nearby and otherwise healthy children also tested positive for the virus.  A handful of poliovirus infections has the potential to set back global efforts in eradicating polio.  About 500,000 people from neighbouring countries live at the camp and move in and out of the area each year.

"Polio is a virus that spreads silently," says Sona Bari, WHO representative.  "One case represents between 200 and 1,000 people infected.  It's the tip of an iceberg.  The last time we saw polio in this region, it caused infections in Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and even Yemen.  Eventually the virus spread as far as Indonesia and paralyzed more than 700 children." 

Somalia, with one of the lowest immunization rates in the world, recorded its first wild polio case in more than five years.  A 32-month-old girl became paralyzed in a region near Mogadishu a few weeks ago.  "Fortunately, we're prepared for these things," Bari says. "Vaccination campaigns will start in Kenya this Sunday. In Somalia, they've already immunized about 400,000 children and about 1 million children will get vaccinated in eastern Kenya," she added.  Expeditious responses are crucial if the WHO and other foundations intend to eradicate polio by 2018.

The World Health Organization States:

“Immunization is a proven tool for controlling and eliminating life-threatening infectious diseases and is estimated to avert between 2 and 3 million deaths each year. It is one of the most cost-effective health investments."

"Vaccines are very safe.  Most vaccine reactions are usually minor and temporary, such as a sore arm or mild fever.  Very serious health events are extremely rare and are carefully monitored and investigated.  You are far more likely to be seriously injured by a vaccine-preventable disease than by a vaccine.  For example, in the case of polio, the disease can cause paralysis, measles can cause encephalitis and blindness, and some vaccine-preventable diseases can even result in death."

"WHO's Health Assembly, the world's largest health policy-making body, opened its 66th Session on the 20th of May in Geneva with around 3,000 participants from around the world.  Major health issues that will be discussed include protecting more children from vaccine-preventable diseases; intensifying efforts to eradicate polio; and the monitoring of progress that countries are making towards the Millennium Development Goals."

"The Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization was established by the Director-General of the World Health Organization in 1999 to provide guidance on the work of the WHO Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals Department.  SAGE is the principal advisory group to WHO for vaccines and immunization.  It is charged with advising WHO on overall global policies and strategies, ranging from vaccines and technology, research and development, to delivery of immunization and its linkages with other health interventions.  SAGE is concerned not just with childhood vaccines and immunization, but all vaccine-preventable diseases."

Immunization Program Available at Local Pharmacies in BC

British Columbia has a publicly funded immunization program accessible from local pharmacists that includes 16 vaccines to prevent illness and disease, and save countless lives.  Since 2009, pharmacists have played a key role in providing immunizations such as: 

  • influenza
  • pneumococcal pneumonia
  • pertussis (whooping cough), and
  • HPV (human papillomavirus);

and now the publicly funded vaccines listed below will also be available:

  • MMR (measles, mumps and rubella)
  • Hepatitis A and B
  • Tetanus/diphtheria
  • Varicella (chicken pox)
  • Pneumococcal polysaccharide (for people over the age of 65 or for people at increased risk or chronic diseases), and
  • Meningogoccal C Conjugate vaccine

This expansion of available publicly funded vaccines is a positive move and makes effective use of pharmacists' extensive training and skills," says Bob Nakagawa, registrar with the College of Pharmacists of BC.  "We know that vaccines help save lives and prevent illness, and by making vaccines easier and more convenient for British Columbians to receive, we will help to ensure as many people are protected as possible."

There are now more than 2,000 pharmacists authorized to provide vaccines throughout British Columbia.

HPV Vaccine Program Expands to Include Boys in PEI

This fall the HPV (human papillomavirus) program will include free vaccinations for Grade 6 boys in Prince Edward Island.  Since 2007, the HPV vaccination has been administered to Grade 6 girls by PEI's Public Health Nurses.

"Prince Edward Island is proud to be the first province to announce an expansion to its HPV Vaccination program to include boys," says Minister Currie.  "This initiative, funded through existing resources in our department budget, highlights our commitment to our provincial immunization programs.  Enhancing our HPV Vaccine program is an important investment in the current and future health and well-being of Islanders."

HPV infection is associated with a high percentage of cancers of the mouth, nose and throat as well as cancers of the penis and anus in males and cervical cancer in females.  It has also contributed to over 90% of genital warts in both sexes.

"By offering the vaccine to males, we can hopefully decrease the spread of HPV infection," says Dr. Lamont Sweet, Deputy Chief Public Health Officer.  "HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection among young adults and over half will develop an infection over their lifetime."

Do You Have Concerns?

There is no reason your child should suffer from a disease when there is a safe and effective way to prevent it.  Take steps to protect your family against vaccine-preventable diseases. 

If you have concerns about vaccines, talk to your doctor, pediatrician, or health care provider.  You can find reliable, science-based information about vaccine safety on websites produced by the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canadian Immunization Awareness Program, the Canadian Paediatric Society, and the World Health Organization.


For additional information, Diligencia Investigative Reporting recommends the following articles:

For Industry and Professionals

Related Resources

  • World Health Organization " Vaccines" website
  • S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccine safety
  • For safety information about food, health and consumer products, visit the Healthy Canadians website
  • For more articles on health and safety issues go to the It's Your Health web section.

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