Pakistan has the highest global burden of childhood diseases and mortality and therefore, needs to utilise all the tools available to combat them, especially the most effective one — vaccines.
These views were shared by Emory University associate professor of global health, epidemiology and paediatrics Dr Saad B Omer, while he was speaking at a panel discussion at the Aga Khan University (AKU), along with Pakistan Paediatric Association president Dr Iqbal Memon and AKU paediatrics and child health department chairperson Prof Dr Anita Zaidi.
Dr Omer provided concrete statistical data to negate the theories about vaccines causing more harm than good to children.
The discussion was on ‘Myths and Vaccines’ where frequently asked questions and common myths were discussed by the panel. Though vaccines are an effective way to combat disease and reduce child mortality rate, certain members of the general public are still reluctant to adopt them. The panel aimed to disprove the myths around vaccines and to spread awareness that the use of vaccines would help the most vulnerable members of our society, the children.
The first myth to be tackled was that polio vaccine causes infertility, which was disproved immediately by a simple statement by Dr Memon, who revealed that since the introduction of the vaccine in 1994, the population of Pakistan has increased by 100 million. If vaccines were to render patients infertile, the population would certainly not have grown so dramatically, he argued.
A fact that the panel kept repeating was that these vaccines, including those for polio, are commonly used in other Muslim countries as well, most notably in Saudi Arabia. “We need the public, the media and other doctors to spread awareness to people so that they are able to make informed decisions,” said Dr Zaidi.
“Someone, somewhere is perpetuating these myths and is looking to cause mass hysteria,” claimed Dr Memon. “That person doesn’t want our children to beat these diseases. We need to wake up the people.”
Dr Omer then talked about the negative side effects of vaccines. “All biomedical interventions have side effects but most are mild and temporary,” he explained. “There are a few severe side effects but they are so exceedingly rare that they do not even come into consideration.”
Another myth the panellists dispelled was that vaccine-preventable illnesses are just an unfortunate fact of life and that it is better to be immunised by contracting the disease rather than through vaccines. “There are complications that come with these diseases and they have much more severe and long-lasting consequences than if the child is immunised,” claimed Dr Memon.
Dr Zaidi, agreeing with Dr Memon, said that people are unaware of the dangers of these diseases and stressed that they are potentially fatal illnesses that can also cause lifelong side effects.
Another myth discussed during the session was that drug companies make huge profits from vaccines.
This was countered by the panel explaining that pharmaceutical companies make minimal profits from the production of vaccines because their aim is to eradicate the disease rather than fight it in the long term. “Part of the millennium goals is to reduce child mortality by two-thirds and an effective and efficient way to do that is via vaccines,” explained Dr Zaidi.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 15th, 2014.