FACT CHECK: Do Children Receive “Forty-Six or More” Vaccines by the Age of Five?
FALSE. Children receive about eleven different vaccines before they turn five, according to Canada's Provincial and Territorial Vaccination Routine Schedule.
On October 23, Prince Edward Island’s the Guardian published a syndicated column about the “risks” related to vaccines. The column was republished over the weekend in the Toronto Sun, as well as in the Sudbury Star and the Chatham Daily News. Most publications have since removed the article from their websites, but it can still be found at the Guardian and in last Saturday’s print edition of the Toronto Sun with the headline “Shots in the dark?”
The column, written by W. Gifford-Jones (whose real name is Ken Walker), states that by five years old, children “can receive 46 or more vaccines.” This is statement is false. Infants and children require the highest number of vaccinations in the shortest period of time, but the number is nowhere near forty-six.
To start, let’s clarify the terms: a vaccine is a product that immunizes the body against certain diseases, and a vaccination is the act of introducing that vaccine into the body—usually via injection, but sometimes orally or nasally. While vaccination schedules vary slightly from child to child and province to province, Canadian government guidelines say administration should typically start when the child is two months old and continue into adulthood, lessening in frequency and variety over time.
Sometimes the same vaccine will be administered a few times over the course of a certain period. This happens especially with children and infants, often occurring at the age of two months, four months, six months, and eighteen months. The frequency of repeated vaccinations also depends on the brand of the vaccine. For example, Health Canada recommends that the rotavirus vaccine be administered after six weeks but before fifteen weeks of age. The Rot-1 vaccine requires two doses, at two and four months, while the Rot-5 vaccine requires three doses, at two, four, and six months of age. According to the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, both are equally effective.
According to Canada’s Provincial and Territorial Vaccination Routine Schedule Programs for Infants and Children, between the ages of two months and five years, infants and children will receive approximately eleven different vaccines which are administered over the course of about the same number of vaccinations. Some of these vaccines, like DTaP-IPV-Hib (which protects against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, and Haemophilus influenzae type B [Hib] disease) are combined vaccines, which lessen the number of shots a child needs to receive. These eleven vaccines immunize against approximately twenty-eight diseases.
The incorrect number of vaccines isn’t the only false claim in Walker’s column. As pointed out by numerous medical professionals and experts—including the chair in pediatric vaccinology at Dalhousie’s Canadian Institute of Health Research, the director of Laurentian University’s Science Communication graduate program, and a Globe and Mail health reporter—the article is riddled with misinformation.
Some of the false or misleading claims are outlined below.
“3.6 billion dollars has been awarded to families due to the complications of vaccines.”
FALSE. Walker’s claim doesn’t specify how, where, or when the $3.6 billion was allegedly given, but data show this didn’t happen in Canada or the United States.
Apart from Quebec, no province in Canada has a program to compensate victims of injury after vaccination. Between 1987 and April 2018, 271 compensation claims have been submitted in the province, and forty-three have been accepted. $5.49 million has been paid out. In the past three decades in the US, according to the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, a total of $3.9 billion (US) has been paid out.
The World Health Organization (WHO) confirms that some countries have “vaccine injury compensation programmes,” which offer money to complainants in the extremely rare case that they develop a serious illness or sustain other injury after vaccination. The existence of these programs doesn’t mean that vaccines are inherently dangerous, though. The WHO acknowledges that vaccination, like any medical practice, comes with some risk, and the source of illness or injury that occurs after vaccination could be difficult to determine. Vaccine-injury-compensation programs, according to the WHO, “reflect a belief that it is fair and reasonable that a community that is protected by a vaccination programme accepts responsibility for and provides compensation to those who are injured by it.”
“‘My child was healthy, was given a vaccine and then something happened.’ The occurrence is usually a neurological reaction due to inflammation in the brain that triggers problems such as autism, which has skyrocketed over the years.”
FALSE. The supposed link between vaccines and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has been disproven many times over the years through various extensive studies by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Institute of Medicine, and others. Though some cases of ASD have been linked to inflammation in the brain in past studies, that inflammation wasn’t shown to be triggered by vaccines.
The causes of the rise in ASD diagnosis over the past few years have been debated, but the majority of scientists and researchers agree that it is not due to vaccinations, as reported by Time in 2015. One of the most accepted theories regarding the rise of ASD diagnoses is simply that there have been changes in the way it is diagnosed. According to a research letter published in January by the peer-reviewed medical journal JAMA, diagnoses of ASD actually plateaued in 2012. Between 2014 and 2016, there was “no statistically significant increase” of ASD prevalence in the US.
“For instance, some vaccines contain mercury, which is one of the most toxic ingredients known. Another additive, aluminum, is a known neurotoxin that can cause a toxic inflammatory reaction affecting the nervous system.”
MISLEADING. The WHO considers methylmercury to be “one of the top ten chemicals or groups of chemicals of major public health concern,” but vaccines do not contain methylmercury, which is often mentioned in the context of fish being poisoned. Some vaccines do contain ethylmercury, which is derived from the metabolism of thimerosal, the most widely used form of organic mercury. Thimerosal is used as a preservative in many vaccines.
Unlike methylmercury, ethylmercury has a shorter half-life, according to the WHO, which means it doesn’t stay in the body for as long, and because it is “excreted via the gut,” it doesn’t accumulate in the body like methylmercury does. According to the CDC, thimerosal is used in vaccines to prevent the growth of germs. Both the CDC and the WHO consider ethylmercury, and therefore thimerosal, safe to use in regulated doses for humans.
Aluminum is used in some vaccines as an ingredient that enhances the vaccine’s ability to induce protection against infection, known as an adjuvant. Aluminum salts and aluminum-containing adjuvants have been used in vaccines since the 1930s, according to the CDC, and are present in such small doses that they have been shown to have no toxic effect on humans. For example, the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, which is typically recommended for children, contains about 0.125 milligrams of aluminum per dose.
According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, by the age of six months, infants will ingest more aluminum through their diet than by vaccine—at least seven milligrams if the child is breastfed or 117 milligrams if soy-based formula is used. A 2011 study of aluminum exposure in infants who have been vaccinated concluded that the exposure was “extremely low risk to infants and that the benefits of using vaccines containing aluminum adjuvant outweigh any theoretical concerns.”
“For instance, I learned of babies dying of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). This has occurred 24 hours after a vaccine was given.”
FALSE. This myth has been debunked in multiple studies, going as far back as 1988. As the CDC points out, the rates of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) are highest between the ages of two and four months, which coincides with the time that infants typically receive the most vaccinations. In a 2016 update to guidelines for a safer sleep environments for infants, the US Task Force On Sudden Infant Death Syndrome recommends immunization. It goes on to say that there is no evidence for a causal relationship between vaccination and SIDS.
As shown in this Health Canada infographic, vaccinations have saved millions of lives and continue to do so.