RECAP with the RBDCOV Community Advisory Panel | Vaccines 101: Debunking myths and understanding vaccine hesitancy

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ReCAP is a series of interviews with the members of the RBDCOV Community Advisory Panel that will explore the world of community engagement, EU projects and the importance of including people living with immunocompromising conditions in clinical trials.


Let’s dive into the second part of the interview with Siegfried Schwarze!



What are some common misconceptions or myths surrounding vaccines, and how can they be addressed?


There are many misconceptions and myths surrounding the world of vaccines, some of which have persisted for years. Here are some common myths, followed by factual explanations:


Myth: Vaccines cause autism.

Fact:Numerous studies have debunked this myth. The initial paper that suggested a link between the MMR vaccine and autism has been retracted and widely discredited. There is no scientific evidence linking vaccines to autism.


Myth: Natural infection is better than vaccination.

Fact: While natural infections can provide immunity, they come with the risk of severe complications, and in some cases, death. Vaccines can provide immunity without causing the disease itself.


Myth: Vaccines contain harmful ingredients.

Fact: Ingredients in vaccines, like adjuvants and preservatives, are used in safe amounts and have been thoroughly tested. They enhance vaccine efficacy and prevent contamination.


Myth: Getting multiple vaccines can overload the immune system.

Fact: Our immune systems handle numerous foreign antigens daily. Vaccines are just a tiny fraction of what our immune systems encounter and manage every day. Even children have the capability to respond to a large number of antigens simultaneously.


Myth: Vaccines can give you the disease they are trying to prevent.

Fact: Most vaccines do not contain live pathogens, so they cannot cause the disease. Vaccines with attenuated (weakened) live viruses (like the MMR vaccine) cannot cause the disease in individuals without prior conditions.


Myth: We do not need vaccines for diseases that are nearly eradicated

Fact: If we stop vaccination, even small case numbers can lead to large outbreaks, since the diseases have not disappeared completely. Continued vaccination ensures diseases do not make a comeback.


Myth: Vaccine side effects are worse than the disease itself.

Fact: Side effects of vaccines are typically mild, like a sore arm or a low fever, and temporary.


Myth: “Healthy” people do not need vaccines.

Fact: You cannot predict the course of an infection. Even a person who seems to be “healthy” can have a severe outcome. Vaccines protect individuals from potential future infections, and by achieving herd immunity, they also protect those around them who might be more vulnerable to infections.


What can we do to address these myths?


  • Promote Scientific Literacy: Provide access to easy-to-understand information about vaccines.
  • Engage Trusted Figures: Physicians, healthcare providers, and community leaders can play pivotal roles in debunking myths.
  • Share Personal Stories: Hearing from those who have experienced vaccine-preventable diseases can be impactful.
  • Encourage Open Dialogue: Rather than dismissing concerns, address them with empathy and factual information.
  • Access to Reliable Sources: Promote websites, journals, and organisations that provide accurate and scientific information about vaccines.
  • Educational Campaigns: Use media, schools, and public health campaigns to spread accurate information.


It is crucial to approach vaccine hesitancy with understanding and empathy, providing clear, fact-based information to help individuals make informed decisions.



How can raising awareness and addressing vaccine hesitancy among the general population contribute to fostering a more inclusive and resilient society?


Addressing vaccine hesitancy and raising awareness among the general population has far-reaching implications for building a more inclusive and resilient society. Here is how:


  • Community Protection: Vaccines can reduce the prevalence of infectious diseases in a community. When a significant portion of the population is vaccinated, it leads to herd immunity, which indirectly protects those who cannot be vaccinated.


  • Reduction in Health Disparities: Vaccine-preventable diseases often disproportionately affect communities that are marginalised due to factors like limited access to healthcare, crowded living conditions, and socioeconomic challenges. Ensuring broad vaccine uptake can reduce these disparities.


  • Economic Resilience: Outbreaks of infectious diseases can strain economies—people miss work, tourism declines, and healthcare costs rise. A vaccinated population reduces the risk of such outbreaks, ensuring more consistent economic stability.


  • Preservation of Healthcare Systems: Widespread illness can overwhelm healthcare systems. By preventing large-scale outbreaks, vaccines help ensure that medical resources are available for various health needs, not just epidemic response.


  • Social Cohesion: A community that recognises the collective value of vaccination is likely to collaborate in other health and safety measures. This unity can promote other positive community actions and interventions.


  • Educational Continuity: Outbreaks can lead to school closures, disrupting education. By controlling vaccine-preventable diseases, students can maintain consistent education, which is essential for societal progress.


  • Promotion of Scientific Literacy: Addressing vaccine hesitancy often involves promoting a better understanding of science among the general public. An informed population is more equipped to make decisions on a range of issues, not just health.


  • Trust in Institutions: Successfully addressing vaccine hesitancy can restore and strengthen public trust in health institutions, science, and governance. This trust is pivotal for a functioning and cohesive society.


  • Protection of Vulnerable Groups: Encouraging broad vaccine uptake ensures that vulnerable groups (like those with underlying health conditions) are indirectly protected. This approach embodies a societal attitude of caring for all members, not just the majority.


  • Global Solidarity and Security: Viruses do not respect borders. Vaccine uptake in one area can have ripple effects globally. A global effort to address vaccine hesitancy promotes international solidarity and reduces the risk of cross-border epidemics.


In conclusion, promoting vaccine awareness and combating hesitancy is not just about individual protection—it is a collective effort towards building a society that is better equipped to deal with health challenges, that values science and knowledge, and that emphasises the protection and inclusion of all its members. Such a society is inherently more adaptable, cohesive, and resilient in the face of diverse challenges.



Disclaimer: This activity was developed under the RBDCOV Project, which has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 101046118.


by Siegfried Schwarze

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