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week of July 21, 2022

Maternal vaccine safety

The claim:

One of the most pernicious and stubborn concerns people have about vaccines preys on our interest in fertility. More plainly, people worry that maternal COVID vaccines may hurt pregnant folks and their babies.

The facts:

People are given the Tdap vaccine during pregnancy to take advantage of passive immunity; antibodies that pass through the placenta can help protect the baby until they are old enough to get vaccines of their own. COVID vaccines can work that way too.

A new study indicates that getting a vaccine during pregnancy might help protect your baby after they are born. Researchers found that vaccination during pregnancy was overall 52% effective in helping babies avoid hospitalization due to COVID. Effectiveness was 38% if the parent was vaccinated before 20 weeks, but effectiveness increased to 69% if they were vaccinated after 20 weeks.

So, rather than impact fertility, for which there has not been shown correlation, getting vaccinated during pregnancy helps your baby thrive.

SIDS and the pandemic

The claim:

An early myth promoted at the beginning of the pandemic and persists today claims that SIDS rates dropped during lockdowns in 2020 because fewer infants were getting their routine scheduled vaccines.

The facts:

As Jonathon Swift once wrote: "Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it." Sadly, SIDS rates increased slightly in 2020, as newly published data shows.

The claims about 2020 are just another in a long list of non-existent correlations. A number of previous studies show no correlation between vaccines and SIDS. One meta-analysis even suggests that vaccines halve the risk of SIDS.

Public health initiatives such as back-to-sleep campaigns and vaccination can save lives.

Changing definitions

The claim:

"They" keep changing the definition of vaccines. According to certain Twitter accounts, these changing definitions show that vaccines are terrible or do not work or are part of a nefarious plan.

The facts:

All definitions change over time to better reflect our understanding of how things work and to make the definitions better understood when written for various audiences.

The way vaccines work has not changed. Vaccines introduce your body to antigens so that if you encounter the actual pathogens in the wild, your body has an already developed memory of the disease. This way, your immune system responds rapidly and targets the pathogen.

The alternative would be to have a primary immune response, which is slower and not as effective. As our understanding of the immune system and various pathogens increases, we learn that not all secondary immune responses are absolute and completely eliminate the infection before we feel sick. Some of the secondary immune response can depend on the primary exposure's pathogen and/or strength.

While we would love it if any vaccine or pathogen exposure would completely prevent subsequent infections, it doesn't always happen this way.

When it comes to the word immunity, the word means different things to different people. To those in the sciences surrounding vaccines, immunity might mean your immune system is primed for secondary exposures, whereas laypeople might think it literally renders you immune to the pathogen. The changes in the definition are merely a way to be perfectly clear about what a vaccine is and what it can do for you.

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