The spread of myths and conspiracies can be deadly when it comes to health. That’s why we have debunked the most common vaccine misconceptions.

1. Vaccines cause autism

They don’t. The myth of a possible link between measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism grew out of a 1998 study by Andrew Wakefield published in The Lancet. It was later found to be flawed and fraudulent.

2. Vaccines are toxic

They aren’t. Thiomersal is an organic, mercury-containing compound added to some vaccines as a preservative. Preservatives are important because they inhibit growth of bacterial and fungal contaminants.

Mercury, such as thiomersal, is used in very small amounts and is broken down by the body quickly. It is safe and there is no evidence to show that the amount of thiomersal used poses a risk to health.
A baby is being vaccinated at the health centre of Bol, in the centre of Chad. © UNICEF/UN0294772/Frank Dejongh

3. Vaccines aren't safe

They are. The reality is that immunisation is extremely safe, with a very low risk of serious complications or allergic reactions. Incorrect claims about vaccination safety and side effects are unscientific and false.

Let’s look at polio for instance. Since the Polio Eradication Initiative was launched in 1988, 10 billion doses of the vaccine have been sent to over 100 countries to immunise children. Because of the oral polio vaccine, five million children, who would otherwise have been paralysed by the disease, are walking.

Immunisation saves lives and gives children the opportunity to live a healthy life and to reach their full potential. Children who are not immunised face illness, disability and death.    

Polio vaccinations Polio vaccinations
Polio vaccinations

A gift that can save lives

There is no better way to show your loved one how
much you appreciate them this Valentine's Day than
purchasing life-saving vaccines.

A vaccine pack will stop disease from spreading with the
help of UNICEF and outreach workers.
Your gift will help to protect children from deadly
but preventable disease. 


4. Vaccines aren't necessary

False. They are. Good hygiene, sanitation and nutrition isn’t enough to stop infectious diseases. While good levels of hygiene, health and sanitation are important, many infections can still spread regardless of how clean we are.

If individuals are not vaccinated, diseases that have become uncommon in some areas, such as polio or measles, can quickly reappear.  For example, in the US the number of measles cases increased six-fold between 2017 and 2018, reaching 791 cases.

5. Vaccinated children cause outbreaks

Also false. The lives of an estimated 20 million children have been saved through measles immunisation between 2000 and 2016.

Mothers and children are waiting for their turn to be vaccinated at the health centre in Ndjamena, the capital of Chad. © UNICEF/UN0291197/Frank Dejongh


Vaccines don’t cause autism, they aren’t toxic and they don’t cause outbreaks. But they DO work and they DO save lives.

Take our short quiz now to test your knowledge on the five myths we've just debunked.