With so many rumours, conflicting news and social media ads flying about, I can understand why people get so confused when it comes to making the right decision about anything these days.

Gone are the days when you went to see a doctor, listened to their advice and unconditionally accepted what was being given or done to you. Thank goodness for that.

Health management is a two-way process and, as a patient, it is your right to exercise your freedom to make an informed decision about what is right or wrong for you. It must never be dictated to you. There is a caveat, however, that you must be informed by credible sources with proper evidence being presented to you so that you truly understand the pros and cons and the wider implications of your decision.

Let’s talk about vaccinations then. Earlier this week, I had a conversation with my hairdresser. We casually talked and stumbled upon the topic of vaccines (as you do!) and what she said next truly left me flabbergasted. She told me that she “begs clients not to vaccinate their kids. Someone said it causes autism”. Digging a little deeper, I discovered that this “someone” was a client who had seen it on Facebook and by default assumed this to be fact which now (unbeknown to them) was being distributed to influence the masses.

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There is no link between the MMR vaccine, or any other vaccine for that matter, and autism. This link was made up by an ex-doctor, Andrew Wakefield, when he published a study in 1998 which was discredited. He was found to have falsified the evidence and was subsequently struck off the medical register. However, the damage had already been done, because in an era where the internet had taken over, the insignificant next-door Chinese whispers were now spreading like wildfire. Without researching the real evidence, people were reading the headlines, which played on their fears and insecurities, and were sharing it without questioning it. The result: conditions such as measles and mumps, which we had virtually eradicated from the UK, were back on the market as anti-vaccination campaigners were given permission to become influencers.

This is the sorry state we find ourselves in today. It is without doubt that vaccines are one of the biggest success stories of modern medicine. The World Health Organisation informs us that vaccines continue to prevent up to three million deaths globally a year. Before we had vaccines, millions of people were dying from diseases we now don’t even hear about. The MMR vaccination alone has resulted in an 80% drop in measles, which before its introduction caused the death of 2.6 million people globally. Outbreaks across the UK are happening regularly now as the uptake of the vaccine reduces.

Vaccines are essentially dead or super weakened strains of bacteria which are introduced into the system, either via injection, nasally or orally. Their job is to trigger a mild immune response to produce antibodies to fight that particular disease should you ever encounter it. Conditions such as polio have virtually disappeared, as had measles and mumps, but the latter two are now back and on the rise with new cases in the UK being diagnosed regularly. It’s more than just a rash and a fever – these conditions are life-threatening with major long-term health implications.

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The reason for this re-emergence correlates with the rise of misinformation, the hearsay from those who are ignorant to the evidence or have an alternative agenda. Anti-vaccination activism is not a new problem but now, with wider and easier access to the masses, these activists have become adept at spreading myths across social media at an alarming pace.

So after a long discussion and sharing the evidence with my hairdresser, she understood how damaging the misinformation she was given actually was. Although she felt guilt, it was important to reiterate that moving forward, it’s best to only share that which we know to be true, especially when it has the potential to cause harm. All of us, our kids and our future generations, are at risk if we allow preventable diseases to come back. We therefore need everyone to comply with the immunisation programme, and where we have anxieties or questions about it, ask the doctor who, in this case, is the expert. Do your research and challenge the misinformation.