Why we vaccinate–to protect our children from pertussis



During this past week, a 25 day old baby in Santa Barbara, CA died from pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough (caused by the Bordetella pertussis bacteria). The disease can be easily prevented by the DTaP or Tdap vaccines (also protect against tetanus and diphtheria), which can be given to infants as early as 6 weeks to 2 months old.

According to the California Department of Public Health, infants who are too young to be fully immunized or those who are not vaccinated are most vulnerable to severe and fatal cases of pertussis. In 2014, 66 of the pertussis hospitalizations cases were children four months of age or younger. Two infants have died of pertussis in California during 2014. Continue reading “Why we vaccinate–to protect our children from pertussis”

Infant T cells don’t remember pathogens–causes weaker immunity

active-immunityIf you hang out in various vaccine discussions, you will hear all kinds of odd, unscientific ideas about the immune system of infants. One of the major issues is a substantial oversimplification of the immune system (of adults and infants), mostly thinking it’s one “thing,” ignoring the complex physiology of the immune system which is an almost infinite number of interactions between cells, proteins and factors, organs, blood, fluids, and other physiological systems.

Generally, the popular assumption is that the infant immune system is weak, making those children more prone to viral or bacterial infections. The antivaccine crowd uses this belief to either state that vaccines won’t work or might actually harm the immune system, along with some overstated magical properties of human breast milk to prevent infection.

But according to a new study, led by Dr. Brian Rudd of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Cornell University, published in the Journal of Immunology, the immune system of newborns and infants is actually stronger than an adult’s immune system. Unfortunately, it has a short “memory.” Continue reading “Infant T cells don’t remember pathogens–causes weaker immunity”

Why we immunize–protect children from hospitalization for diarrhea


Update 1. Added more information about the power of the herd immunity written by Tara Haelle.

One of the most recent and important vaccines added to the current schedule of immunization is the rotavirus vaccine, introduced in the USA in 2007. Before the introduction of the vaccine, rotavirus was the most common cause of severe gastroenteritis in US children under 5 years old. Each year, rotavirus caused an estimated 20 to 60 deaths, 55,000 to 70,000 hospitalizations, and nearly half a million non-emergency visits to healthcare facilities.

A study, recently published the Pediatrics journal, concluded that, after the rotavirus vaccines was introduced, the numbers of diarrhea-related illness in US children dropped significantly. Moreover, probably as a result of herd immunity (where transmission through a population is inhibited by individual who are immune to the disease), the study found that the rate of hospitalizations related to the virus dropped substantially in both vaccinated and unvaccinated children.

The research examined health insurance data from across the USA (except for Medicaid, and a few states that don’t report data) for children under 5 years, cross tabulating various gastrointestinal illnesses with hospitalizations and other medical care. It also compared the same information to the vaccination status of those children. Finally, they gathered data about these illnesses from 2001 through 2006 (before the vaccine was introduced) and 2007-11, to compare hospitalization and other medical facility encounters between the pre- and post-vaccine groups. Continue reading “Why we immunize–protect children from hospitalization for diarrhea”

Recouping costs of vaccine preventable disease outbreaks

We all know that outbreaks of preventable diseases cause (unnecessary) suffering and potentially devastating harms. This blog has a whole series dedicated to showing how vaccines save lives (examples here, here, here, here, and here).

But besides those harms, outbreaks also have direct monetary costs. They cost individuals money, when those people have to miss work or pay for medications, co-pays or costs associated with caring for a sick child or other family member harmed by a disease. Outbreaks also impose costs on health insurers covering the (often very high) costs of treating a preventable disease; and they impose costs on the public purse. Public health authorities have  to contain the outbreak. If people depend on a public health insurance program, their health costs are also covered by the public. Public funding is limited. When agencies have to spend money on containing outbreaks, they are not using the money in other ways. As a result, other services and needs suffer.

Our paper argues that those whose decision not to vaccinate caused an outbreak should pay for the costs to public agencies of the outbreak. It then suggests options for achieving that goal. The blog post proceeds in three parts that shortly summarize the paper’s arguments: highlighting the costs of outbreaks, explaining the justifications for imposing costs of those who do not vaccinate, and mentioning how costs can be recovered. Continue reading “Recouping costs of vaccine preventable disease outbreaks”

Hey vaccine deniers–it’s just simple math. Part deux.

This article has been updated, and you can read it here. The comments section to this article have been closed, but you can comment at the newer version.


A few days ago, I wrote an article discussing how antivaccination trope inventors could not understand the most basic elements of mathematics in reading a vaccine label. They misinterpreted some simple math like that the toxic level of a substance is several million times higher than what is injected. I suppose in the minds of vaccine deniers, 1=1 billion. Or 1 trillion. Or 4783.2226. It just depends.

And if they can’t understand the simplest of math principles, assuming that they would understand population level statistics might be a really bad assumption.

Recently, I was pointed to an antivaccination article, on the Political Blindspot website, which is dedicated to finding news articles swept under the rug by mainstream media. My skeptical radar always goes into full energy mode whenever I see the word “mainstream.” Continue reading “Hey vaccine deniers–it’s just simple math. Part deux.”

Student Nurse Perspective: The Flu Vaccine.

Nurses attending to soldiersIngvar Árni Ingvarsson, a student nurse in the UK, wrote an excellent perspective on vaccines from his nursing eyeballs, which he graciously allowed me to re-post here.  

Little intro might be handy for this. This post has been on my mind for a long time now and finally I decided to pull my finger out and actually write it. What is to follow will be a mixture of factual, scientific and anecdotal writings. Because that is the way I roll. I have been itching to write something, anything about vaccinations for a little bit now, but so far decided not to because there are so many out there who do it and do a better job of it then I would dream of, so I’ll list some. Skeptical Raptor, Respectful Insolence, Red Wine & Apple Sauce, Just The Vax and many many more. 

Prior to starting my nursing course I was very much into my slightly alternative medicine. I was on the fence regarding vaccines, not just the flu vaccine but all vaccines. Now that I think back on it I’m not really sure why. It was never really something that I thought about properly until I started my university course. What was probably a turning point for me was the amount of patients over 70 I came across who had to use callipers and wheelchairs because they contracted polio when they were kids. I have never come across a patient under 70 who has had polio. Never. This sort of got me thinking about the importance of vaccination, and if there is one thing that I have learned since starting uni is that evidence is the key. Continue reading “Student Nurse Perspective: The Flu Vaccine.”

2-dose varicella vaccine regimen – decline of chickenpox

varicella vaccine

The varicella vaccine for chickenpox was introduced in the mid-1990’s in the USA and has been associated with substantial and statistically significant declines in incidence, hospitalizations and deaths attributable to chickenpox.

Despite the beliefs of vaccine refusers, who  have stated emphatically that chickenpox is not dangerous, the real complications from a varicella infection are numerous and serious:

  • dehydration
  • pneumonia
  • bleeding problems
  • infection or inflammation of the brain (encephalitis, cerebellar ataxia)
  • bacterial infections of the skin and soft tissues in children including Group A streptococcal infections
  • blood stream infections (sepsis)
  • toxic shock syndrome
  • bone infections
  • joint infections

Let’s take a look at the facts – the varicella vaccine has actually lead to a significant reduction in the incidence of chickenpox in children.

Continue reading “2-dose varicella vaccine regimen – decline of chickenpox”

Vaccine exemptions contribute to outbreaks of preventable diseases

vaccines-religious-exemptionOnce again, a new study is published in a peer reviewed journal that shows that exemptions to proper and recommended levels of vaccination for children before entering public school are harming the general population. I’ve talked about the issue of exemptions causing outbreaks or epidemics previously in New York, Washington, and other places

Over the past few years, there have been several outbreaks of whooping cough (Bordetella pertussis), including one that reached over 9000 individuals in California in 2010, considered one of the worst pertussis outbreaks in the USA during the past several decades

The original DTP vaccine (diphtheriatetanus and pertussis) became available in the USA in 1948 and was critical to dropping the number of cases of whooping cough from 260,000  in 1934 to less than a few thousand per year in the 1990′s. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends (pdf) that children should get 5 doses of DTaP (the replacement for the original DTP vaccine), one dose at each of the following ages: 2, 4, 6, and 15-18 months and 4-6 years. Those children who are not completely vaccinated according to these ACIP recommendations for pertussis are considered to be “undervaccinated.” 

Whooping cough is a serious disease that has significant complications for children:

  • 1 in 4 (23%) get pneumonia (lung infection)
  • 1 or 2 in 100 (1.6%) will have convulsions (violent, uncontrolled shaking)
  • Two thirds (67%) will have apnea (slowed or stopped breathing)
  • 1 in 300 (0.4%) will have encephalopathy (disease of the brain)
  • 1 or 2 in 100 (1.6%) will die. In 2012, pertussis killed 18 infants in the USA.

Even in adults, there are substantial complications from whooping cough, such as broken ribs from coughing, that can have a significant impact on the overall health. Continue reading “Vaccine exemptions contribute to outbreaks of preventable diseases”

Repeated contact with mumps may overwhelm immunization

A recent study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, concluded that after an intense face-to-face educational technique, used among Orthodox Jews, apparently led to an outbreak of mumps in 2009 and 2010, despite high vaccination rates in the group. In a one-year period, from June 28, 2009, through June 27, 2010, 3,502 cases of mumps were reported in New Jersey, New York City and New York’s Orange and Rockland counties. The study examined 1,648 of those cases, 97% were Orthodox Jews, and found 89% had received two doses of the vaccine and 8% received one dose, a relatively high rate of vaccination.

Many of the individuals attended a religious school where they practiced an intense training technique called chavruta, which involves close contact with a partner across a narrow table. Partners change frequently, and he discussion is often loud and may involve shouting since a larger group may be close to each other, all trying to make an argument or point. This prolonged contact overwhelmed the immunity, from the mumps vaccination (part of the MMR vaccine), for individuals. The study did find high rates of two-dose coverage reduced the severity of the disease and the transmission to people in settings of less exposure. Also, the study found that mumps did not spread outside of the Orthodox Jewish community in the area, further supporting the overall effectiveness of the mumps vaccine in the broader community. Continue reading “Repeated contact with mumps may overwhelm immunization”

New research shows vaccine denialists put others at risk

In a recent article published in the American Journal of Public Health, Exposure of California Kindergartners to Students With Personal Belief Exemptions From Mandated School Entry Vaccinations, by Alison Buttenheim, Malia Jones, and Yelena Baras, parents worried about the safety of vaccinations have caused a new problem in the comeback childhood diseases that haven’t been seen in a couple of generations. Buttenheim et al. wrote that a greater number of parents are refusing to get their children vaccinated through legally binding person belief exemptions, and explained that this increases the risk of infection for those with compromised immune systems and those who cannot get vaccinations. Traditionally, these individuals relied upon herd immunity, which describes a form of immunity that occurs when the vaccination of a significant portion of a population (or herd) provides a measure of protection for individuals who have not developed immunity. Continue reading “New research shows vaccine denialists put others at risk”