A new powerful meningococcal vaccine that trains the immune system to attack the bacteria that can lead to deadly meningitis has now been approved by the FDA for 1-9-year-old children. This is not going to warm the hearts of the anti-vaxxers who think that there are too many vaccines.
Let’s take a look at this vaccine and the disease it prevents, just so parents know that they can protect their children.
Since most of those who caught the disease were vaccinated with the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella, the anti-vaccine interwebs are jumping up and down pointing at the pro-science people and saying, “neener neener, vaccines don’t work.” Yeah, they’re that immature. And they are absolutely wrong.
Let’s take a look at the whole story, including some very simple math, which even science deniers should understand. Then we can thoroughly debunk the tropes pushed by the vaccine deniers. This should be fun.
One of the enduring zombie tropes of the antivaccination cult is that pathogens aren’t dangerous because the disease is not dangerous. Through a complicated, and thoroughly unsupported by evidence, revision of immunology to fit their needs, they think that kids with healthy immune systems don’t require vaccines, because their super immune systems, strengthened with homeopathic water and a handful of vitamins, will never succumb to diseases. In their arrogance, and pseudoscience beliefs, they think their kids have superior immune systems that can only be harmed by vaccines.
Of course, their beliefs are unsupported by anything in science, just putting children at harm. Plus we have evidence of how avoiding key vaccinations do put children at danger.
For a little background, meningitis is a disease caused by the inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord known as the meninges. The inflammation is usually caused by an infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. The disease may develop in response to a number of causes, usually bacteria or viruses, but it can also be caused by physical injury, cancer or certain drugs. While most people with meningitis recover, it can cause serious complications, such as brain damage, hearing loss, or learning disabilities. Continue reading “Why we vaccinate–saving children’s lives from meningitis”
Update of 24 September 2013 article to address outbreak at Princeton University.
Meningococcal disease usually refers to a group of diseases caused by the bacteria, Neisseria meningitidis, typically known as meningococcus. The most common illness arising from the bacterial infection is meningococcal meningitis (or just meningitis, even though there are non-bacterial forms meningitis, unrelated to this form). In meningococcal meningitis, the lining of the brain and spinal cord have become infected with these bacteria. These bacteria also have a causative role in other serious infections, such as bacteremia or septicemia, which are blood-borne infections.
Meningococcus bacteria are easily spread through the exchange of respiratory and throat secretions. The bacteria can pass quickly from one individual to another in close quarters, for example, schools and dormitories. Although the disease can be very serious, it can be treated with antibiotics that prevent the more severe forms of the illness and can reduce the spread of infection from person to person.
If meningococcus isn’t treated quickly (or prevented by vaccines), the disease can be disabling or even fatal. And if the infection spreads to the blood, the consequences can be quite severe, requiring hospitalization. Meningococcal disease cannot be treated at home with over the counter or woo-based remedies. In fact, the symptoms of the early stages of the infection can mimic less dangerous infections, and require a physician’s diagnostic tools to rule out other less-serious infections. Continue reading “Why we vaccinate: to prevent meningococcal disease”
But one of the more important scientific failures of the antivaccine gang is an unsophisticated lack of understanding of basic mathematics, specifically the measurement of risk. Using 2010 USA numbers only, let’s look at the top mortality risks for children aged 1-14:
Unintentional injury (motor vehicle accidents, bathroom falls, etc.): 53.75 (out of every 100,000 Americans between the ages of 1-14)
Malignant neoplasms: 22.33
Congenital anomalies (commonly called birth defects): 14.25
Firearms (number broken out from the numbers for all homicides): 3.68
Heart disease: 6.09
Chronic respiratory disease: 3.26
Influenza and influenza-related pneumonia: 2.87
Benign neoplasms: 2.50
Meningococcal infection: 0.25
The average risk for “serious” complications from vaccines range from 0.1 to 1 in 100,000, with the risk of death from vaccines found to be so small, it can be barely measured as a risk. By the way, those of you who think that VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) should be used to estimate risk, the best I could say is that VAERS is pretty much useless, since it cannot establish causality, it is gamed by those with an antivaccine agenda, and the rate of adverse events is frequently below the background rate for these events in a typical populations of Americans. VAERS is an incredibly useful tool to spot potential new adverse events that might arise from vaccination, but the numbers themselves cannot be used to determine risk.
The risk of a serious reaction, like an allergic one, from getting the flu vaccine is less than 0.1 in 100,000, far far less than the actual death rate from influenza at around 2.87 per 100,000. Moreover, meningitis (and meningococcal infection) have risks of death far higher than the risks of vaccines.
The saddest thing about these numbers is that I’m spending so much time defending vaccines, which are as safe as drinking a glass of filtered water and clearly save lives from preventable diseases. The antivaccine activists, who claim to be worried about children, don’t focus on the things that actually kill children. Motor vehicle accidents, some portion of which are probably a result of drunk drivers. Or firearm homicides? Where is the outrage, that young children are dying from gunshots? Or that the risk of a child dying of suicide is thousands of times higher than the infinitely tiny risk of death from vaccines (if it even exists)?
Why is it that these vaccine deniers show incredible outrage over an indefensible belief that vaccines are dangerous, yet not try to stop homicides, especially with guns? Or safer cars? Or something that actually will help kids live longer.?
Actual guns kill more actual kids than the antivaccine myth that vaccines harm actual children. You see, vaccine deniers don’t actually care about children, or they would be yelling and screaming about guns. And drunk drivers. And the lack of mental health care for teenagers.
One of my favorite tropes (of so many) of the vaccine denier gang is that vaccines are not effective, thereby implying that the limited usefulness is not worth the risks of vaccines, real or imagined. But the fact is vaccines do save lives in measurable and sometimes fascinating ways. Two peer reviewed papers, recently published, provided clear evidence of some of the ways vaccines directly save lives.
The first article analyzed the relationship between flu vaccines and reduction of cardiovascular events; while the second one examined how vaccines might reduce morbidity and mortality from pneumococcal meningitis.
Now, the study does not show that the flu vaccine has some miraculous anti-heart attack component, it might reduce the risk of catching the flu, or possibly reducing the severity of the infection, which reduces the risk of having a heart attack. In fact, the study’s original hypothesis was that catching the flu might actually increase the risk of a cardiovascular event, specifically a heart attack.
Furthermore, the researchers observed that the flu vaccine reduced heart attack risk even when the vaccine’s effectiveness was shown to be not very high. This conclusion itself debunks one of the huge myths of the antivaccination crowd (which is essentially that if it’s not 100% effective then we must conclude that it’s 0% effective, an application of the Nirvana logical fallacy); sometimes even when a vaccine isn’t completely effective, it still has some net positive effects. Continue reading “Vaccines save lives–even more evidence”
West Virginia isn’t frequently lumped together with the more progressive states in the country. But sometimes, there are surprises.
I admit that I keep up with all kinds of news articles dealing with vaccines and vaccinations; especially since the new health care reform tax credit was enacted. I read about new vaccines in development. I read about new vaccine technologies that might prevent autoimmune diseases, like Type 1 diabetes. And I read articles about vaccinations from community newspapers, like this story in a local West Virginia newspaper, where I’m reminded of how advanced West Virginia is, at least with respect to vaccines:
Beginning last year, and continuing every year after, older students entering the seventh and twelfth grade will have shot requirements that must be met before the start of the school year.
Seventh and twelfth grade students will not be allowed to attend school this fall without proof of these immunizations. It is important that once you receive the vaccines and the providers update your immunization record, that the school nurse is sent a copy of the vaccines for their records.
The Mason County Health Department recently sent out a reminder that seventh grade students must show proof of a booster dose of Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis) vaccine and one dose of meningococcal/meningitis vaccine. Twelfth grade students also must show proof of a dose of Tdap (ususally obtained at age 11-12 years) plus at least one dose of meningococcal/meningitis vaccine after the age of 16 years. If the student received a meningococcal vaccine prior to the age of 16, a second meningococcal vaccine will be required for the twelfth grade. Continue reading “West Virginia occasionally gets it right”
This is the fourth in a series of reports about actual consequences from not vaccinating against infectious diseases. The reports are all based on verifiable reports from health agencies and/or articles published in high impact peer-reviewed journals.
Bacterial meningitis is a usually severe inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, known collectively as the meninges. While most people with meningitis recover, it can cause serious complications, such as brain damage, hearing loss, or learning disabilities. For example, in the United States, about 4,100 cases of bacterial meningitis, including 500 deaths, occurred each year between 2003–2007.
There are several pathogens that can cause bacterial meningitis including Haemophilus influenzae (most often caused by type b, often called Hib), Streptococcus pneumoniae, group B Streptococcus, Listeria monocytogenes, and Neisseria meningitides. Depending on the pathogen, bacterial meningitis is highly contagious, especially among groups that are in enclosed areas such as schools, college dormitories and other such situations. There are other types of meningitis, viral, fungal, parasitic and non-infectious, but they are significantly different than bacterial meningitis, about which is the focus of this article. Continue reading “Consequences of not vaccinating–Report 4, meningitis and education”
Over 5.2 billion people died in the 20th Century. Although the 20th Century ended a mere 13 years ago, from a statistics standpoint, we know we will probably die of different diseases (and other less natural causes) than our forebears. The causes of death evolve over time as medicine improves, science ameliorates risk, lifestyles change, environments shift, and politics reshape our world. British data journalist David McCandless (of Information is Beautiful) created this fascinating infographic based on a project, commissioned by the Wellcome Trust, a U.K. charity devoted to human health, called Death in the 20th Century, which shows us, graphically, the leading causes of mortality from 1900 to 2000, worldwide.
Some of the numbers are shocking. Humanity is the cause of nearly 1 billion (or just short of 20%) of the deaths in the 20th Century. These numbers include war, murders, religious intolerance, suicide, and other deadly crimes that humans perpetrate against one another. Maybe the 21st Century will knock that number down, though I doubt any of us are optimistic given the way this century has started.
But the most interest information is in the Infectious Disease section. Nearly 1.7 billion people have died from infectious diseases. Some of the more interesting numbers are:
In the 21st Century, the numbers of deaths from these diseases will probably be in the few thousand worldwide. Why? Because of vaccines. Not better sanitation. Not better health care facilities. But because of vaccines.
And in the 21st Century, as more vaccines are developed and brought to market, many of these infectious diseases will be less of a problem.
Vaccines saves lives. Literally hundreds of millions of lives.
Over the past week or so, there have been numerousreports about a fungal meningitis outbreak that was traced to medicines associated with three lots of preservative-free methylprednisolone acetate produced by the New England Compounding Center. The drug is an injectable steroid that is used for pain relief. The potentially contaminated injections were given starting May 21, 2012. Symptoms of the fungal meningitis include: fever, new or worsening headache, neck stiffness, sensitivity to light, new weakness or numbness, increasing pain, redness or swelling of the injection site. So far, 7 people in the US have died.
Because the drug is delivered via an epidural injection directly into the epidural space, any contamination can lead to a meningitis infection. In this case the steroid produced by the New England Compounding Center was contaminated with a fungus which caused the fungal meningitis. It’s important to note that unlike other types of meningitis, such as bacterial meningitis, it is not contagious. Fungal meningitis also does not have a vaccine, because it is quite rare. (Viral meningitis is less severe, and usually resolves itself without treatment.)