Vaccines prevent 42,000 children’s deaths in the USA every year

blue-syringe

Updated 24 March 2014.

Read that title again. Yes, 42,000 deaths are prevented by vaccines every year in the USA. That is not a trivial number, but of course, I refuse to believe that saving even 1 life is a trivial number. 

In a study recently published in Pediatrics, authors Zhou et al. reported that for children born in 2009, vaccinations prevented 42,000 early deaths and 20 million cases of disease. In addition, vaccinations brought us a net savings of US$13.5 billion in direct medical and non medical costs which include those costs associated with treating an initial infection as well as costs associated with complications and sequelae of diseases; direct nonmedical costs include travel costs, costs for special education of children disabled by diseases, and costs for other supplies for special needs. In addition, vaccines saved Americans over US$68.8 billion in total societal costs, which include items such as lost wages. Continue reading “Vaccines prevent 42,000 children’s deaths in the USA every year”

Anti-vaccine claims, misrepresentation and free speech

Imagine the following scenarios:

  1. A mother comments on an anti-vaccine Facebook page belonging to a Doctor known for her opposition to vaccines, saying that she is about to travel to a third world country for which the CDC recommends certain vaccines. She asks what vaccines, if any, she should get for her unvaccinated eight-months old. The doctor responds with “none; these countries are perfectly safe, there’s no higher risk there”.
  2. Another mother comments on the same Facebook page saying that a dog bit her daughter. She asks whether she should, in this case, get the rabies vaccine or tetanus vaccines. The doctor recommends against it, deviating from the standard of care.
  3. An anti-vaccine organization publishes an article describing measles as a “mild childhood disease,” potentially beneficial to the immune system and repeating the debunked claim that the MMR vaccine causes autism. It encourages readers not to vaccinate.
  4. An anti-vaccine doctor records a video recommending that citizens in a country that had polio discovered in the sewers avoid getting the Oral Polio Vaccine, as their Ministry of Health recommends. The doctor claims that: 1) Polio is not generally dangerous, and the polio epidemics in the United States were caused by use of DDT, 2) the polio vaccine is more dangerous than polio itself, or 3) vitamin C can prevent or treat polio.
  5. These claims are demonstrably false.
  6. An anti-vaccine site has an article suggesting that tetanus is not usually dangerous and can be prevented by letting wounds bleed and cleaning them with hydrogen peroxide.

Continue reading “Anti-vaccine claims, misrepresentation and free speech”

Celebrating the 60th anniversary of the polio vaccine

Let’s celebrate the birthday of the polio vaccine

© Time Inc. Celebrating Dr. Jonas Salk conquering polio.

On February 23, 1954, the polio vaccine, developed by Jonas Salk, commenced clinical testing at Arsenal Elementary School and the Watson Home for Children in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Five thousand children in those two schools were vaccinated against polio, which was the start of a massive clinical trial that would eventually involve 1.8 million children, in 44 states from Maine to California (see Understanding Viruses).

Just before the introduction of the vaccine in the mid-50’s, regular polio outbreaks occurred everywhere, even developed countries like the USA and northern Europe. The virus is transmitted through fecal matter, so swimming pools, improper sanitation (like washing after using the bathroom), babies diapers and other sources moved the virus. Almost all of the transmission was through casual contact, not improper sanitation (at least since the advent of a modern sanitation system in the USA starting in the late 1920’s). About 95% of individuals infected are asymptomatic (pdf), so they appear healthy but are shedding viruses to infect other people.

Of the 5% who are symptomatic, about 10% of them eventually progress to the paralytic version of the disease. In other words, approximately 0.5% of those infected were paralyzed. One of the tropes of the anti-science/anti-vaccine world is that this is a small number. Except it isn’t. Out of 5 million children who might be infected every, approximately 25,000 children a year might progress to the paralytic version of the disease, and some of them would die. That would be a massive stress to our current healthcare system, our public schools, with many consequences to our world. Big Iron Lung might be happy.

If one takes a look at what the polio vaccine has done worldwide, the numbers are even more staggering. The number of worldwide polio cases has fallen from an estimated 350,000 in 1988 to fewer than 223 in 2012—a decline of more than 99% in reported cases. Think of all of the children no longer condemned to machines to allow them to breathe or braces to allow them to walk. All because of a vaccine that was first used just 60 years ago.

We live in a wonderful world of health. We live healthier and more productive lives from all of the advances in modern healthcare, but one advance rules above them all–vaccines. I know that almost all antivaccination cultists would drop their lies and have their children protected against these diseases if they knew how horrifying the diseases were. I was born after vaccines were prevalent, but there were many classmates who had various levels of paralytic disease from polio. That was sad that they were born on the cusp of a prevention.

Thank you Jonas Salk. You were a good man, and you saved lives. And we can actually count how many lives you saved. Let’s celebrate what you did for humanity.

Visit the Science-based Vaccine Search Engine.

Key citations:

Why we vaccinate–103 million cases of diseases averted since 1924

vaccines-vs-microbes

For New Year’s Day, I’m republishing the top 10 articles I wrote in 2013. Well, actually top 9, plus 1 from 2012 that just keeps going.

#10. This article was published on 3 December 2013, and has had over 5000 views. It’s one of my favorite because it shows, with scientific evidence, that the trope pushed by the vaccine deniers that better sanitation, food, and medicine reduced the mortality from these diseases. But we know it’s the vaccines, and we have brilliant science to support that fact.

One of the tropes of the antivaccination world is that vaccines didn’t stop diseases. They give credit to everything from modern medicine to better food to better sanitation. Some of the credit they give is ironic since many vaccine deniers hate most aspects of modern medicine and believe that food was better 100 years ago. You can never get enough of the contradictions and hypocrisy of the antivaccine crowd.

I think it becomes easy to dismiss the value of vaccines in ending widespread disease because almost anyone writing today about vaccines has no memory of ubiquitous and deadly epidemics of diseases. We’re almost at a point in our culture that if Twitter doesn’t report it, it didn’t happen, so infectious diseases are something that happened back when humans lived in caves, prior to the advent of social media. I happen to have been born right near the end of widespread epidemics of infectious diseases, so I don’t remember any epidemics personally, though I recall a few classmates in high school who had a few effects from polio and other diseases. Culturally, we have forgotten our past with respect to diseases. Continue reading “Why we vaccinate–103 million cases of diseases averted since 1924”

Shocking news–antivaccine chiropractor ignores science

chiropractic-assholeThere are a lot of antivaccination websites and blogs out in the interwebs and blogosphere. To address them all would be a full-time job, and since I have a low-level position in a Big Pharma company polishing gold bars and mopping the floors of the giant vaults of cash, I’m compelled to ignore most of what’s written out there, picking and choosing only the most egregious ones to deconstruct and critique. Most of the antivaccination sites vary between stating lies, passing along lies or myths, or providing a total misinterpretation of real science–it really is not worth my time to critique. Because I’ve got to focus on keeping the Big Pharma cash piles nice and neat.

However, every once in a while, there is a vaccine denying post that far exceeds the stupidity and ignorance of even the worst misinformation about vaccines. In this case, a chiropractor wrote a 5000 word screed about vaccines, which had few, if any, accurate comments about vaccines, immunity, clinical trials, or medicine. Seriously, this article sets the standard of ignorance and anti-science idiocy.  Continue reading “Shocking news–antivaccine chiropractor ignores science”

Polio vaccine causes cancer – myth debunked

This article has been substantially updated with more information. Please check it out by clicking here.

The interesting thing about social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Google, reddit) is that it’s fairly difficult to thoroughly and completely debunk pseudoscientific myths. The first problem is that individuals choose to accept a meme or a Tweet as factual without using any critical thinking skills (for example, not even clicking on the link to the original article to determine the veracity of it). The second problem is that social media fallacies have multiple lives, so when someone reads one of these memes a year from now, they think “yeah, this is great information”, and pass it along as if it’s the Truth. Which means we skeptics have to debunk it again and again and once more, again.

I wrote an article a while ago about some nonsense meme on Facebook that contended that eating ripe bananas cured cancer because the bananas contained a protein called tumor necrosis factor (TNF). It was based on some “Japanese scientific study,” which took significant effort to find. After a critical and thorough reading of the article, I concluded that: the study made no claim that bananas made TNF, AND even if bananas did, you couldn’t ingest enough bananas to get a bioactive dose of TNF, AND even if you could, you wouldn’t absorb any TNF through the digestive tract, AND TNF doesn’t do what the meme writer thought it does (TNF is badly named, and does not directly attack cancers).

Thus, the best we skeptics can do is keep debunking these social media fables and tall tales, and move along to refuting the next one in line. At least I can save time by not having to write the article again, we can just update with any new information and re-debunk (yes, I have the absolute right to invent words). Continue reading “Polio vaccine causes cancer – myth debunked”

Vaccination coverage in US children,19-35 months–uptake still high

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported in the 2012 National Immunization Survey (NIS) that the majority of children, age 19-35 months, remained extremely high from 2008 through 2012, although there was a small, but statistically significant drop in uptake of some vaccines from 2011 to 2012. In addition, the CDC specified a substantial concern about clusters of unvaccinated children in widespread communities that are at risk from vaccine preventable diseases, and may pose a health risk to the community at large.

The study results were based upon a survey (cell and land-line phone calls with follow-up details from the health care provider) of about 16,000 children (an extremely large sampling for a survey). The data was then adjusted for racial/ethnic, income, and other population factors. Even though the CDC provided data from 2008-2012, the current method of polling was started in 2011, and only results from 2011 and 2012 are mathematically comparable.

vaccine-uptake-2013-2012

 

 

Continue reading “Vaccination coverage in US children,19-35 months–uptake still high”

Polio vaccine does not cause cancer–update

This article has been substantially updated with more information. Please check it out.

Vaccine myths are annoying, not just because they are dangerous to the public health, but because they are like the diseases prevented by vaccines, because the myths keep returning to infect the public, just when you’re not watching. It’s bad enough that social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Google, reddit) continuously send out this pseudoscientific myths, but it’s the ersatz “news” sites that do the same. They retread old myths as if they are “breaking news”, which requires we skeptics and pro-science writers to jump out like a vaccine trained immune system to thoroughly destroy these antivaccine myths.

I have long ago accepted that there are just ignorant and plainly delusional people who will buy into any pseudoscience that shows up on their radar screen, without utilizing a single neuron for critical analysis. However, I also understand that there are people on the fence about vaccines (or any other issue with a pseudoscience counterargument), who will appreciate a thorough debunking of ignorant lies.

For example, I wrote an article a while ago about some nonsense meme on Facebook that contended that eating ripe bananas cured cancer because the bananas contained a protein called tumor necrosis factor (TNF). It was based on some “Japanese scientific study,” which took significant effort to find. After a critical and thorough reading of the article, I concluded that: the study made no claim that bananas made TNF, AND even if bananas did, you couldn’t ingest enough bananas to get a bioactive dose of TNF, AND even if you could, you wouldn’t absorb any TNF through the digestive tract, AND TNF doesn’t do what the meme writer thought it does (TNF is badly named, and does not directly attack cancers). In other words, the myth lacks any truth, except, maybe that bananas are yellow.

This is by far the most popular article I’ve ever written with probably close to 100,000 page hits. The reason is that every 2-3 weeks, the myth about bananas arises out of the background noise of the internet, people (unknown to me) use my article to debunk the banana myth in the comments section, and the myth slowly dies. But it never really completely dies. It’s only 99% dead. It’s a zombie which keeps coming back to life.

Thus, the best we skeptics can do is keep debunking these social media fables and tall tales, and move along to refuting the next one in line. At least I can save time by not having to write the article again, we can just update with any new information and re-debunk (yes, I have the absolute right to invent words). Continue reading “Polio vaccine does not cause cancer–update”

Jenny McCarthy gets to showcase her ignorance on television

© Discover Magazine Blogs, 2013
© Discover Magazine Blogs, 2013

Despite general opposition to it in the social media world, Jenny McCarthy, former Playboy Playmate of the Year, has just officially joined The View, an American daytime talk show on the ABC television network (owned by Disney). So other than being a former Playboy model, what is she notable for? Well, unless you’re just totally uninterested in the vaccine controversy, you know her as someone who heavily promotes the anti-vaccination movement.

Let’s look closely at Jenny’s background. Her extensive medical and science education includes…not much. In fact, she’s used as an authority figure among vaccine deniers, despite having no formal education in the sciences, medicine, immunology, virology, psychiatry, psychology…I’m sure you get the point.

In 2005, she announced that her child was diagnosed with autism, and she remains convinced that vaccines caused her son’s autism, although that view is unsupported by any scientific or medical evidence, which has lead to some significant skepticism and doubt that her son even has autism. Her public appearances and statements have increased the public perception of this link, and may have led to decreased immunization rates and increased incidence of some vaccine preventable diseases. Jenny has stated that chelation therapy helped her son recover from autism. Essentially, she claims that mercury in vaccines causes autism, which has been rejected by scientific and clinical studies. In fact, there is no evidence whatsoever that vaccines cause autism (this blog post thoroughly discusses all of the evidence), unless you buy into the fraudulent link between autism and vaccines promoted by MrAndy Wakefield‘s paper that alleged a connection between MMR and autism and has been retracted by the Lancet medical journal.  Continue reading “Jenny McCarthy gets to showcase her ignorance on television”