How vaccines saved millions of lives

Infographic: How People Died In The 20th Century

 

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.

Use the Science-based Vaccine Search Engine.

 

How vaccines have reduced diseases in one easy graphic

Information graphic on the results of vaccine use in the United States from Leon Farrant, 2013.
Information graphic on the results of vaccine use in the United States from Leon Farrant, 2013.

If there was any doubt about the success of vaccines this graphic shows it clearly. We can eliminate confounding variables such as improved sanitation, since many of these diseases (if not most) are not dependent upon the quality of sanitation, and are merely transmitted from individual to individual. We can eliminate the improvement in health care (other than the obvious one of the accessibility of vaccines) because improved health care wouldn’t prevent most of these diseases.

As a result of vaccines, we have eliminated polio, smallpox and diphtheria in the United States. Many other diseases, measles, mumpsrubella, tetanus, and  Haemophilus influenzae type b, are nearly eliminated. Though some people in the antivaccination world would make you believe that these diseases are not serious (the pox party is a perfect example of this belief), most of these diseases have known serious consequences for a statistically significant portion of those who get the disease. These adverse consequences may be as minor as hospitalization to as serious as life long chronic health issues or death.

In approximately one generation, modern medical science has radically changed the risks that children face to these diseases. For that, we parents should be grateful

Vaccines Save Lives.

Visit the Science-based Vaccine Search Engine.

 

Key citations:

 

Washington state makes it harder to get an immunization exemption

Paul Offit, MD

After one of the worst whooping cough (Bordetella pertussis) epidemics in 70 years in Washington state, there is some good news. The New York Times has reported that the state, after passing a law that made it more challenging for a parent to get a personal exemption for a vaccination for their children, the exemption rate in Washington state has dropped by 25 percent. This is good news, because until recently Washington state was dead last in the immunization rate, or, if you like exemptions, it was number 1!

In 2011, the state’s legislature passed a law making exemptions a bit more difficult, by requiring parents to actually speak to a healthcare professional about the risks and benefits of vaccinations. That person then must sign off on the exemption. Parents who opted out of state immunization requirements for kindergartners peaked at 7.6 percent in the 2008-2009 school year, setting off alarms among public health experts in the state, according to the New York Times. Continue reading “Washington state makes it harder to get an immunization exemption”

Failure of vaccine denialism–most US kindergarten students are vaccinated

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) for August 24, 2012 reported that most kindergartners in the United States received their recommended vaccines for measles and other diseases during the 2011-12 school year but that unvaccinated clusters continue to pose a health risk. Overall, 47 states and DC reported 2011–12 school vaccination coverage, median MMR vaccination coverage was 94.8%, with a range of 86.8% in Colorado to 99.3% in Texas. Four states reported <90% MMR vaccination rates: Colorado, Idaho, Kansas and Pennsylvania. Continue reading “Failure of vaccine denialism–most US kindergarten students are vaccinated”

Debunking the “vaccines aren’t tested” myth

There are so many silly memes that have arisen from the anti-vaxxers, all of which have been thoroughly debunked. Everything from the well-worn (and worn-out) “vaccines cause autism” fable, quashed here, to the “these diseases aren’t dangerous”, which, of course, couldn’t be farther from the truth. One of the more annoying of the tales pushed by the vaccine denialists is that vaccines aren’t tested thoroughly before being used on unsuspecting infants. I do not know where this started, or why it started, but like much in the anti-vaccination world, it really doesn’t matter. It just passes from one person to another across google, and individuals with no research background hold this particular belief as if it were the Truth™. Continue reading “Debunking the “vaccines aren’t tested” myth”

Chicken vaccine viruses recombine in wild, anti-vaccine conspiracies abound

For the past five years, there have been large outbreaks of infectious laryngotracheitis (ILT) in chickens in Australia. ILT is a highly contagious herpesvirus, and one of a group that includes herpes and chickenpox. The chickens become very ill with red and swollen eyes, along with sneezing, coughing and gasping, while occasionally producing a bloody nasal discharge. Mortality is quite high, and surviving chickens produce fewer eggs, which, of course, is very bad for chicken farmers.

The diseases are usually prevented by a vaccine against ILT. Many vaccines against viruses, including the ILT version, contain live attenuated viruses (LAV), which are viruses that have reduced virulence, though still alive, so that the immune system recognizes it to develop an immune response. Attenuation takes an infectious agent and alters it so that it becomes harmless or less virulent. Continue reading “Chicken vaccine viruses recombine in wild, anti-vaccine conspiracies abound”

Taliban bans polio vaccine unless US stops drone strikes

According to CNN, a local Taliban commander in northwest Pakistan, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, announced on Saturday that polio vaccines will be banned in North Waziristan, Pakistan, unless the United States stops its campaign of drone strikes in the area. Bahadur leads a Taliban faction based in North Waziristan, which may be the major safe haven for militant groups like the Haqqani network, one of the most resilient of the insurgents fighting US, NATO and Afghanistan government troops.

Continue reading “Taliban bans polio vaccine unless US stops drone strikes”

A year without polio in India

A year without polio in India > Media room > Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

In two years, India went from the country with the most cases of polio to one with zero cases.  They didn’t do this with magic water or pseudoscience, but good old fashioned vaccines.

We can be polio free

WHO | 10 facts on immunization

WHO | 10 facts on immunization.

  1. Immunization prevents an estimated 2.5 million deaths every year.  Immunization prevents deaths every year in all age groups from diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), and measles. It is one of the most successful and cost-effective public health interventions.
  2. More children than ever are being reached with immunization.  In 2010, an estimated 109 million children under the age of one were vaccinated with three doses of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP3) vaccine. These children are protected against infectious diseases that can have serious consequences like illness, disability or death.
  3. An estimated 19.3 million children under the age of one did not receive DTP3 vaccine.  Seventy percent of these children live in ten countries, and more than half of them live in WHO’s Africa and South-East Asia regions.
  4. Over 1 million infants and young children die every year from pneumococcal disease and rotavirus diarrhea.  A large number of these deaths can be prevented through vaccination.
  5. Public-private partnerships facilitate the development and introduction of vaccines.  For example, a new vaccine which prevents the primary cause of epidemic meningitis in sub-Saharan Africa, meningococcal A, MenAfriVac, was introduced in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger last year. At the end of 2011. Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria are vaccinating more than 22 million individuals with the vaccine which has the potential to eliminate the leading cause of meningitis epidemics in Africa.
  6. The supply of influenza vaccines has been significantly expanded.  The expansion has been possible as a result of WHO supporting the efforts of vaccine manufacturers to produce and license influenza vaccines in 11 developing countries.
  7. Global measles mortality has declined by 78%.  Global measles mortality has been reduced from an estimated 733 000 deaths in 2000 to 164 000 deaths in 2008, thanks to intensified vaccination campaigns.
  8. Polio incidence has been reduced by 99%.  Since 1988, polio incidence has fallen by 99%, from more than 350 000 cases to 1410 cases in 2010. Only four countries remain endemic – Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan – down from more than 125 countries in 1988.
  9. Annual deaths from neonatal tetanus have fallen.  Neonatal tetanus deaths have declined to an estimated 59 000, down from 790 000 deaths in 1988.
  10. Immunization provides an opportunity to deliver other life-saving measures.  Immunization not only protects children from vaccine-preventable diseases. It also serves as an opportunity to deliver other life-saving measures, such as vitamin A supplements to prevent malnutrition, insecticide-treated nets for protection against malaria and deworming medicine for intestinal worms. In addition, the benefits of immunization are increasingly being extended across the life course to include adolescents and adults, providing protection against life-threatening diseases such as influenza, meningitis, and cancers that occur in adulthood.

Has there been a more successful human medical effort in the history of man?  No.

Welcome to my world

A Skeptical Raptor’s native environment is the jungles of the internet, where junk science, pseudoscience, myths, logical fallacies, and outright lies survive unchecked. The Raptor has evolved over several million years to hunt down these anti-science prey, scaring them away from the average reader. Remember, a Raptor is missing some table manners, so the prey may not be treated very nicely.

OK, let me set aside the metaphors.  As you can see in my about me page, my background has been in the sciences, medicine and business. But the great thing about a strong science background is it teaches you critical thinking skills and the scientific method.  The scientific method isn’t mixing oxygen and hydrogen to make water, but it is the logical progression from observation to hypothesis to data to analysis to publication to review.  But science is not static, it is self critical, constantly reviewing itself, improving, discarding, or just supporting its theories.  What you’ll find is that the anti-science thinking is not self critical, because it considers improvement some sort of weakness.

I’m going to get this out of the way upfront.  I am a supporter of Big Pharma and the medical products industry in general.  Do I think they do no wrong?  No I don’t, I think that too often decisions are made based on business realities rather than medical ones.  However, despite some of the appeals to conspiracy about which I constantly read, most individuals in the industry are devoted to making human life better.  It is their only goal.  And despite some of the claims of the anti-science crowd, Big Pharma has saved many many many more lives than it has harmed.  Vaccines would be the #1 piece of evidence of that.  Polio, pertussis, measles, rubella, and many other diseases are no longer (well, not until recently, thanks to another anti-science group) a part of our cultural memory because of Big Pharma.

But I’ll talk about these issues over time.  I like writing for humor and critique, not for tremendous scientific analysis worthy of a Nobel Prize.  There are lots of bloggers, all of whom I respect beyond anything, who write about these topics in depth.  I will link to them, in case my skin-deep analysis annoys you.

So here goes.  Let’s see if I can do this.