Smallpox vaccine effectiveness for monkeypox — some facts

monkeypox vaccine

I have read several times that the effectiveness of the smallpox vaccine against monkeypox was over 85%. The number comes from the CDC website information about monkeypox which most of us take as authoritative.

I know that I’m probably rushing a little bit to talk about monkeypox and a potential vaccine, given that there have been only two hundred confirmed and suspected cases in the world (as of the date of this article), but there are some troubling issues with this outbreak including a much higher infectivity rate.

If those of us who have received the smallpox vaccine (which was at least 40 years ago for the youngest of us) retain 85% effectiveness against monkeypox, then I’m going to worry a lot less. However, even though that number was posted by the CDC, they gave no links to peer-reviewed articles that support that number. And it was unclear whether they meant the modern smallpox vaccines or the ancient vaccine that nearly 100% of us received decades ago.

So, I’m going to dig into it because I think we should know. Plus the more accurate information we have, the better we are going to deal with the inevitable anti-vaccine tropes, memes, and outright lies that will soon appear across the internet.

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Monkeypox virus — what is it and is there a vaccine?

monkeypox

Massachusetts health authorities confirmed a case of monkeypox on 18 May 2022 after the CDC said it was monitoring the possible spread of the rare but potentially serious viral illness. The virus has spread in several countries and the CDC believes that the actual number of cases is being underreported because few physicians know much about the disease.

When I first heard about the novel coronavirus, I thought that the press was exaggerating and that the disease would disappear in a few weeks. Yes, I was wrong, very wrong.

When I read the first reports of a monkeypox outbreak, I decided to write about it because I was getting questions about the seriousness of the disease and if there was a vaccine for it. It is a serious disease, and as for the vaccine, it’s complicated.

So, let’s talk about monkeypox and potential vaccines.

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Hey vaccine deniers — yes, the COVID-19 virus does mutate

COVID-19 virus mutate

Some of the latest nonsense from anti-vaxxers is that “viruses don’t mutate” or “the COVID virus does not mutate in the unvaccinated.” They use this unscientific garbage to justify their own lack of vaccination or why the vaccine is useless.

Of course, most of us understand that those two statements are fundamentally wrong. I partially discussed this in a previous post that attempted to refute a common anti-vaxxer claim that viruses become less virulent over time. That claim wasn’t even close to the truth.

So let’s take a close look at these nonsensical claims from our anti-vaccine friends that the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 does or does not mutate. (Note — for simplicity, I’m going to call it the COVID-19 virus just because fewer people are familiar with the term, SARS-CoV-2.)

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Virus evolution — debunking anti-vaccine myth that they become less virulent

virus evolution

Apparently, a 125-year-old debunked idea about virus evolution has circulated around the anti-vaccine world. They believe that if viruses are left on their own, they always evolve to become less virulent to humans. That’s why they falsely claim that the Omicron variant is almost nothing and very soon SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, will evolve into something that we can ignore.

The old Skeptical Raptor is going to take a deep breath and hope he doesn’t lose any brain cells repeating that to all of you. Anti-vaxxers and COVID-19 deniers are wrong, completely and utterly wrong. It’s as if they never took a class on virology, evolution, or anything else germane to the discussion.

I know that any of you spending time reading this article are already listing out a dozen things that debunk this myth. Because we all know that first, that’s not how evolution works, and second, there are dozens of viruses that are known from the dawn of human history that have remained virulent over thousands of years.

Let’s take a look at this nonsense. Maybe I’ll give you some information to debunk some anti-vaxxer or COVID-19 denier nonsense.

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Thanks to COVID-19, we beat the flu for the first time in history

a sick man covering his mouth

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a horrible experience for the past two years, but it had one silver lining – beating the flu.

As I have written before, the annual rite of winter life, flu outbreaks, became almost nothing during the 2020-21 flu season. On average, the flu infects roughly 30 million Americans every year and kills over 30,000. Worldwide, the World Health Organization estimates that over 650,000 people die of respiratory illnesses related to the flu.

As with COVID-19, the elderly, the poor, and people of color are all overrepresented among the victims of the flu. Moreover, the annual economic cost of the flu in the USA averages nearly $90 billion.

Of course, things changed during the 2020-21 flu season. The US had only around 2,000 cases of the flu. No, that is not a typo, there were only 2,000 flu cases in the USA during the 2020-21 flu season. In other words, there were 17,000 times fewer flu cases than the 35 million cases during the 2019-2020 flu season.

During the 2019-20 flu season, 199 children died of the virus. In 2020-21, only one child died.

In fact, other respiratory viruses nearly disappeared during the COVID-19 pandemic – respiratory syncytial virus, parainfluenza, rhinovirus, and adenovirus. I’ve been watching infectious diseases for decades, and this was truly amazing.

So how can we stop the flu once the COVID-19 pandemic is done? And that’s where it gets complicated.

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Vaccine mandate history – USA owes its existence to one

snow wood landscape vacation

The American vaccine mandate history goes all the way back to the American Revolutionary War when General George Washington ordered smallpox vaccinations for all soldiers in 1777. I bet most people don’t know the history of the vaccine mandate, but I was amazed to read how far back it went in US history.

However, vaccine mandates history includes a lot of other events that tell us that not only have mandates been a part of the fabric of American history, it’s also constitutional. And I’m briefly going to cover it in this article.

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Pseudoscience and science – alternative medicine is bullshit

Editor’s note: This article combines elements of several articles about pseudoscience published in 2012 and 2013. It’s been revised to include some newer information and split into several parts to improve readability. See Part 1 here.

This is part 2 of the Pseudoscience and science series.

Pseudoscience and science – the former is bullshit. And the latter is fact based on robust, unbiased evidence. Mostly pseudoscience can be ignored, even if it smells bad.

Pseudoscience is enticing because it’s easy to understand. It’s not nuanced, and it general speaks in black and white terms, often false dichotomies. That view is most prevalent in medicine.

Real doctors will say “this treatment for XYZ cancer is going to be difficult. You’ll lose your hair. You’ll feel sick all the time. You might be in pain. But it gives a 73% chance of putting the cancer into remission, and you have a reasonable chance of living at least five years.”

The pseudo-medicine pusher will say, “drink this juice and have a coffee enema. No side effects. And I guarantee that the cancer will disappear.”

The second choice is so enticing. So easy. But most of us know that treating most cancers is hard. We try to find another way, and hope for the best. Maybe you can choose the junk medicine approach, and get lucky with a spontaneous remission. Or maybe the real medicine worked well enough to cause the remission.

 

Of course, pseudoscience can make broad claims without the rigorous research required to make those claims. The charlatans who push junk medicine get to say whatever they want, with no consequences usually.

Alternative medicine is bullshit – it is firmly grounded in pseudoscience.

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Pseudoscience and science – bullshit vs. rational thought

Editor’s note: This article has been rewritten and updated. Please visit that article

Let’s start with a quote (edited for clarity and because some points aren’t germane to this article) from the just-retired Jon Stewart, in his final rant ever on the Daily Show:

[infobox icon=”quote-left”]Bullshit Is everywhere. There is very little that you will encounter in life that has not been, in some ways, infused with bullshit.

Not all of it bad. Your general, day-to-day, organic free-range bullshit is often necessary. That kind of bullshit in many ways provides important social-contract fertilizer. It keeps people from making people each other cry all day.

But then there’s the more pernicious bullshit–your premeditated, institutional bullshit, designed to obscure and distract. Designed by whom? The bashitocracy.

It comes in three basic flavors. One, making bad things sound like good things. “Organic, all-natural.” Because factory-made sugar oatmeal balls doesn’t sell. Patriot Act, because the “are you scared enough to let me look at all your phone records” Act doesn’t sell. So whenever something’s been titled Freedom Family Fairness Health America, take a good long sniff. Chances are it’s been manufactured in a facility that may contain traces of bullshit

Number two. Hiding the bad things under mountains of bullshit Complexity. You know, I would love to download Drizzy’s latest Meek Mill diss. But I’m not really interested right now in reading Tolstoy’s iTunes agreement. So I’ll just click agree, even if it grants Apple prima note with my spouse.

And finally, finally, it’s the bullshit of infinite possibility. These bullshitters cover their unwillingness to act under the guise of unending inquiry. We can’t do anything because we don’t yet Imow everything. We cannot take action on climate change, until everyone in the world agrees gay-marriage vaccines won’t cause our children to marry goats, who are going to come for our guns. Until then, I say it leads to controversy.

Now, the good news is this. Bullshitters have gotten pretty lazy. And their work is easily detected. And looking for it is kind of a pleasant way to pass the time.

The best defense against bullshit is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something. [/infobox]

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Deadly viruses

The original infographic had a glaring error that I missed. It also had a potentially confusing bit of information. Although someone with a critical mind would quickly figure it out, I don’t think I should be pushing out an infographic that has glaring inaccuracies. I’ve contacted the author to correct, and if they respond with a better one, I’ll repost.

I apologize for this error.

The long history of the antivaccination movement–plus their theme song

The rousing anti-vaccination hymn.

This week was a bit depressing to be pro science (and by association, pro-vaccine). As I discussed, Katie Couric employed the full false balance fallacy to the extreme to try to “prove” that the Gardasil vaccine was somehow dangerous, based on the anecdotal, and ultimately unscientific, stories. That’s not science. That’s not good journalism. And that goes against real science and real clinical trials which, startlingly, comes to a conclusion that Gardasil is safe and very effective.

Oh, then in response to the intense criticism, Couric doubled-down on the false balance

I needed something to mock the antivaccination movement, something to remind me that these people are, in general, crackpots of the highest order. 

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