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Vaccines Work

Most people understand that vaccines work.

“…for those trained in pediatrics in the 1970s, Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b) was a horror.”

Walter Orenstein, MD

And that they work well.

The Pre-Vaccine Era

Just consider that in the pre-vaccine era, there were:

  • up to 15,000 deaths and 200,000 diphtheria cases each year until the 1940s
  • an average of 175,000 cases of pertussis each year in the early 1940s
  • 1,118 deaths from pertussis in 1950
  • 467 deaths from pertussis in 1955
  • up to 20,000 cases of paralytic polio each year until the early 1950s
  • an average of about 186,000 cases of mumps each year before 1967
  • an average of 40 deaths a year from mumps in the 1960s
  • up to 500 deaths and 500,000 measles cases each year until the early 1960s
  • a rubella epidemic in 1964-65 that caused 12.5 million rubella virus infections and “resulted in 11,250 therapeutic or spontaneous abortions, 2,100 neonatal deaths, and 20,000 infants born with congenital rubella syndrome”
  • up to 20,000 cases of invasive H. influenzae (Hib) disease each year, with more than half of them having meningitis, and about 300 to 600 deaths, mostly children under age 2 years. In 1980, 45 children died with epiglottitis and there were an additional 222 deaths from Hib meningitis.
  • up to 11,000 hospitalizations and 100 chicken pox deaths each year until 1995
  • before 2000, up to 17,000 cases of invasive pneumococcal disease in children younger than 5 years each year, including 13,000 cases of bacteremia (blood infection) and 700 cases of pneumococcal meningitis, with 200 deaths.
  • just over 400,000 visits to the doctor and up to 272,000 visits to the emergency room, 70,000 hospitalizations and 20 to 60 deaths each year in children under age 5 years because of rotavirus infections until 2006

Although we are seeing more outbreaks of some of these diseases these days, it is important to remember that they in no way resemble the kinds of epidemics that we once saw before today’s vaccines were introduced.

And in addition to smallpox being eradicated, others have really been eliminated, like congenital rubella syndrome, diphtheria, neonatal tetanus, and polio. Still others are well controlled, including hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and Hib.

The Idea That Vaccines Don’t Work

Could it be that vaccines don’t work and that it was hygiene, sanitation, and better nutrition that caused the decline in many of these cases?

Of course not, but if they did, then why did pertussis cases decline in the 1940s and it wasn’t until the late 1960s and early 1970s that mumps started to decline.

“From the 1930s through the 1950s, state and local health departments made substantial progress in disease prevention activities, including sewage disposal, water treatment, food safety, organized solid waste disposal, and public education about hygienic practices (e.g., foodhandling and handwashing). ”

CDC on Achievements in Public Health, 1900-1999: Control of Infectious Diseases

That’s not to say that we didn’t see a big drop in mortality in nearly all conditions in the first half of the 20th century.

We did have big improvements in sanitation, nutrition, and health care that helped folks survive if they got sick. After all, this was the time that:

  • penicillin was discovered
  • testing could be done to detect and diagnose many infectious diseases
  • they began fortifying milk with vitamin D
  • we had the establishment of hospital blood banks

But even with all of these improvements, people continued to die of diphtheria, measles, and pertussis, etc., even if it wasn’t at 18th or 19th century levels.

Measles mortality was decreasing after the beginning of the 20th Century, but eventually leveled off to about 400 deaths each year in the pre-vaccine era.
Measles mortality was decreasing after the beginning of the 20th Century, but eventually leveled off to about 400 deaths each year in the pre-vaccine era.

In addition to the idea that better sanitation and nutrition got rid of vaccine-preventable diseases, another idea that anti-vaccine folks push is that these diseases disappear because we simply change their names after a vaccine is introduced.

So polio didn’t go away, it became acute flaccid paralysis and Guillian-Barré syndrome.

Measles became roseola.

Smallpox became monkey pox.

And pertussis became croup.

Of course, these ideas are silly.

If better sanitation and nutrition got rid of vaccine-preventable diseases, then why didn’t it get rid of all of them at the same time? And is it just a coincidence that chicken pox, rotavirus, polio, measles, hepatitis B, and Hib all started to decline at about the same time that a vaccine against each disease was introduced?

Also, why hasn’t hygiene, sanitation, and better nutrition helped RSV, HIV, West Nile virus and other non-vaccine preventable diseases disappear

And if we just change the names of diseases to prove that vaccines work, why don’t we change the name of the flu? Or why don’t we introduce an RSV vaccine that doesn’t work and then just change the name of RSV to something else?

Lastly, where are all of the people with monkey pox?

Vaccines Work

Vaccines aren’t perfect. We need boosters for some and are dealing with problems of waning immunity with others.

“The science is clear: The earth is round, the sky is blue, and #vaccineswork. Let’s protect all our kids. #GrandmothersKnowBest”

Hillary Clinton on Twitter

Vaccines aren’t 100% effective. That’s one of the reasons that intentionally unvaccinated people put all of us at risk.

Vaccines are safe though and work very well to protect us from vaccine-preventable diseases.

Without these vaccines, we would be seeing much larger outbreaks of measles, mumps, and pertussis, etc. that are harder to contain. We would also be seeing more deaths and other serious complications from these diseases.

What To Know About How Vaccines Work

Vaccines are safe, effective, and necessary. Vaccines work very well to protect us from the vaccine-preventable diseases that have now either been eliminated or are well controlled at much lower levels than they were at in the pre-vaccine era.

More About Vaccines Work

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