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Did Better Hygiene and Sanitation Get Rid of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases?

Anti-vaccine folks, in addition to trying to argue that vaccines are full of poison, typically try to make a case that vaccines aren’t even necessary.

Why not?

They had good hygiene and sanitation in Brooklyn when my uncle got polio in 1950. What they didn't yet have was a polio vaccine.
They had good hygiene and sanitation in Brooklyn when my uncle got polio in 1950. What they didn’t yet have was a polio vaccine. If the wide use of indoor plumbing got rid of the plague in the early 1900s, why didn’t it get rid of all other infectious diseases at the same time?

Because, they claim, vaccines don’t even work. They claim that it was better hygiene and sanitation, not vaccines that helped get rid of smallpox, polio, and measles.

Did Better Hygiene and Sanitation Get Rid of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases?

On the surface, the idea that better hygiene and sanitation helped get rid disease makes a lot of sense.

“The 19th century shift in population from country to city that accompanied industrialization and immigration led to overcrowding in poor housing served by inadequate or nonexistent public water supplies and waste-disposal systems. These conditions resulted in repeated outbreaks of cholera, dysentery, TB, typhoid fever, influenza, yellow fever, and malaria.

By 1900, however, the incidence of many of these diseases had begun to decline because of public health improvements, implementation of which continued into the 20th century. Local, state, and federal efforts to improve sanitation and hygiene reinforced the concept of collective “public health” action (e.g., to prevent infection by providing clean drinking water).”

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

It makes a lot of sense because better hygiene and sanitation did actually help control and eliminate many infectious diseases, including cholera, dysentery, and typhoid fever.

Others, like yellow fever and malaria, decreased because the mosquitoes that spread them were brought under control.

“Strategic vaccination campaigns have virtually eliminated diseases that previously were common in the United States, including diphtheria, tetanus, poliomyelitis, smallpox, measles, mumps, rubella, and Haemophilus influenzae type b meningitis.”

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

That still left a lot of work for vaccines.

After all, we had good hygiene and sanitation in the United States when kids were routinely dying of polio, measles, Hib meningitis, pneumococcal meningitis, and rotavirus, etc.

Any way, if better hygiene and sanitation can get rid of so many diseases, why has each vaccine-preventable disease been controlled at a different time – yellow fever (1905), polio (1979), smallpox (1980), measles (2000), neonatal tetanus (2000), congenital rubella syndrome (2004), respiratory diphtheria (2009)?

What about the infectious diseases which don’t have vaccines? Why hasn’t better hygiene and sanitation helped control those diseases yet, like RSV, norovirus, Ebola, and Zika, etc.?

“Perhaps the best evidence that vaccines, and not hygiene and nutrition, are responsible for the sharp drop in disease and death rates is chickenpox. If hygiene and nutrition alone were enough to prevent infectious diseases, chickenpox rates would have dropped long before the introduction of the varicella vaccine, which was not available until the mid-1990s. Instead, the number of chickenpox cases in the United States in the early 1990s, before the vaccine was introduced in 1995, was about four million a year. By 2004, the disease incidence had dropped by about 85%.”

Misconceptions about Vaccines

And why does better hygiene and sanitation only work for chicken pox in countries that routinely use the chicken pox vaccine?

Do you want to believe that vaccines don’t work to justify skipping or delaying your child’s vaccines and leaving them unvaccinated and unprotected?

Be more skeptical, learn more about vaccines, and make the right choice to get your kids vaccinated.

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