We are seeing many reports that Professor Martin Gore, an oncologist at London’s Royal Marsden Hospital for more than 35 years, died suddenly after getting a yellow fever vaccine.
Could that be true?
Could someone really die after getting a routine vaccination?
Did a Top Cancer Scientist Suddenly Die After Getting a Yellow Fever Vaccination?
Of course, it could be true.
Although vaccines are very safe, they are not 100% risk free. And tragically, they do very rarely have life-threatening side effects.
To be fair, we don’t know the full story about what happened to Prof Gore, but the media reports do say that he suffered total organ failure shortly after getting his yellow fever vaccine.
What we don’t know is how shortly after getting the vaccine or if there is any evidence for another cause for his having organ failure.
Still, although most side effects are mild, it is reported that the yellow fever vaccine, which has been available for more than 80 years, can rarely cause:
- severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis)
- encephalitis or meningitis and Guillain-Barré syndrome – yellow fever vaccine-associated neurologic disease (YEL-AND)
- internal organ dysfunction or failure – yellow fever vaccine-associated viscerotropic disease (YEL-AVD)
About 1 in 55,000 for severe allergic reactions, 1 in 125,000 for severe nervous system reactions, and 1 in 250,000 for life-threatening severe illness with organ failure.
And the risks are likely higher if you are older than age 60 years, although YEL-AND and YEL-AVD are not reported to happen with booster doses of the yellow fever vaccine.
“People aged ≥60 years may be at increased risk for serious adverse events (serious disease or, very rarely, death) following vaccination, compared with younger persons. This is particularly true if they are receiving their first yellow fever vaccination. Travelers aged ≥60 years should discuss with their healthcare provider the risks and benefits of the vaccine given their travel plans.”Yellow Fever Frequently Asked Questions
Why would you get the yellow fever vaccine if you were older than aged 60 years and you knew there was a higher risk of severe side effects?
Yellow fever itself is a life threatening disease without a cure and a case fatality rate of up to 50%, and again, YEL-AVD is not common, occurring in about 0.4/100,000 doses.
So you would typically want to get vaccinated if you were traveling to an area where yellow fever was a risk.
“Since January 2018, 10 travel-related cases of yellow fever, including four deaths, have been reported in international travelers returning from Brazil. None of the 10 travelers had received yellow fever vaccination.”Fatal Yellow Fever in Travelers to Brazil, 2018
In addition to outbreaks, yellow fever is still endemic in forty-seven countries in Africa and Central and South America, leading to 170,000 severe cases and 60,000 deaths in recent years, including some deaths in unvaccinated travelers returning from these areas. Did you read about these deaths in the paper?
Although it is not on the routine immunization schedule, if you are traveling somewhere and yellow fever is a risk, you should get a yellow fever vaccine.
Professor Gore’s death, at age 67, is a tragedy, no matter the cause.
That we are having to talk about it because anti-vaccine folks are using his death to push their idea that vaccines aren’t safe is unconscionable.
More on Yellow Fever Vaccine Deaths
- What are the risks of dying from having the yellow fever vaccine?
- CDC – Reactions to Yellow Fever Vaccine
- Study – Safety of the yellow Fever vaccine: a retrospective study.
- WHO – Yellow Fever
- MMWR – Fatal Yellow Fever in Travelers to Brazil, 2018
- MMWR – Notes from the Field: Fatal Yellow Fever in a Traveler Returning From Peru — New York, 2016
- A fatal yellow fever virus infection in China: description and lessons.
- Yellow fever in a traveller returning from Suriname to the Netherlands, March 2017.
- Yellow fever in two unvaccinated French tourists to Brazil, January and March, 2018.
- Increased risk of yellow fever infections among unvaccinated European travellers due to ongoing outbreak in Brazil, July 2017 to March 2018.
- International risk of yellow fever spread from the ongoing outbreak in Brazil, December 2016 to May 2017.
- CDC – Yellow Fever Frequently Asked Question
- WHO – Risk of yellow fever vaccine – associated viscerotropic disease among the elderly: systematic review
- CDC – Yellow Fever Vaccine-Associated Viscerotropic Disease (YEL-AVD)
- MMWR – Notes from the field: fatal yellow fever vaccine-associated viscerotropic disease–Oregon, September 2014.
- CDC – Yellow Fever Vaccine-Associated Neurologic Disease (YEL-AND)
- Yellow Fever: A Reemerging Threat
- To vaccinate or let it be – current recommendations and the reality about yellow fever vaccination