Category: Blog

Diphtheria in Canada

A lot of people were surprised by the news of a case of diphtheria in Canada this past week.

Some folks were quick to blame the anti-vaccine movement, assuming it was in an unvaccinated child.

News soon came that the child was vaccinated!

“I’ve always been on top of that, I’m a firm believer in immunizations.”

Mother of 10-year-old with diphtheria

What happened next?

Anti-vaccine folks began using the fact that he was vaccinated, but still developed diphtheria, as some kind of proof that vaccines don’t work.

The Case of Diphtheria in Canada

They are wrong.

The diphtheria vaccines have worked very well to control and eliminate diphtheria from Canada, just like it has in the United States.

Diphtheria has become rare since the pre-vaccine era.
Diphtheria has become rare since the pre-vaccine era.

So how did a vaccinated child in Canada get diphtheria?

It’s simple.

He has cutaneous diphtheria, not respiratory diphtheria.

What’s the difference?

“Extensive membrane production and organ damage are caused by local and systemic actions of a potent exotoxin produced by toxigenic strains of C. diphtheriae. A cutaneous form of diphtheria commonly occurs in warmer climates or tropical countries.”

Vaccines Seventh Edition

Cutaneous diphtheria occurs on your skin. It is usually caused by non-toxigenic strains of Corynebacterium diphtheriae.

On the other hand, respiratory diphtheria is usually caused by toxigenic strains of Corynebacterium diphtheriae.

Diphtheria strikes unprotected children.The diphtheria vaccine (the ‘D’ in DTaP and Tdap), a toxoid vaccine, covers toxigenic strains. More specifically, it covers the toxin that is produced by toxigenic strains of Corynebacterium diphtheriae. It is this toxin that produces the pseudomembrane that is characteristic of diphtheria.

It was the formation of this pseudomembrane in a child’s airway that gave diphtheria the nickname of the “strangling angel.”

So why the fuss over this case in Canada? They likely don’t yet know if it is a toxigenic strain. If it is, then it could be a source of respiratory diphtheria.

But remember, even if these kids developed an infection with the toxigenic strain of Corynebacterium diphtheriae, those that are fully vaccinated likely wouldn’t develop respiratory diphtheria. Again, it is the toxin that the bacteria produces that cause the symptoms of diphtheria. The vaccine protects against that toxin.

For example, when an intentionally unvaccinated 6-year-old in Spain was hospitalized with severe diphtheria symptoms a few years ago, although many of his friends also got infected, non of them actually developed symptoms because they were all vaccinated.

Diphtheria Is Still Around

Diphtheria is DeadlyTragically though, especially since diphtheria is still endemic in many countries, we are starting to see occasional lethal cases of diphtheria in many more countries where it was previously under control:

  • at least 7 diphtheria deaths in Venezuela this past year
  • a family that became infected in South Africa in which at least one child died (August 2017)
  • an unvaccinated 3-year-old who died in Belgium (2016)
  • a 22-year-old unvaccinated women who died in Australia (2011)

It is even more tragic that diphtheria is not under control in so many more countries.

In 2016, the WHO reported that there were just over 7,000 cases of diphtheria worldwide. While that is down from the 30,000 cases and 3,000 deaths in 2000, thanks to improved vaccination rates, there is still work to be done.

And as this recent case in Canada shows, diphtheria is still around in many more places than we would like to imagine.

Get educated. Vaccines are necessary.

What to Know About Diphtheria in Canada

The case of cutaneous diphtheria in Canada is a good reminder that vaccines are still necessary.

More on Diphtheria in Canada

But If It Wasn’t the Vaccines…

Do you know why some folks still think vaccines are associated with autism?

It is simply because we can’t tell them what does cause autism.

“In the absence of a specific etiology for ASDs, and a tendency among parents of children with a disability to feel a strong sense of guilt, it is not surprising that parents attempt to form their own explanations for the disorder in order to cope with the diagnosis.”

Mercer et al on Parental perspectives on the causes of an autism spectrum disorder in their children

So if we don’t have another answer – then it must be vaccines.

That helps explain a lot of vaccine injury stories too.

For example, doctors often can’t tell you why your child has allergies, asthma, Celiac disease, diabetes, eczema, multiple sclerosis, POTS, SIDS, or thyroid problems, etc., which makes some people look to the mistaken theory that they were triggered by vaccines.

Of course, the answer isn’t that these are vaccine-induced diseases.

It simply demonstrates the limits of medical technology. Even if we don’t know what does cause many of these diseases, in almost all cases, it has been shown that they are not associated with vaccines.

Limits of 21st Century Medical Technology

Even in the 21st Century, science and medicine don’t have all of the answers.

And sometimes the answers are there, but are misinterpreted.

For example, the National Association of Medical Examiners makes the following distinctions on a medical certificate between manner of death:

  • Natural — “due solely or nearly totally to disease and/or the aging process.”
  • Accident — “there is little or no evidence that the injury or poisoning occurred with intent to harm or cause death. In essence, the fatal outcome was unintentional.”
  • Suicide — “results from an injury or poisoning as a result of an intentional, self-inflicted act committed to do self-harm or cause the death of one’s self.”
  • Homicide — “occurs when death results from…an injury or poisoning or from… a volitional act committed by another person to cause fear, harm, or death. Intent to cause death is a common element but is not required for classification as homicide.”
  • Could not be determined — “used when the information pointing to one manner of death is no more compelling than one or more other competing manners of death when all available information is considered.”
  • Pending investigation — “used when determination of manner depends on further information”

Why is this important to know?

Because many people confuse a natural cause of death as meaning that there was nothing wrong. That’s actually the opposite of what it means! A natural cause of death in a child means that they died because of a disease or condition.

Which disease or condition?

What was the underlying or immediate cause of death in these cases?

Limits and Uncertainty in Medicine

That’s where the limits of modern medicine and modern medical technology come in…

Maybe technology will change the future of healthcare – hopefully for the better, but there are still many things it can’t do.

Sure, we have indexed or mapped the entire human genome, but we still can’t often tell you why your child has a cough or runny nose, has developmental delays, or didn’t make it out of the PICU.

“…finding an underlying diagnosis for many conditions can be a very long and frustrating experience. A diagnosis can take as many as five years, and occasionally may never happen, especially with rare conditions. In addition, some experts say that between 30 to 40 percent of children with special needs do not have an exact diagnosis.”

NIH on Learning About An Undiagnosed Condition in a Child

Everyone wants answers when a child is sick or has unexplained signs and symptoms, especially when a child dies.

Unfortunately, while it may not get talked about often enough, there are many limits to modern medicine. There is often some uncertainty too.

“…when parents perceive greater uncertainty, they perceive less control over their child’s condition.”

Madeo et al on Factors Associated with Perceived Uncertainty among Parents of Children with Undiagnosed Medical Conditions

Just because futuristic medical tools like Tricorders are on the way doesn't mean that we will have all of the answers.
Just because futuristic medical tools like Tricorders are on the way doesn’t mean that we will have all of the answers.

Doctors don’t know everything.

The best doctors are the ones that actually know that they don’t know everything.

But just because they don’t know everything, that doesn’t mean that they don’t know anything.

For example, not knowing what does cause autism doesn’t mean that we don’t know many of the things that aren’t linked to autism.

And it certainly doesn’t mean that you should use this an excuse to blame vaccines or to skip or delay any vaccines. Continuing to try and associate vaccines with autism doesn’t just frighten parents and leave kids unprotected, it hurts autistic families.

What to Know About Uncertainty in Medicine

While there is much uncertainty in modern medicine and doctors don’t have all of the answers, there is no evidence that vaccines are associated with autism.

More on Uncertainty in Medicine

Vaccine Injury Stories That Scare Parents

It is not uncommon to hear about parents having ‘panic attacks’ over the idea of vaccinating their kids.

“…many parents are inundated with horror stories of vaccine dangers, all designed to eat away at them emotionally while the medical and scientific communities have mounted their characteristic response by sharing the facts, the data, and all of the reliable peer-reviewed and well-cited research to show that vaccines are safe and effective.”

Federman on Understanding Vaccines: A Public Imperative

Or simply becoming anxious over an upcoming appointment for routine immunizations or to get caught up on vaccines.

What’s fueling all of this anxiety?

Vaccine Injury Stories That Scare Parents

Some of it is likely from the vaccine injury stories that they read  or videos they watch.

As parents get better at spotting the myths and misinformation behind the anti-vaccine movement, we are seeing more and more vaccine injury stories pop up to scare them.

“…recognizes the importance of examples—testimonials and stories—that are the lifeblood of vaccine-hesitant beliefs.”

Nathan Rodriguez on Vaccine-Hesitant Justifications

Vaccine injury stories aren’t new though.

These types of anecdotal stories were very popular when folks used to think that the DPT vaccine was causing a lot of side effects. It wasn’t though. And it was soon proven that the DPT vaccine didn’t cause SIDS, encephalitis, non-febrile seizures, and many other things it was supposed to have caused.

“Anecdotes – about a new miracle cure, a drug that is not being made available on the NHS, or the side effects of treatment, or some environmental hazard – sell product. Data, on the other hand, which take us towards the truth about these things, are less popular. Anecdotes, however many times they are multiplied, do not point the way to reliable knowledge. As the aphorism says, “The plural of anecdote is not data”.”

Raymond Tallis on Anecdotes, data and the curse of the media case study.

That anecdotes “sell” better than data may be one reason why you see them so often on anti-vaccine websites. Another is that they simply don’t have any good data to use as evidence!

Are Vaccine Injury Stories True?

Vaccines are not 100% safe, so there is no doubt that some vaccine injury stories are true.

There is also no doubt that what many people perceive to be vaccine injuries have actually been proven to not be caused by vaccines, from allergies and eczema to autism and MS.

“In the absence of a specific etiology for ASDs, and a tendency among parents of children with a disability to feel a strong sense of guilt, it is not surprising that parents attempt to form their own explanations for the disorder in order to cope with the diagnosis.”

Mercer et al on Parental perspectives on the causes of an autism spectrum disorder in their children

Also keep in mind that in addition to the many so-called vaccine induced diseases, there are many historical vaccine injury stories that have been shown to be untrue:

  • the first deaf Miss America did not have a vaccine injury
  • Johnnie Kinnear supposedly began having seizures 7 hours after getting a DPT vaccine, when he was 14-months-old, but medical records actually shown that his seizures started 5 months after he received his vaccines
  • Dravet syndrome now explains many severe seizures associated with vaccinations

And at least one of Wakefield’s own followers – a mother who claimed that the MMR vaccine caused her son’s autism, was “dismissed as a manipulative liar” by a court in the UK.

Vaccine Injury Stories are Dangerous

Do vaccine injury stories have a purpose? They might help a parent cope with a diagnosis in the short term, but vaccine injury stories are dangerous in so many ways.

We have seen how they create anxiety for many parents, which can scare them away from vaccinating and protecting their kids from life-threatening vaccine-preventable diseases.

What else can they do?

Driving a wedge between parents and pediatricians does not help autistic kids.
Driving a wedge between parents and pediatricians does not help autistic kids.

They can certainly build up mistrust towards pediatricians and other health professionals. That is one way that the anti-vaccine movement continues to hurt autistic families. They also can lead parents to think that their “vaccine injured” child is “damaged” in some way.

And they push parents towards dangerous, unproven, unnecessary, and expensive alternative treatments. It shouldn’t be a surprise that many of the sites and forums that push vaccine injury stories also promote a lot of dangerous advice.

From recommending goat milk for your baby and skipping your baby’s vitamin K shot to various kinds of detoxing “treatments,” these are not the folks you want to trust with the health of your child.

What to Know About Vaccine Injury Stories

Vaccine injury stories prey on the fears of parents, help drive a wedge between them and their pediatricians, and are considered by many experts to be the lifeblood of the anti-vaccine movement.

More on Vaccine Injury Stories

Four Generations of Vaccines and Vaccine Preventable Diseases

This image that has been floating around the Internets conveys a lot of information, both about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases. And about the propaganda being pushed by the anti-vaccine movement.

Four generations of vaccines or vaccine misinformation?
Four generations of vaccines or vaccine misinformation?

A lot has changed over the last four generations…

Four Generations of Vaccine Preventable Diseases

In the United States, we have seen:

  • 1949 – the last smallpox outbreak
  • 1970s – the last outbreak of respiratory diphtheria
  • 1979 – endemic polio was declared eliminated
  • 1979 – smallpox was declared eradicated
  • 2000 – endemic measles was declared eliminated
  • 2000- neonatal tetanus was declared eliminated
  • 2004 – endemic rubella and congenital rubella syndrome were declared eliminated
  • 2009 – endemic respiratory diphtheria was declared eliminated

But there hasn’t been as much change as some folks think.

Four Generations of Vaccines

For one thing, kids don’t get 69 vaccines today as part of the recommended immunization schedule.

We don’t even have 69 vaccines available to give children today!

And while 200+ vaccines are being tested or are in the “pipeline,” very few will end up on the childhood immunization schedule. For example, many of these are therapeutic vaccines to treat cancer, allergies, and other conditions. And a lot of the other pipeline vaccines are for the same infectious disease, including 36 vaccines being tested to prevent or treat HIV and 25 to prevent the flu.

So how many vaccines do kids actually get?

Kids today routinely get 13 vaccines to protect them from 16 vaccine-preventable diseases. More than 13 vaccines are available, but some aren’t used in the United States and some are only used in special situations or for high risk kids.

Also, looking at historical immunization schedules, it is clear that folks in the 1940s and 50s didn’t get just two vaccines.

schedule1940s
A schedule of immunizations from a 1948 AAP Round Table Discussion on the Practical and Immunological Aspects of Pediatric Immunizations

Did some kids really get annual tetanus and typhoid vaccine boosters back then?

It’s possible, after all, by the 1930s, we did have individual vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, typhoid, and smallpox.

This was followed by:

  • 1948 – the individual diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccines become combined in a single DTP vaccine
  • 1955 – first polio vaccine – IPV
  • 1962 – change to oral polio vaccine – OPV
  • 1963-68 – first measles vaccines
  • 1967 – first mumps vaccine
  • 1969 – first rubella vaccine
  • 1971 – the individual measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines become combined in a single MMR vaccine
  • 1972 – routine vaccination with smallpox vaccines end in the US

The next big change was the addition of the Hib vaccine to the schedule in 1985.

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

Walter Orenstein, MD

This was followed in 1989, with the addition of the hepatitis B vaccine, expanded age ranges for Hib, and the start of the switch to DTaP.

By 2000, kids got protection against 11 vaccine-preventable diseases, and routinely got the DTaP, MMR, IPV, Hib, chicken pox, Prevnar, hepatitis B, and Td vaccines.

Over the years, vaccines and protection against rotavirus, hepatitis A, meningococcal bacteria, HPV, and a yearly flu shot were added to the schedule.

We still haven’t gotten to 69 vaccines though.

Looking at the latest immunization schedule from the CDC and AAP, it should be clear that kids don't get 69 vaccines.
Looking at the latest immunization schedule from the CDC and AAP, it should be clear that kids don’t get 69 vaccines.

Kids today do routinely get:

  • 13 vaccines, including DTaP, IPV (polio), hepatitis B, Hib, Prevnar 13, rotavirus, MMR, Varivax (chicken pox), hepatitis A, Tdap, HPV, MCV 4 (meningococcal vaccine), and influenza
  • protection against 16 vaccine-preventable diseases, including diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles, mumps, rubella, polio, chicken pox, pneumococcal disease, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, meningococcal disease, HPV, rotavirus, Hib, and flu
  • about 28 doses of those vaccines by age two years
  • about 35 doses of those vaccines by age five years
  • as few as 23 individual shots by age five years if your child is getting combination vaccines, like Pediarix or Pentacel and Kinrix or Quadracel and Proquad
  • about 54 doses of those vaccines by age 18 years, with a third of that coming from yearly flu shots

How do you get a number like 69?

You can boost your count to make it look scarier by counting the DTaP, MMR, and Tdap vaccines as three separate vaccines each (even though they aren’t available as individual vaccines anymore). That quickly turns 8 shots into “24 vaccines.”

And that’s fine – as long as you are consistent. You can’t count them each as three vaccines today, but just as one when mom, grandma and great-grandma got them. If you are counting individual components of those vaccines, then great-grandma didn’t just get two vaccines, especially when you consider that she almost certainly would have gotten multiple doses of the DPT vaccine.

Paradoxically, even more antigens have been taken off the schedule with the removal of the smallpox and DPT vaccines. In 1960, kids got exposed to 3,217 different antigens from the smallpox, polio, diphtheria, tetanus and whole cell pertussis vaccines. All of today’s vaccines on the schedule expose them to just 177 different antigens!

Why does that matter? It is the antigens that are stimulating the immune system, so if you were really concerned about a number, that would be the one to look at.

More Vaccines Equal More Protection

Of course, the number of vaccines kids get and how they have increased over time is very important. But not in they way anti-vaccine folks like to think.

It is important because kids today are protected against and don’t have to worry about the consequences of many more life-threatening diseases, like bacterial meningitis (Hib and the pneumococcal bacteria), epiglottitis (Hib), liver failure and liver cancer (hepatitis B), severe dehydration (rotavirus), and cervical cancer (HPV), etc.

If you think kids get too many vaccines today, then you have no idea what things were like in the pre-vaccine era.

More on The Evolving Immunization Schedule

Polio Survivor Stories

You probably don’t know anyone who ever had polio.

The Last Case of Polio

After all, the United States has been free of polio since 1979. At least that’s when we had the last endemic case or the last case that originated here.

The last case was in 1993. At least that’s when we had the last imported case of polio in the United States.

A 2005 outbreak of vaccine derived poliovirus in 2005 among a group of unvaccinated Amish in Minnesota didn’t cause any symptoms. They had probably been exposed to someone outside the United States that was still shedding after getting an oral polio vaccine, which hadn’t been used in the United States since 2000.

And then there were these following “last cases:”

  • The last case of VAPP that was acquired in the United States – 1999.
  • The last case of VAPP that was acquired outside the United States – 2005 – an unvaccinated 22-year-old U.S. college student who became infected with polio vaccine virus while traveling in Costa Rica in a university-sponsored study-abroad program.

And then there is the final last case of VAPP – 2009 – a patient with a long-standing combined immunodeficiency who was probably infected in the late 1990s, even though she didn’t develop paralysis until years later.

Polio Survivor Stories

Since vaccines work and the United States has essentially been polio free since 1979, it wouldn’t be surprising if you don’t know anyone who ever had polio.

Or do you?

You might not have ever have even heard of anyone who had polio?

Or have you?

A few recent news stories highlight just how common polio used to be in the pre-vaccine era:

  • Mitch McConnell Wouldn’t Meet with the March of Dimes Even Though They Treated His Polio as a Child
  • Joni Mitchell – after the stuff about Morgellons, you can read about how she battled polio as a child

“When Joni turned 10 years old in late 1953, she woke up one morning paralyzed. It was quickly diagnosed and she was shipped to a polio colony in Saskatoon – similar to a leper colony designed to halt the spread of the disease.”

Do you know who else had polio?

Itzhak Perlman, a polio survivor, now works to end polio.
Itzhak Perlman, a polio survivor, now works to end polio.
  • Alan Alda
  • Arthur C. Clarke
  • Francis Ford Coppola – “contracted polio and spent almost a year in bed, his legs paralyzed.”
  • Mia Farrow
  • Frida Kahlo
  • Jack Nicklaus
  • Itzhak Perlman – has needed crutches to walk since he contracted polio at age 4 years
  • David Sanborn
  • Dinah Shore
  • Donald Sutherland
  • Neil Young

Of course, in addition to all of the polio survivor stories, there are stories that aren’t told of the people who didn’t survive polio.

Except when those stories are told too…

For anyone who wants to say that polio is mild or spread other myths about polio, please be sure to read these stories.

What to Know About Polio Survivor Stories

Reading polio stories, from survivors and of those who died, helps reinforce how important it is that we eradicate this vaccine-preventable disease as soon as possible.

More About Polio Survivor Stories

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Explaining the Correlation of Autism After Vaccines

Vaccines have nothing to do with autism.

It’s not the MMR vaccine. It’s not thimerosal. It’s not anything else about vaccines.

It has been proven time and again.

“The parental focus on vaccines as a possible cause of autism has been encouraged by the recent growth in popularity of ‘unorthodox biomedical’ theories and therapies in autism…”

Fitzpatrick on MMR: risk, choice, chance

Not surprisingly, that hasn’t stopped some parents from continuing to blame vaccines, mostly because they didn’t notice any symptoms of autism until after their child got their routine vaccines as a toddler.

Recognizing the Early Signs of Autism

In 2007, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued guidelines for universal screening of all children for autism at 18 and 24 months. Since then, many kids are getting diagnosed at an earlier age.

That’s good news, as an earlier diagnosis should mean that more kids will be able to benefit from earlier supports and accommodations.

“…the average age of diagnosis for those born before 2005 was just under four years old; for those born during during or after 2005, it was roughly two-and-a-half years old.”

AAP on Children are Diagnosed with Autism at Younger Ages Since Push for Universal Screening

Looking at the early signs and symptoms of autism, it is easy to see why autism isn’t always recognized that early, even with a screening tool, like the M-CHAT-R:

  • What if you don’t recognize that your child isn’t really speaking single words because he or she is simply parroting or echoing what you are saying without knowing what the words mean?
  • What if you don’t recognize that your child isn’t responding to his name being called because he responds to other noises, so sometimes coincidentally turns when you call his name?
  • What if you don’t recognize that your child isn’t bringing objects to share with you (as an interest), because he or she sometimes will bring them to you to have you help open or use them?

And if your child is eventually diagnosed with autism, will you recognize that those were early signs that were just difficult to detect, or just think that your child didn’t have any developmental differences and then lost those skills?

Explaining the Correlation of Autism After Vaccines

Many people understand the idea that “correlation doesn’t imply causation.”

So just because your child was vaccinated and you soon noticed signs and symptoms of autism, that doesn’t mean that it is really linked to vaccines.

Temporal binding is a phenomenon that reinforces that assumption of cause and effect once we have linked two events causally in our minds. The effect biases our memory so that we remember the apparent cause and effect occurring closer together in time. In experiments we tend to remember the cause as happening later and the effect happening earlier.”

Steven Novella

Of course, a phrase about correlation and causation isn’t going to be enough of an explanation for most parents, especially if they have already heard a bunch of vaccine scare stories.

Fortunately, there is plenty of evidence to back up that idea, including that:

  • many studies have shown that there is no link between vaccines and autism
  • unvaccinated kids develop signs and symptoms of autism at the same time as children who were vaccinated
  • some studies have shown that even when parents think that their child’s first signs and symptoms of autism didn’t occur until right after a specific vaccine, like the 12 month MMR shot, when experts looked at the child’s home movies, they could detect subtle signs at a much earlier age, well before the child got those vaccines
  • while regressive autism is real and some kids with autism regress significantly in their development, losing many of the early skills they had picked up, even then, these children often had some subtle, early developmental delays. They don’t usually have a sudden regressive type of autism.

What about package inserts? Don’t they say vaccines cause autism? No, they do not.

And all of the studies that anti-vax folks say support a link between vaccines and autism? They aren’t what you think they are.

Mostly remember that the scientific evidence overwhelming supports the fact that vaccines have absolutely nothing to do with autism!

What to Know About the Correlation of Autism After Vaccines

Vaccines having nothing to do with autism, even though it might sometimes seem to you that your child’s signs and symptoms of autism are correlated with recently getting vaccinated.

More About Explaining the Correlation of Autism After Vaccines

Who Is Robin Cavendish?

Polio is close to being eradicated.

So far this year, there have only been 11 cases of wild polio in the world – 6 in Afghanistan and 5 in Pakistan.

“In 1952 alone, nearly 60,000 children were infected with the virus; thousands were paralyzed, and more than 3,000 died.”

Jason Beaubien on Wiping Out Polio: How The U.S. Snuffed Out A Killer

Robin Cavendish was born and raised in the pre-vaccine era though, before we had the polio vaccines that have controlled, and will hopefully soon eradicate, polio.

Who Is Robin Cavendish?

Breathe is the story of Robin and Diane Cavendish.
Breathe is the story of Robin and Diana Cavendish.

Robin Francis Cavendish was born on March 12, 1930 in Middleton, Derbyshire, England.

After an early career in the Army, he helped start a tea-brokering business in Africa and made frequent trips to Kenya.

It was in Kenya that he developed paralytic polio in December 1958, just over three years after Jonas Salk‘s polio vaccine was found to be effective in field trials (April 1955).

Although he was initially given just three months to live after his diagnosis, with the help of his wife Diana, he was able to survive for another 36 years!

And they did a lot with those years, including:

  • using a specially adapted van to travel around England
  • developing a wheelchair with a built-in respirator with their friend, Oxford professor Teddy Hall and his company Littlemore Scientific Engineering. Their first prototype of their portable respirator was released in 1962 – the Cavendish Chair.
  • helping scientists develop the Possum, a device that helped severely disabled people electronically control their environment, including answer the phone or turn on the TV
  • becoming an advocate for other polio survivors
  • co-founding the charity Refresh with Dr. Geoffrey Spencer, which started as a way for families who needed extra help because of the need for a respirator to go on vacation together

The story of his remarkable life is told in the new movie Breathe.

And while it is also a great reminder of what life was like before we had vaccines, we shouldn’t forget about all of the other polio survivors, some of whom now have to deal with post-polio syndrome.

Nor the fact that we are so close to ending polio. Or at least new polio infections.

What to Know About Robin Cavendish

Robin Cavendish was a respirator dependent polio survivor whose life story is told in the new movie Breathe.

More About Robin Cavendish and Surviving Polio

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