Category: Blog

Vaccines on TV and in the Movies

No, this isn’t another review of Wakefield’s anti-vaccine movie VAXXED.

And it isn’t about vaccine scare stories in the media.

It is about how vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases have been depicted on TV and in the movies.

Tale of a Dog
A 1944 Our Gang short comedy film had the Little Rascals scaring the town into thinking that a smallpox epidemic was coming.

From doctors in the future creating vaccines for plagues from alien worlds to today’s doctors fighting the plague of parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids, there are more than a few different story lines when it comes to vaccines on TV and in the movies.

Vaccines on TV

The go-to show for vaccines on TV?

It’s The Simpsons, with at least 15 episodes with references to vaccines or vaccine-preventable diseases.

It isn’t the only show though. Others include:

  • Little Rascals “Tale of the Dog” (1944) – the gang gets the whole town scared that an epidemic is coming when they overhear Buckwheat talking to his friend Big Shot about giving smallpox to the gang. Smallpox is name they came up with for Buckwheat’s dog, because it had a lot of spots.

    It takes a while, but the doctor finally figures out that the only smallpox in Greenpoint is the gang's new dog.
    It takes a while, but the doctor finally figures out that the only smallpox in Greenpoint is the gang’s new dog.
  • The Adventures of Jim Bowie “The Quarantine” (1957) – Bowie has to recover a stolen shipment of smallpox vaccine.
  • Wagon Train “The Daniel Barrister Story” (1958) – Flint rides into Johnsonville and finds that they are in the middle of a smallpox epidemic, an epidemic that had already wiped out half the town. “I guess a little vaccination never hurt anybody,” says Flint, as he gets vaccinated, since the town doctor isn’t convinced that he has had smallpox already.
  • Have Gun – Will Travel “The Return of Dr. Thackeray” (1958) – The cook at Barton Ranch has smallpox and everyone needs to be vaccinated, if they can get a supply of vaccine from nearby Fort Landon and keep the men at the ranch until they can be vaccinated.
  • Rawhide “Incident at Red River Station” (1960) – Gil and Rowdy get exposed to smallpox and leave the herd to find vaccine. They instead find a town that believes in Asafoetida bags, leeches and herbal tea, pushing the real doctor out of town to care for patients in a pest house. “There are very few people around here who believe in vaccination,” says Dr. Flood, at least until people start dying of smallpox and they line up for the batch of vaccine he makes from the cowpox of a nearby herd.

    Folks lined up to get vaccinated against smallpox in Red River Station, at least they did once more and more people started dying of smallpox.
    Folks lined up to get vaccinated against smallpox in Red River Station, at least they did once more and more people started dying of smallpox.
  • The Avengers “The Deadly Air” (1961) – An experimental vaccine is stolen from a top secret lab.
  • Dr. Kildare “Immunity” (1961) – Dr. Kildare works to prevent a smallpox epidemic by trying to identify and vaccinate contacts, which is made difficult, as they don’t know the patient’s name, only that he is a Polish immigrant, who they later learn was a part of the resistance that fought the Nazis.

    Dr. Kildare interrupts a wedding reception to get everyone vaccinated and protected against smallpox.
    Dr. Kildare interrupts a wedding reception to get everyone vaccinated and protected against smallpox.
  • The Rifleman “Quite Night, Deadly Night” (1962) – the town prepares for a  outbreak as someone new arrives with symptoms of smallpox and the doctor sends out a request for vaccine.
  • The Andy Griffith Show “The County Nurse” (1962) – Andy and Barney help the county nurse talk Rafe Hollister into getting his tetanus shot.
  • Ben Casey “Preferably, the Less-Used Arm” (1962) – Dr. Ben Casey has a hard time finding people who may have been exposed to smallpox because his patient can’t talk.
  • The Wild Wild West “The Night of the Amnesiac” (1968) – Agent West loses his memory after he is shot protecting a stagecoach transporting the state’s only supply of smallpox vaccine.
  • The Virginian “Ride to Misadventure” (1968) – A stage coach with anthrax vaccine gets robbed and the Virginian has to track them down.
  • Petticoat Junction “Sorry Doctor, I Ain’t Takin No Shots” (1969) – Dr. Janet Craig, with nurses Billie Jo, Bobbie Jo and Betty Jo, gets everyone in the valley vaccinated against the flu to prevent an epidemic, including Jasper Tweedy and his whole clan.

    Sam Drucker gave everyone free flu shots at his general store to prevent a flu epidemic in Petticoat Junction.
    Sam Drucker gave everyone free flu shots at his general store to prevent a flu epidemic in the valley (Petticoat Junction).
  • That Girl “The Subject Was Rabies” (1969) – Ann’s (Marlo Thomas) father is bitten by a dog that might have rabies and Dr. Priddy talks about giving him “the Pasteur anti-rabies vaccine series” if they can’t find the dog.
  • Dragnet “Juvenile: DR-32” (1969) – Detective Joe Friday and Officer Bill Gannon have two hours to find a dog that had bitten a little girl on the neck five days earlier because she is allergic to the anti-rabies serum that would be given with the rabies vaccine. The little had survived a polio infection just a few years before the dog bite incident.
  • Marcus Welby, M.D. “Epidemic” (1970) – Dr. Welby’s works to control a flu epidemic.
  • The Carol Burnett Show “Episode #10.15” (1977) – included a skit about a group of scientists working on a vaccine for swine flu.
  • Quincy, M.E. “By the Death of a Child” (1979) – Quincy goes to San Christos to investigate if a diphtheria vaccine is killing children in the small country.
  • The Campbells “Desperate Remedy” (1989) – Dr. Campbell searches for a sick cow to make vaccine after Harriet gets exposed to smallpox.
  • Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman “Father’s Day” (1993) – Dr. Quinn works to convince folks in town to get vaccinated against smallpox.
  • Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood “Brave and Strong” (1996) – It’s a beautiful day to get a flu shot! Mister Rogers takes us on a trip to the Center City Health Center so that kids would understand what happens when they get an immunization.

    Mister Rogers gets a flu shot.
    It’s a beautiful day to get a flu shot!
  • South Park “Chicken Pox” (1998) – The kids have a sleepover at Kenny’s house because he has chicken pox
  • ER “A Walk in the Woods” (2001) – Carter takes care of an unvaccinated child with measles. A child who later dies.
  • ER “Lockdown” (2002) – Everyone in the ER is quarantined as they think two patients have smallpox.
  • ER “Kisangani” (2003) – Carter visits Luka in the Congo, when he is initially away at another clinic giving people vaccines.
  • House MD “Paternity” (2004) – House diagnoses a teen with subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE is a late complication of a natural measles infection) and also treats a baby who hasn’t received any vaccines because her anti-vaccine mother thinks they are a BigPharma conspiracy theory.

    House M.D. talking to a mother who thinks vaccines are part of a Big Pharma scam.
    House M.D. talking to a mother who thinks vaccines are part of a Big Pharma scam.
  • Deadwood “Suffer the Little Children” (2004) – people line up to get the smallpox vaccine.
  • Law & Order “Fluency” (2005) – a con man is selling fake flu shots and it leads to the death of 16 people who end up getting the flu.
  • Family Guy “Stewie Loves Lois” (2006) – Peter goes to his doctor to get a flu vaccine.
  • Saturday Night Live “Melissa McCarthy/Lady Antebellum” (2011) – the episode includes a parody commercial for Lil’ Poundcake, a doll that gives little girls an HPV shot.
  • Private Practice “Contamination” (2009) – Dr. Freedman takes care of an intentionally unvaccinated child who got measles when his mother took him and his siblings to Switzerland to treat their brother’s autism. The child dies and Dr. Freedman vaccinates the youngest child against the mothers wishes.
  • Nurse Jackie ” Super Greens” (2014) – Zoey Barkow, one of the nurses at All Saints recruits others to go to a gay bar to give out free meningitis vaccines.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit “Granting Immunity” (2015) – an unvaccinated child  who’s mother may have falsified his immunization records gets the measles and starts an outbreak, hindering an investigation into an underage sex party and the circulation of pornographic images of teenagers online.
  • Call the Midwife “Christmas Special” (2016) – Sister Julienne and a group of midwives work to keep a mission hospital in South Africa open as it works to start a polio vaccination program in the early 1960s.
  • Family Guy “Hot Shots” (2016) – Lois and Peter cause a measles outbreak, after they convince other parents to not vaccinate their kids and Peter destroys every vaccine in town.

    Lois and Peter are alone at their anti-vaccine rally, but still manage to trigger a measles outbreak at Stewie's daycare.
    Lois and Peter are alone at their anti-vaccine rally, but still manage to trigger a measles outbreak at Stewie’s daycare.

Not surprisingly, vaccines come up in science fiction shows a lot too:

  • Star Trek “Miri” (1966) – Dr. McCoy works on a vaccine to cure a disease that had killed all of the adults on the planet and is starting to affect the landing party, including Captain Kirk.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation “Code of Honor” (1987) – Captain Picard and the Enterprise-D go to Planet Ligon II to get a vaccine to prevent more people from getting Anchilles fever on the Federation planet Styris IV.
  • Star Trek Voyager “Heroes and Demons” (1995) – The Doctor tells a story of developing a vaccine to stop the spread of Parinisti measles among the crew of the USS Voyager.
  • The Outer Limits “The Vaccine” (1998) – After most of the people in the world are killed by a man-made virus, a nurse has to decide who gets a limited supply of a new vaccine.
  • The X-Files “The Red and the Black” (1998) – we learn more about the Purity Control vaccine that can provide resistance against black oil, an alien virus.
  • The X-Files “One Son” (1999) – more on the experiments by the Syndicate that led to the creation of a black oil vaccine
  • Enterprise “Dead Stop” (2002) – not finding evidence of live microorganisms from a recently administered Rigelian fever vaccine in his bloodstream helps the Enterprise crew realize that Ensign Mayweather was replaced with a near-perfect replica.
  • What did the vaccine on Lost even do?
    What did the vaccine on Lost even do?

    Lost  (2004-2010) – multiple episodes of Lost mention a vaccine, CR 4-81516-23 42 or RX-1 GND, that was given every nine days.

  • Stargate SG-1 “The Fourth Horseman: Part 2” (2006) – Work continues on a vaccine for the plague that is spreading across the earth by the Priors of the Ori.
  • Battlestar Galactica “A Measure of Salvation” (2006) – The Cylons are sick with a virus. Should they create a vaccine or work to destroy the Cylon race?
  • Smallville “Oracle” (2006) – Milton Fine creates an alien virus to destroy mankind, while Lex develops a vaccine to protect them.
  • Eli Stone “Faith” (2008) – The first episode of this show includes a legal case about vaccines and autism.
  • V “It’s Only the Beginning” (2009) – The flu vaccine the visitors want to give mankind isn’t what it seems.
  • Get Well Soon “How Do Injections Help You?” (2015)  – Dr Ranj gives Deep an MMR injection, after explaining why shots are important.
  • The X-Files “My Struggle II” (2016) – Scully develops a vaccine, using her own DNA, to protect people from the Spartan Virus, that has infected most people already and is wiping out their immune systems.

There are more TV shows that are about vaccine preventable diseases, but don’t mention vaccines, like when Marcus Welby, M.D. had a few episodes about congenital rubella syndrome in 1972 and Olivia got polio on the Waltons.

Vaccines in the Movies

Haven’t seen many of those TV shows that mentioned vaccines?

You might be more familiar with these movies:

  • The Last Man on Earth (1964) – Dr. Robert Morgan (Vincent Price) uses his own blood as a vaccine to cure people who after a plague turns most people into vampires. (Based on the book I Am Legend)
  • The Omega Man (1971) – Robert Neville (Charlton Heston) creates a vaccine to cure the disease that is affecting the survivors of a nuclear war between China and the Soviet Union. (Based on the book I Am Legend)
  • The X-Files: Fight the Future (1998) – Only the Syndicate vaccine can protect everyone from the alien virus.
  • Star Trek (2009) – Captain Kirk has a reaction to a vaccine that Dr. McCoy gives him to protect him from getting infected with Melvaran mud fleas.
  • I Am Legend (2007) – Robert Neville (Will Smith) creates a vaccine to cure the man made disease (was supposed to be a cure for cancer) that wiped most people on earth and turned the survivors without natural immunity into Dark Seekers. (Based on the book I Am Legend)
  • World War Z (2013) – Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) tries to find the origin of the zombie plague virus so that a vaccine can be made. A “camouflage” vaccine is eventually made to hide survivors from the zombies.

Am I missing any?

Probably.

I’m a doctor, not a TV historian!

More on Vaccines on TV and in the Movies

 

Vaccines – The Simpsons Did It

From chicken pox parties and conspiracies about using flu shots to control our minds to vaccine injury stories, The Simpsons did it.

The Simpsons on Vaccines and Vaccine Preventable Diseases

The Simpsons have been on the air since 1989 – just before I started medical school.

Since then, as with many other topics, they have done ahead of their time when it comes to vaccines.

Mr. X let everyone know about that flu shots were being used to control people's minds!
Mr. X let everyone know about that flu shots were being used to control people’s minds!

Consider that the episode “The Computer Wore Menace Shoes,” in which Homer creates a fake conspiracy website (Mr. X) and gets kidnapped by a mysterious group for stumbling upon a secret about how flu shots are given to control people’s minds, first aired on December 3, 2000. That’s long before Alex Jones and other folks started pushing these very same types of conspiracy theories about vaccines!

Jenny McCarthy appeared in The Man Who Grew Too Much episode to endorse an anti-GMO movie and make Lisa realize being against GMOs was unscientific.
Jenny McCarthy appeared in “The Man Who Grew Too Much” episode to endorse an anti-GMO movie and make Lisa realize being against GMOs was unscientific.

And the episode about chicken pox parties, “Milhouse of Sand and Fog,” came out way back on September 25, 2005. That’s before Jenny McCarthy appeared on Oprah and before Bob Sears wrote his “vaccine” book!

Vaccines – The Simpsons Did It

How many episodes of The Simpsons have mentioned vaccines or vaccine-preventable diseases?

  1. An unvaccinated Lisa gets the mumps.
    An unvaccinated (the kids don’t get caught up on their shots until season 12) Lisa gets the mumps.

    “Bart’s Dog Gets an F” – sixteenth episode of Season 2 in which Lisa gets the mumps.

  2. “Lisa’s Pony” – eighth episode of Season 3 in which Homer comes up with a way to save money on luxuries – “Well, you know, we’re always buying Maggie vaccinations for diseases she doesn’t even have!”
  3. “Kamp Krusty” – first episode of Season 4 in which Lisa visits Dr. Hibbert “to get boosters for malaria, German measles, encephalitis, and Hansen’s disease” before heading to camp.
  4. “Lisa’s First Word” – tenth episode of Season 4 in which Dr. Hibbert, at Lisa’s checkup, holds up a giant needle and gives him a “rubella inoculation” when he asks for a lollipop.
  5. “Marge in Chains” – twenty-first episode of Season 4 in which a man is looking for a cure and eats a bee, thinking it is a vaccine.
  6. “Lady Bouvier’s Lover” – twenty-first episode of Season 5 in which everyone sings the Armour Hot Dogs jingle at Maggie’s first birthday party and Milhouse, with spots on his face, sings “even kids with chicken pox” love hot dogs.
  7. “Much Apu About Nothing” – twenty-third episode of Season 7 in which Cotton Mather is the first thing that Apu reads from Homer’s history notes from 9th grade.
  8. “Take My Wife, Sleaze” – eighth episode of Season 11 in which Homer and Marge go to a 1950s-themed restaurant that sell polio dogs.
  9. “Homer vs. Dignity” – fifth episode of Season 12 in which Homer, after coming into some money, is able to get his kids caught up on “six years’ worth of inoculations,” including an “anti-polio shot,” which was much bigger than the “regular” polio shot.
  10. “The Computer Wore Menace Shoes” – sixth episode of Season 12 in which Ned Flanders reads a fake post from Homer on his Mr. X website about how flu shots are given as a form of mind control and he says “They’re controlling our minds with flu shots. I knew it. Well, kids, now aren’t you glad that we don’t believe in inoculations?” as his kids are shivering because they are sick and have fever. Homer is later kidnapped and taken to a secret island for revealing the conspiracy.
  11. “Bart-Mangled Banner” – twenty-first episode of Season 15 in which Lisa and Bart go see Dr. Hibbert (“Children, you should be grateful you live in a country where childhood diseases have been practically…”) to get their vaccines, but Bart escapes. Bart eventually gets his shots, but has a temporary side effect, his ‘earholes’ swell shut…
  12. “Sleeping with the Enemy” – third episode of Season 16 in which Milhouse has the measles.
  13. Free cat flu vaccinations at Springfield General Hospital!
    Free House Cat Flu vaccinations at Springfield General Hospital!

    “Milhouse of Sand and Fog” – third episode of Season 17 in which Homer has a chicken pox party for the kids in the neighborhood after Maggie gets chicken pox.

  14. “The Fool Monty” – sixth episode of Season 22 in which everyone in town waits in line to get a vaccine for the House Cat Flu.
  15. “The Town” – third episode of Season 28 in which after moving to Boston, Marge asks someone if they vaccinate their kids (“of course!”) to make sure that they are progressive, “but not stupid progressive.”

The Simpsons isn’t the first show to include messages about vaccines and vaccine-preventable in their episodes.

Remember the Brady Bunch measles episode?

Like other TV shows, they are consistently sending a message about vaccines that is helping folks understand that vaccines work and that they are safe and necessary.

What to Know About The Simpsons and Vaccines

While some of the humor and jokes in The Simpsons are rather subtle, their message about getting vaccinated and protected against chicken pox, mumps, measles, rubella, and other vaccine preventable diseases certainly isn’t.

More on The Simpsons and Vaccines

National Immunization Awareness Month

This year, we celebrate the 17th annual National Immunization Awareness Month.

History of National Immunization Awareness Month

The National Partnership for Immunization first designated August as National Immunization Awareness Month in 2001.

“NIAM was officially announced to the media and the immunization community with a kickoff event at the National Press Club on August 1, 2001. Key stakeholders, including maternal and child health professionals, immunization advocates and policymakers participated in a press conference and reception in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the initiation of this yearly event.”

Are you up-to-date? Vaccinate! An early theme of National Immunization Awareness Month.
Are you up-to-date? Vaccinate! An early theme of National Immunization Awareness Month.

In addition to giving awards to a few members of Congress, the TV show ER got a media award at the first National Immunization Awareness Month because the show “portrayed the importance of vaccinations using the story of an unvaccinated child who was sent to the emergency room and subsequently died from measles. The episode effectively relayed the important messages that measles still occurs in this country, that the disease can be deadly and that it can be prevented by immunization.”

In 2006, the CDC “took over” National Immunization Awareness Month, continuing NPI’s campaign focused around the theme, “Are You Up to Date? Vaccinate!”

Unfortunately, the CDC didn’t really sponsor the month. They just recognized that it was happening on their website…

“While CDC does not sponsor this month, CDC does support and encourage the efforts of state and local health departments and other immunization partners to celebrate NIAM and use this month to promote back to school immunizations, remind college students to catch up immunizations before they move into dormitories, and remind everyone that the influenza season is only a few months away. It’s a great reminder to our nation that people of all ages require timely immunization to protect their health.”

It wasn’t until 2013 that National Immunization Awareness Month really came back.

That’s when the National Public Health Information Coalition started coordinating NIAM activities, including key messages, sample media materials, social media content, and event ideas to:

  • Encourage parents of young children to get recommended immunizations by age two
  • Help parents make sure older children, preteens, and teens have received all recommended vaccines by the time they go back to school
  • Remind college students to catch up on immunizations before they move into dormitories
  • Educate adults, including healthcare workers, about vaccines and boosters they may need
  • Educate pregnant women about getting vaccinated to protect newborns from diseases like whooping cough (pertussis)
  • Remind everyone that the next flu season is only a few months away

In 2014, NIAM began to also focus on a different stage of the lifespan each week, from infants, children and teens to pregnant women and adults.

National Immunization Awareness Month 2017

What’s going on in #NIAM17?

In addition to adding a ‘Back to School’ category for school age children that lasts throughout the month to make sure kids are ready for school, NAIM17 continues with different themes each week:

  • Vaccines are safe. Vaccines are necessary. Vaccines work. These are good messages to learn in NIAM17.
    Vaccines are safe. Vaccines are necessary. Vaccines work. These are good messages to learn in NIAM17.

    Babies and Young Children: A healthy start begins with on-time vaccinations. (July 31-August 6)

  • Pregnant Women: Protect yourself and pass protection on to your baby. (August 7-13)
  • Adults: Vaccines are not just for kids. (August 14-20)
  • Preteens/Teens: Ensure a healthy future with vaccines. (August 21-27)

Are your kids up-to-date?

National Immunization Awareness Month is a great time to get educated about vaccines and learn that:

  • Vaccines protect against serious diseases.
  • These diseases still exist and outbreaks do occur.
  • Vaccines are recommended throughout our lives.
  • Vaccines are very safe.

It’s also a good time to learn how to avoid getting scared by anti-vaccine talking points and the misinformation pushed by the anti-vaccine movement.

What To Know About National Immunization Awareness Month

National Immunization Awareness Month is a great time to learn why vaccinating and protecting your family is an important and safe decision.

More About National Immunization Awareness Month

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How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Hurts Autistic Families

Many people see Jenny McCarthy battling doctors to save or recover her son as being anti-autism.
Many people see Jenny McCarthy battling doctors to save or recover her son as being anti-autism.

People have different reasons for skipping or delaying vaccines.

Some are simply scared of things they have heard from friends or family members – the common anti-vaccine myths and misinformation that float around on Facebook.

Others feel that either they or someone in their family has been a victim of a vaccine injury. While vaccine injuries are real, as no vaccine is 100% safe, these injuries almost certainly don’t occur as often as some people think they do.

Consequences of the Anti-Vaccine Movement

Although the anti-vaccine movement has been around as long as there have been vaccines, we are starting to see new consequences.

In addition to harming herd immunity levels and triggering outbreaks, by pushing their anti-vaccine ideas, many of these folks often hurt autistic families too.

How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Hurts Autistic Families

Many people think that the anti-vaccine message is anti-autism.

“Autism, as I see it, steals the soul from a child…”

Dr. Jerry Kartzinel writing in the introduction to Jenny McCarthy’s first autism book Louder Than Words

Why?

In addition to the imagery of a soulless child, Jenny McCarthy said multiple times that it would be better to have a life threatening vaccine-preventable disease instead of autism. Folks would line up for it she said.

This “deficit model” of thinking about autism, “which focuses almost exclusively on impairments and limitations, ultimately leads us to see autistic individuals as broken people who are ill and, as my child’s first psychologist explained, need to be fixed.”

“I look at autism like a bus accident, and you don’t become cured from a bus accident, but you can recover.”

Jenny McCarthy

Hopefully, no one looks at their autistic child and thinks about a child in a bus accident, or a child who has lost their soul, been kidnapped by autism, or that they have a damaged child.  That kind of thinking is offensive to many, and hopefully more and more people.

Other reasons the anti-vaccine message is often seen as anti-autism include that:

  • Anti-vaccine/anti-autism rhetoric might get in the way of a parent accepting their child’s diagnosis of autism.
  • They push expensive, often unproven, sometimes disproven, and dangerous  non-evidence based biomedical treatments and cures on hopeful parents of autistic kids. Things like bleach enemas (miracle medical solution), chemical castration with Lupron, hyperbaric oxygen chambers, chelation, restrictive diets, stem cell therapy, raw camel milk, vitamin supplements, antifungal drugs for Candida, secretin injections, and so on, etc.
  • They waste resources. Every dollar that is spent defending vaccines, refuting an antivaccine study, controlling an outbreak, or on a MAPS doctor (the new DAN! doctors), is a dollar that cannot be invested in the needs of actually autistic people and their families.
  • They lead others from understanding that “communicating a strengths-based approach to autism may not only afford autistic patients the respect and dignity they deserve, but may also help family members better understand and support their loved ones.”
  • It leads to ableist messaging when we respond to anti-vaccine fears by saying “don’t worry, vaccines don’t cause autism” without pointing out that “autism and neurodiversity are far from the worst things that could happen to a parent.”

The anti-vaccine movement also harms the relationship many of these parents have with their pediatrician (who they characterize as vaccine pushers controlled by Big Pharma), pushing them to alternative providers who will be more likely to pander to their fears about vaccines and allow their kids to follow a non-standard, parent-selected, delayed protection vaccine schedule. These are often the same types of providers who push biomed treatments, instead of more standard therapies that a pediatrician or neurologist might recommend, who would also be more likely to explain that “autistic children can and do exhibit improvement in their symptoms simply through growth and development.”

And of course, in addition to being anti-autism, the anti-vaccine movement is typically anti-science.

Sarah Kurchak sums it up well in her recent article, Here’s How the Anti-Vaccination Movement Hurts Autistic People, saying that “The anti-vaccine argument is wrong in both the scientific and moral sense.”

“A huge thing for parents in the anti-vaccine movement is the emotional support. The talk of cures and biomedical interventions is almost secondary to the feeling of connectedness with other parents. A lot of the appeal of the community is just being able to talk to people who can relate to what you’ve been through.”

Seth Mookin author of The Panic Virus

It is certainly understandable to want and need support, but parents of autistic children should know that they can get that support from other parents who don’t think that their child is damaged.

In advocating for vaccines, I refuse to stigmatize autistic people.
In advocating for vaccines, I refuse to stigmatize autistic people. I will use neurodiversity over ableist messaging.

What To Know About the Anti-Vax Movement Hurting Autistics

Autism is not vaccine damage. Instead of a deficit model, it is best seen through a neurodiversity model, which “sees autistic individuals as possessing a complex combination of cognitive strengths and challenges.”

More on How Anti-Vax Movement Hurts Autistic Families

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Measles Deaths in the 21st Century

An infant hospitalized during a measles outbreak in the Philippines in which 110 people died.
An infant hospitalized during a measles outbreak in the Philippines in which 110 people died. Photo by Jim Goodson, M.P.H.

Measles is a big killer.

According to the WHO, “In 2015, there were 134,200 measles deaths globally – about 367 deaths every day or 15 deaths every hour.”

But it wasn’t that long ago, in 1980, that measles was causing at least 2.6 million deaths a year. And just 17 years ago, in 2000, measles caused about 777,000 deaths worldwide.

Measles Deaths in the 21st Century

While some experts doubt if we will ever truly eradicate measles, like we have done for smallpox, a lot of progress is being made on reducing measles outbreaks and deaths thanks to routine and supplemental immunizations.

Tragically, measles still kills.

“For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die from it.”

CDC – Complications of Measles

And it is not just in developing countries that don’t have access to vaccines or adequate levels of vitamin A or modern healthcare. It should also be obvious, when you look at the cases below, that you don’t have to wait for there to be a 1,000 people in an outbreak for there to be a death. It could be the first person in the outbreak or you might see 3 or deaths between cases 3,000 to 4,000.

During the 2010 and 2011 outbreaks in Europe, after all, with about 30,000 cases of measles each year, there were at least 28 deaths.

There are now 34 measles deaths from the outbreak in Romania, including a newborn who was just three weeks old.
There are now 34 measles deaths from the outbreak in Romania alone, including a newborn who was just three weeks old.

So far, since last year, there are reports of 44 deaths in the measles outbreaks across Europe, including:

  • the death of a 10-month-old unvaccinated child in Bulgaria (among just 163 cases)
  • the death of a 37-year-old partially vaccinated women (the mother of 3 kids) in Essen, Germany (among about 866 cases)
  • the death of a 17-year-old girl who was not vaccinated in Portugal (among just 31 cases)
  • 34 deaths in Romania, almost all unvaccinated children without preexisting conditions, including a three week old baby (among 9,100 cases since January 2016)
  • the death of a vaccinated man who was being treated for leukemia in Switzerland (among just 69 cases)
  • three deaths in Italy (among 4,444 cases), including a 6-year-old boy with leukemia who reportedly caught measles from an unvaccinated sibling.
  • two deaths in Ukraine – unvaccinated toddlers who died at a children’s hospital in Odessa (among about 1,000 cases, mostly unvaccinated children)

Unfortunately, measles cases continue to rise in most of these countries and many others…

Russia is the latest country to report an increase in measles cases, with outbreaks in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

The latest death – a 5-month-old who died last week in Romania according to Adriana Pistol, the Director of the National Center for Communicable Disease Control and Control in Romania.

Outside of the EU, cases of measles and deaths include:

  • 20,898 cases in the DR Congo with at least 241 deaths
  • 2,246 cases in Ethiopia
  • 1,891 cases in South Sudan with at least 16 deaths
  • 1,527 cases in Guinea with at least 2 deaths
  • 10 deaths of children in Bangladesh
  • 40 deaths of infants in Indonesia
  • 13,484 cases in Nigeria with at least 77 deaths

Are you planning a trip to Europe any time soon? How about Indonesia or DR Congo, for which the CDC has also issued travel health notices? Even if you aren’t, as these outbreaks rise, it increases the chances that another traveler will bring measles home and expose someone in your community, starting an outbreak.

And while we deal with folks who simply don’t want to vaccinate and protect their kids, no one should lose sight of the fact that “In 2015, there were 134,200 measles deaths globally – about 367 deaths every day or 15 deaths every hour.”

What To Know About Measles Deaths

Kids are still dying of measles and the big take away should be that it doesn’t take thousands of cases for there to be a death and it can happen to a healthy child in a developed country with modern healthcare.

Get Educated. Get Vaccinated. Stop the Outbreaks

More Information About Measles Deaths

Updated September 9, 2017

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Obstetric Tetanus Is Still a Thing in the United States

Yes, even though we have had a tetanus vaccine for over 80 years, obstetric tetanus is still a thing in the United States.

Obstetric Tetanus in Kentucky

According to a report from the CDC, in July 2016, an unvaccinated Amish woman in Kentucky developed “facial numbness and neck pain, which progressed over 24 hours to stiff neck and jaw and difficulty swallowing and breathing” about nine days after “she delivered a child at home, assisted by an unlicensed community childbirth assistant.”

She  was hospitalized for a month, during which time she had seizures and was on a mechanical ventilator to help her breath for a “prolonged” amount of time.

Fortunately, her baby didn’t also develop tetanus, even though the family refused a recommended dose of tetanus immunoglobulin that could prevent neonatal tetanus from developing.

Surprisingly, after this incident, only 12% of community members agreed to be vaccinated with a tetanus vaccine. One pregnant woman even refused to get vaccinated. This is even less than the response to the Ohio measles outbreak in 2014, when up to 28% of unvaccinated Amish members got vaccinated with an MMR vaccine.

Neonatal Tetanus

An 8-day old baby with neonatal tetanus born to an unvaccinated mother.
An 8-day old baby with neonatal tetanus born to an unvaccinated mother. (CC BY 3.0)

In addition to obstetric tetanus, getting tetanus during or right after a pregnancy, neonatal tetanus is a big concern for unvaccinated mothers. Just like if their mothers don’t get a flu or pertussis containing vaccine, without a tetanus vaccine, newborn babies don’t get any passive immunity and protection against tetanus.

In 2015, 34,019 newborns died from neonatal tetanus worldwide. Amazingly, that is down from 787,000 newborns in 1988 “through immunization of children, mothers, other women of reproductive age (WRA) and promotion of more hygienic deliveries and cord care practices.”

It is not all about hygiene though. Tetanus spores are everywhere. For example, in the Kentucky case, the CDC found no evidence of “birth trauma, unsterile conditions, or other complications.”

In Montana, the baby of an unvaccinated mother developed tetanus that was linked to a non-sterile clay that was given to them by a midwife for home umbilical cord care.

Fortunately, these kinds of cases are rare. There have probably been less than 40 cases of neonatal tetanus since the early 1970s, and only two since 1989, but they should still be a reminder of what could happen if we stop getting vaccinated.

Risky Umbilical Cord Practices

Adding to the risk of getting tetanus, the same moms who aren’t getting vaccinated and protected may be following unsafe umbilical cord care practices.

“…tetanus in neonates can result from umbilical cord colonization, particularly in countries with limited resources. This infection results from contamination of the umbilical separation site by Clostridium tetani acquired from a nonsterile device used to separate the umbilical cord during the peripartum period or from application of unhygienic substances to the cord stump.”

AAP – Umbilical Cord Care in the Newborn Infant – 2016

In countries that are still combating neonatal tetanus, we hear of mothers in rural areas  putting herbs, herbal pastes, chalk, powders, clay, oils, and even butter on their baby’s umbilical cord.

These natural substances are certainly not safer than more standard care, as they can be contaminated with something else that is natural – tetanus spores.

What natural things, and risky, things can you see recommended for umbilical cord care in developed countries? How about honey, goldenseal powder, Frankincense and myrrh oil, and Aztec Healing Clay?

You don’t feed honey to infants because of the risk of botulism spores, but you are supposed to put it directly on their umbilical stump?

Some midwifes even recommend ground rosemary or other dried herbs that you are actually supposed to sprinkle directly on your baby’s umbilical stump. The use of dried herbs is especially problematic. It is well known that these products are not sterile.

“Spore forming bacteria (B. cereus, C. perfringens) that are capable of causing foodborne disease when ingested in large numbers are frequently found in spices and herbs, but usually at low levels.”

Food Microbiology. Volume 26, Issue 1, February 2009, Pages 39–43

If dried herbs are also contaminated with tetanus spores (C. tetani), and you place them on an umbilical cord stump of a child whose mother wasn’t vaccinated against tetanus, then you unnecessarily increase the risk for neonatal tetanus.

Not that you would ever hear about this risk from anyone who pushes these practices or tells these moms to avoid getting vaccinated. What happened to informed consent?

And what happens as Andrew Wakefield‘s kids continue to grow up, move beyond getting measles, and begin to have kids? If they still aren’t vaccinated, they and their babies will be at risk for diseases that we thought we had gotten well controlled, like obstetric tetanus, neonatal tetanus, and congenital rubella syndrome.

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Get a Vaccine Checkup Before Traveling with Your Kids

Get vaccinated. Measles is just a plane ride away.
Get vaccinated: Bring home fun souvenirs, photos, and fantastic memories, not measles!

Got plans to travel this spring or summer?

Going out of the country?

Taking the kids?

While a trip abroad can be a great experience for kids, whether you are just site seeing or you are visiting family, don’t forget to take some simple precautions so that your family comes back safe and healthy.

Get a Vaccine Checkup Before You Travel

It is important to remember that just because your kids are up-to-date on their routine childhood immunizations, that doesn’t mean that they are ready to travel out of the country.

It might surprise some folks to know that there are many vaccines that kids in the United States don’t routinely get, like vaccines that protect against cholera, yellow fever, typhoid, and Japanese encephalitis, etc. These are considered to be travel vaccines and may be recommended or required depending on where you are going.

How do you know which vaccines your kids need?

The CDC Traveler’s Health website is the best place to figure it out. With a list of 245 destinations, in addition to offering advice on how to avoid vaccine-preventable diseases, you get recommendations on avoiding others too, like Zika and malaria.

Don’t wait until the last minute before checking on these vaccine recommendations though. These are not vaccines that most pediatricians have in their office, so call or visit your pediatrician a few months in advance to plan out how you will get them. As a last resort, if your pediatrician can’t order them, can’t help you get them from an area pharmacy, and they aren’t available at your local health department, you might look to see if there is a “travel clinic” nearby.

Don’t Forget the Early MMR Recommendations

It’s also important to remember to make sure your child’s routine vaccines are up-to-date too. Confusing things a little, that can mean getting their MMR vaccines early.

Many parents, and some pediatricians,  often forget that before traveling out of the United States:

  • Infants 6 months through 11 months of age should receive one dose of MMR vaccine. While this early dose should provide protection while traveling, it doesn’t provide full protection, doesn’t count as the 12 to 15 month routine dose, and will need to be repeated.
  • Children 12 months of age and older should receive two doses of MMR vaccine separated by at least 28 days. So even if your child is less than 4-years, he or she needs two doses of MMR before traveling out of the country. This second early dose won’t have to be repeated when they do turn 4.
  • Teenagers and adults who do not have evidence of immunity against measles should get two doses of MMR vaccine separated by at least 28 days. While some adults are considered fully vaccinated with one dose of MMR, that isn’t true if they are traveling out of the country. Travelers need two doses!

Continuing outbreaks of measles linked to unvaccinated and partially vaccinated travelers highlight the need to spread the word about these recommendations.

Traveling is fun. Be sure to bring back some great memories and a few souvenirs. Don’t bring home measles or other diseases that you can then spread to others in your community or on the plane ride home.

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