Category: History of Vaccines

January 18 – This Day in Vaccine History

Would folks be more likely to get vaccinated and protected if they remembered what it was like in the pre-vaccine era?

Since anti-vaccine folks like to make it sound like cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, and everything else are caused by vaccines, will they be surprised to know that in addition to now vaccine-preventable diseases, they were big killers in the pre-vaccine era?
Since anti-vaccine folks like to make it sound like cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, and everything else are caused by vaccines, will they be surprised to know that in addition to now vaccine-preventable diseases, they were big killers in the pre-vaccine era?

A lot of people died of diseases that are now vaccine-preventable, and no, you can’t simply thank better hygiene and nutrition instead of vaccines for saving all of those lives.

A lot of people were still getting smallpox in 1920.
A lot of people were still getting smallpox in 1920.

Since the smallpox vaccine has been around for hundreds of years, can you believe that people were still getting and dying of smallpox 100 years ago?

How about 50 years ago?

January 18, 1970 - everyone was excited about all of the progress that was being made in getting smallpox under control.
January 18, 1970 – everyone was excited about all of the progress that was being made in getting smallpox under control.

That’s hard to imagine, isn’t it, as it was long known how to control smallpox with quarantines and vaccination.

On January 18, 1870, the Chicago Tribune described how Chicago was getting smallpox under control - by getting folks vaccinated.
On January 18, 1870, the Chicago Tribune described how Chicago was getting smallpox under control – by getting folks vaccinated.

Still, it took a long time before smallpox was finally declared eradicated.

And with smallpox under control, fifty years ago, many communities were eager to get kids vaccinated and protected to stop measles.

This paper in Nebraska announced "Stop Measles Day" on January 18, 1970.
This paper in Nebraska announced “Stop Measles Day” on this day in vaccine history – January 18, 1970.

Something changed once we got these diseases under control though.

Can you guess what it was?

Todd Wiley was convicted of manslaughter for shaking his child, but his “DPT defense” made the papers for months, including this article on January 18, 1995.

There were more and more vaccine scare stories in the media. Initially they were about the DPT vaccine and they then moved on to MMR once Andrew Wakefield hit the scene.

The Disneyland measles outbreak was well underway on January 18, 2015.

And even though none of the stories were true, that didn’t stop them from influencing people.

Have we learned our lesson?

Do we need to repeat history?

Vaccines are safe, with few risks, and are obviously necessary.

Anti-vax groups are raising money in Maine and elsewhere to influence parents and politicians and new vaccine laws.
Anti-vax groups are raising money in Maine and elsewhere to influence parents and politicians and new vaccine laws.

Vaccinate and protect your kids. Don’t bring back these deadly diseases.

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When Was the Last Case of Rubella in the United States?

While we rarely hear about rubella anymore, like most other vaccine-preventable diseases, the last case of rubella in the United States was a lot more recent than you probably imagine.

Austin recently had its first case of rubella in twenty years.

Although endemic rubella and congenital rubella syndrome were declared eliminated in 2004, like measles, we still have cases each year.

When Was the Last Case of Rubella in the United States?

To be sure, rubella is far less common that it used to be.

Remember the rubella epidemics of the 1960s, when rubella caused 2,100 neonatal deaths and 20,000 infants to be born with congenital rubella syndrome?

If natural herd immunity really works, how do you explain congenital rubella syndrome in the pre-vaccine era and in countries that don't use the rubella vaccine?
If natural herd immunity really works, how do you explain congenital rubella syndrome in the pre-vaccine era and in countries that don’t use the rubella vaccine? Why doesn’t everyone get natural immunity when they are younger and rubella is milder, avoiding the chance of getting sick when they are pregnant?

How about the rubella outbreaks in the early 1990s, when rubella caused 13 deaths and 77 cases of congenital rubella syndrome?

“Rubella is a leading cause of vaccine-preventable birth defects. Although rubella virus infection usually causes a mild febrile rash illness in children and adults, infection during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester, can result in miscarriage, fetal death, stillbirth, or a constellation of birth defects known as congenital rubella syndrome (CRS).”

Grant et al on Progress Toward Rubella and Congenital Rubella Syndrome Control and Elimination — Worldwide, 2000–2018

One of our problems today is that most people don’t remember these epidemics and outbreaks, so they don’t understand how important it is for everyone to be vaccinated and protected.

They have no idea how fortunate they are that these diseases no longer make routine headlines.

But what happens if too many people skip or delay their vaccines?

Japan is still dealing with a large outbreak of rubella, with resulting cases of congenital rubella syndrome.

We will see more rubella and congenital rubella syndrome.

There were five cases of congenital rubella syndrome in the United States in 2017, all import related.
All five cases of congenital rubella syndrome in the United States in 2017 were import related.

While we do see some congenital rubella cases now, they are all women who were exposed to rubella outside the United States when they were pregnant.

“During 2001–2004, four CRS cases were reported to CDC; the mothers of three of the children were born outside the United States.”

Achievements in Public Health: Elimination of Rubella and Congenital Rubella Syndrome — United States, 1969–2004

Again, since the endemic spread of rubella was declared eliminated in 2004, cases since then are import related. People who aren’t immune get exposed to rubella when they are traveling to areas of the world where rubella is more common and return. Fortunately, since rubella isn’t as contagious as measles, these cases don’t usually cause big outbreaks.

So when was the last case of rubella and congenital rubella syndrome in the United States that wasn’t imported from outside the United States?

It was just before 2004.

Let’s get everyone vaccinated and protected before we see the next case.

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Wonder Why My Parents Didn’t Give Me Vaccines?

Did your parents vaccinate and protect you against polio, measles, and whatever other diseases were vaccine preventable when you were a child?

Tom Little's editorial cartoon about an unvaccinated child with polio originally appeared in the Nashville Tennessean on January 12, 1956.
Tom Little’s editorial cartoon about an unvaccinated child with polio originally appeared in the Nashville Tennessean on January 12, 1956.

Or did they skip and delay a few, hoping you wouldn’t get sick?

Wonder Why My Parents Didn’t Give Me Salk Shots?

Tom Little helped parents understand what that might feel like without actually having to regret making a poor decision.

The inspiration for Tom Little's cartoon came from thinking of the "children who were left unprotected from from polio through no fault of their own."
The inspiration for Tom Little’s cartoon came from thinking of the “children who were left unprotected from from polio through no fault of their own.”

In addition to receiving a number of prizes and awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartoons, he helped convince a lot of parents to vaccinate and protect their kids against polio.

Tom Little's cartoon helped get kids vaccinated and protected.
Tom Little’s cartoon helped get kids vaccinated and protected.

The cartoon, published 64 years ago, was so effective, it was distributed nationally by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis.

Would it be effective today?

In 1972, there was an outbreak of paralytic polio among unvaccinated students at Daycroft, a Christian Science boarding school in Greenwich, Connecticut.

What do kids think when they get sick after being exposed to a life-threatening disease that has been vaccine-preventable for many years?

Hopefully we won’t have much opportunity to find out…

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How Misinformed and Irresponsible Parents Led to Outbreaks of Smallpox

In our age of social media, we have gotten used to hearing from the Surgeon General and most everyone else in our government.

The Surgeon General had to address misinformation and propaganda about vaccines nearly 100 years ago.
The Surgeon General had to address misinformation and propaganda about vaccines nearly 100 years ago.

Folks likely weren’t as used to this back in the early part of the 20th Century.

Surgeon General Letter to All State Health Officers

At the time, because of a return of smallpox, H.S. Cumming wrote this letter:

To all State Health Officers:

The neglect of vaccination in many districts of certain sections of the United States has led to a recrudescence of smallpox, with the corresponding suffering experienced by its victims and a wholly unnecessary sacrifice of human lives in the years 1922 and 1923 amounting to 967 known deaths from smallpox and possibly a number of others which were not reported. During the first six months of 1924 an additional toll of at least 200 human lives has been taken every one of which deaths could have been prevented by vaccination and revaccination.

The increasing number of cases of smallpox and the continued spread of this disease from city to city and from State to State will, if not checked, not only augment the number of victims but may bring about a condition which would seriously interfere with the movements of passengers on trains steamers, automobiles, and other carriers. It is conceivable that this interference might be of a degree that would involve the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars in quarantine, a contingency which might easily be avoided provided our people can be induced to protect themselves by vaccination and revaccination.

The Public Health Service is being importuned at the present time to exercise its authority in enforcing interstate quarantine to prevent the migration of the unvaccinated when there is danger that these persons may have been exposed to smallpox.

It is particularly desirable that the Federal Government may not be forced to interfere in interstate travel and it is earnestly hoped that the authorities of all States, counties, municipalities, or other units of government will immediately begin campaigns to secure the vaccination or revaccination of all persons who have not been recently successfully vaccinated particularly in those States where smallpox is prevalent.

Vaccination and revaccination being a perfect protection against smallpox it might be argued that protection against the disease is a matter which should be left to the discretion of the individual, but there is no more reason for leaving the defense against an enemy of the State, such as smallpox is, to the discretion of the individual, than there would be in leaving the defense of the State against an armed invading force to the individual. These enemies are equally dangerous. Furthermore there are a large number of persons who are otherwise good citizens who because of indifference, carelessness, and lack of information, and oftentimes because of having been deceived by false propaganda and deliberate misinformation, either fail or refuse to protect themselves and their trusting but helpless children until it is too late. These same children of misinformed or irresponsible parents being too young to judge for themselves are entitled to the protection of the State and certainly the State is derelict in its duties if it allows such unprotected children to be exposed to smallpox.

Respectfully HS CUMMING Surgeon General

The response to the foregoing letter has been very gratifying. At the same time, much still remains to be done in the way of vaccination and revaccination of our nonimmune population if a recrudescence of this disease is to be forestalled.

Does any of that surprise you?

Talk of “enforcing interstate quarantine?”

People being deceived by “false propaganda and deliberate misinformation?”

Folks skipping vaccines and allowing a vaccine-preventable disease to return?

Unnecessary sacrifice…

Why?

What were they worried about?

It wasn’t autism!

And it couldn’t have been that they were getting too many vaccines

But they were still led to believe that vaccines were dangerous and they let that misinformation influence them, putting their kids at risk, with tragic results.

One hundred years later, folks shouldn’t still be making these same mistakes.

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