Healthy Kids Can Just Die

No one likes to think about it, but yes, healthy kids can just die.

Tragically, misunderstanding this fact can lead some parents who have lost a child to blame vaccines.

Healthy kids can just die and they are often attacked by anti-vaccine groups who push them to blame vaccines.
The 8 year-old child they are talking about died of SUDEP or Sudden Unexplained Death of Epilepsy.

It certainly doesn’t help that anti-vaccine folks are targeting families who have recently lost a child, pushing them to blame vaccines…

Healthy Kids Can Just Die

Speaking of vaccines, that leads us to one group of healthy kids who can die suddenly – those who die with a vaccine-preventable disease.

All of those kids who die with the flu each year? Many are healthy. And many are unvaccinated.

Infants who die with pertussis.

Teens who die with meningococcemia.

They were all typically healthy – at least they were before they got sick.

And then some of them died.

Of course, vaccine-preventable diseases are not a common way for children to die in developed countries anymore – thanks to vaccines.

Healthy Kids Dying is Not a Vaccine Injury

Again, although no one likes to think about it, healthy kids can just die.

Surprisingly, about 10% of deaths in children over age 12 months are classified as sudden death, including many in healthy kids with no explanations for how they died.

These types of sudden, unexplained deaths are actually the 5th leading cause of death in children between the ages of 1 and 4 years. That adds up to about 400 deaths a year in the United States alone!

Were some of these kids recently vaccinated?

Of course.

Just like some infants who die of SIDS were recently vaccinated.

That doesn’t mean that the vaccines caused the deaths though.

“Dealing with the sudden, unexpected death of a baby to any cause is devastating – but in the case of a death for which no specific cause can be found, the lack of answers about why your baby has died can be overwhelming.”

Surviving the Sudden Death of a Baby

So why do some people blame vaccines?

“The parents’ need to understand why their baby died came across very strongly in most interviews despite parents not being asked specifically about this.”

Garstang et al on Parental understanding and self-blame following sudden infant death: a mixed-methods study of bereaved parents’ and professionals’ experiences

Few people like the idea that there isn’t a known reason for why a child died.

“Our results suggest that most parents really want to know why their baby died; not knowing why their baby died may cause further distress to parents, whether this is due to long waits for the results of postmortem examinations or because deaths remain unexplained. An unexplained death by its nature is an unpredictable event rendering the parents powerless to prevent future tragedies, thus increasing the anxiety and grief; having as much information as possible should help parents to emotionally accept and make sense of the death to themselves.”

Garstang et al on Parental understanding and self-blame following sudden infant death: a mixed-methods study of bereaved parents’ and professionals’ experiences

Saying it was vaccines gives people an answer.

“The aggregated theme, We Feel Like We’re to Blame, was composed of three categories: (a) Not where s/he was supposed to sleep, (b) Naming the cause of death increases my guilt, and (c) It was our fault. Mothers often felt that they were being told that the baby’s death was their fault.”

Stiffler et al on When Baby Stops Breathing: Analysis of Mothers’ Interviews

And in the case of SIDS, especially if the baby was in an unsafe sleeping environment, it is easy to see that blaming vaccines might help those who were made to feel that the death had been their fault, even though bedsharing is widely pushed as a safe alternative to roomsharing in many parenting circles.

It isn’t.

“The mothers talked about how difficult it was trying to move on after an unexpected infant death. They expressed that they are not only dealing with the grief of losing a child, but they are dealing with the feelings of guilt, despair, and regret. In this aggregated theme, there were three categories: (a) I can’t talk about it, (b) One step forward, and (c) Support helps me get through.”

Stiffler et al on When Baby Stops Breathing: Analysis of Mothers’ Interviews

One thing should be clear.

Seeking support in anti-vaccine Facebook groups is not healthy and will not help parents deal with their feelings of guilt, despair, or regret.

Shaming was described from the mothers’ perspective “ . . . it sounds so blaming and makes me feel like they think we killed our baby.” Parents were dealing with the grief of losing children, but they were also exhibiting feelings of guilt and responsibility for the deaths. The mothers did find support and eventually moved forward emotionally. In the end, as one mother succinctly expressed, “I am pregnant now . . . we are happy, but are scared, too.”

Stiffler et al on When Baby Stops Breathing: Analysis of Mothers’ Interviews

These parents instead need support and doctors, nurses, first responders, child protective service workers, and medical examiners that don’t worsen their grief and guilt.

If you need to blame vaccines, then go ahead and do so, but please also get some extra help from the resources below.

And lets work to figure out why these healthy kids are dying, so we can get better at saving them and preventing these deaths.

More on Healthy Kids Can Just Die

Did New York’s New Vaccine Law Kick 26,000 Students Out of School?

A lot of people seem to think that New York’s new vaccine law ended up kicking 26,000 students out of school.

New York's new vaccine law didn't kick 26,000 students out of school.
New York’s new vaccine law didn’t kick 26,000 students out of school.

What else do they think?

That's their choice - keeping their kids out of school because they don't want to vaccinate and protect them.
That’s their choice – keeping their kids out of school because they don’t want to vaccinate and protect them.

No medical exceptions? Have they read the new law?

New York’s New Vaccine Law

Of course, none of what these folks believe is true.

Let’s look at a timeline of what did happen in New York.

On June 13, lawmakers in New York passed A02371A, which “Relates to exemptions from vaccinations due to religious beliefs; and repeals certain provisions relating to exemption from vaccination due to religious beliefs.”

And the bill was quickly signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

“Public Health Law 2164 and Section 66-1.4 of the regulations require that a child shall not continue to attend school for more than 14 days (30 days may be granted for children from out of the state or out of the country) unless the school has received a certificate of immunization, documentation that the child is “in process,” or a medical (exemption).”

School Survey Instruction Booklet Questions and Answers

What is not in New York’s new vaccine law?

There are no forced injections.

Everyone still has a choice on whether or not to vaccinate their kids. They simply can no longer to choose to send their intentionally unvaccinated kids to school if they don’t have a valid medical exemption anymore.

What about adults? There are no plans for mandates for most adults, besides maybe the requirements for flu vaccines for some health care providers.

Yeah, but the part about 26,000 kids being kicked out of school must be true, right?

Actually no, it isn’t.

That number is simply the count of kids with religious exemptions in 2017-18, over a year before New York’s new vaccine law went into effect.

But they would all have been kicked out of school if they didn’t get vaccinated, wouldn’t they?

Sure.

“While some parents who had religious exemptions plan to unenroll their kids, more are expected to bring their kids into compliance with the vaccine schedule. Karen LaCelle, a community health nurse with the Tompkins County Health Department, said their vaccine clinic has been busier than usual this summer as kids get caught up with requirements.”

More than 200 kids in Tompkins impacted by New York’s vaccine requirement change

But many did get vaccinated.

“In Saratoga Springs, the district excluded 66 students as of Sept. 20 but that number was down to about 10 students by Oct. 10, according to a district spokeswoman.”

Holding fast to vaccine objections, families grapple with unplanned homeschooling

And stories of kids leaving to be homeschool are few and far between.

“In Schenectady, over 300 students showed up at the start of the school year without all of their vaccines, and more students have joined the district since the start of school without all of the vaccines. But most, if not all, of those students have since fulfilled the vaccine requirements, said district spokeswoman Karen Corona.”

Holding fast to vaccine objections, families grapple with unplanned homeschooling

Anyway, it wasn’t Governor Cuomo or any other politician that would have been keeping these kids out of school.

The police aren't keeping this child out of school, her parents and their vaccine choice are.
The police aren’t keeping this child out of school, her parents and their vaccine choice are.

Parents have the choice to get them vaccinated and protected if they want to keep them in school.

Did New York’s New Vaccine Law Kick 26,000 Students Out of School?

Still, no where near 26,000 kids have been kept from going to school this year in New York because of their new vaccine law.

So how many were affected?

Although no official numbers have been released, it will almost certainly be closer to 260 or 2,600 than 26,000.

It seems that most parents in New York ended up vaccinating and protecting their kids and keeping them in school.

More on New York’s New Vaccine Law

Getting Vaccinated to Protect Those Who Can’t Get the Vaccines

Most people get vaccinated because those vaccines have the direct benefit of reducing their risk of getting a life-threatening vaccine preventable disease. Protecting those who can’t get vaccines is a secondary benefit.

Should you get vaccinated to protect those who can't get the vaccines?
Does rationalizing your decision in anti-vax Facebook groups help you feel better that you are putting kids with cancer at greater risk to get sick?

A secondary benefit that anti-vax folks go to great lengths to convince themselves isn’t real and justify their decision to leave their kids unvaccinated and unprotected..

Getting Vaccinated to Protect Those Who Can’t Get the Vaccines

Of course, none of their explanations really hold water.

None of the vaccines that are routinely used on the CDC immunization schedule are a risk if you are around kids with cancer or other immunodeficiencies, except for FluMist and those with severe issues, like being in a bone marrow transplant unit.

One of the biggest misconceptions though, is that in getting vaccinated, parents are putting their own kids at great risk to protect someone else.

Don't set your kid on fire to keep mine warm!
Don’t set your kid on fire to keep mine warm!

Of course, that’s not true.

Remember, vaccines are safe, with few risks.

That why the analogy of setting their own kids on fire to keep others warm doesn’t make any sense.

After all, unlike vaccinating their own child, setting their child on fire offers them no benefit!

And they should understand that the one and only reason that their kids don’t get more vaccine-preventable diseases in this dog eat dog world is because the vast majority of us vaccinate and protect our kids.

Herd immunity is indeed real. In addition to protecting those who can’t be vaccinated, it protects the free-riders, those who just don’t want to get vaccinated.

What about the idea that it is unrealistic for folks who are immunocompromised to expect that they can lead normal lives and avoid infections?

You can't avoid all risks of infection, but why not avoid those that you can?

While it is true that there are other infections out there besides those that are vaccine-preventable, wouldn’t you want to at least reduce those risks that you can?

But could it be, as much as they seem to believe in shedding, that they think they are being altruistic in not vaccinating their kids?

Anti-vax folks are all about the shedding...
Anti-vax folks are all about the shedding

They aren’t.

In most cases, there are no restrictions on vaccinating people who have contact with those with immune system problems.

What about the idea that vaccines cause cancer?

Vaccines prevent cancer!
Vaccines prevent cancer!

That isn’t true. In fact, there are several vaccines that prevent cancer!

What other misconceptions do they have?

Most of the reasons folks use to avoid vaccines have been refuted a thousand times.
Most of the reasons folks use to avoid vaccines have been refuted a thousand times.

Let’s look at those last few issues…

  • vaccines are not associated with autism
  • vaccines aren’t perfect, but they do work very well
  • vaccines do help those with immune system problems, sometimes directly and more often because of herd immunity
  • people who have cancer are often vaccinated before they have chemo, but that protection gets wiped out during treatment and they can’t get caught up until after they have completed all of their treatments
  • kids with cancer might get some vaccines, but typically don’t get live vaccines

What about the idea that your unvaccinated child isn’t sick, so can’t get anyone else sick?

While that is a very common argument among anti-vax parents, it is very important that if your child is unvaccinated, then they are at much greater risk to catch a vaccine-preventable disease. And since you are often contagious even before you show symptoms, they might unknowingly expose many other people before they even realize that they are sick.

Hopefully you now understand it was never really a question.

That's why you get vaccinated, to protect those who can't get the vaccines!

Vaccinate and protect your kids.

If you don’t, in addition to putting them at risk to get sick, you put everyone around them at risk, including some who are at very high risk for severe complications from vaccine preventable diseases.

More on Risks from Unvaccinated Kids

About That Amish Vaccine Exemption Lawsuit in New York

An Amish family has filed a lawsuit against a new vaccine law in New York that eliminated religious vaccine exemptions.

An Amish family has filed a lawsuit against a new vaccine law in New York that eliminated religious vaccine exemptions.

Folks who know that Amish do indeed vaccinate their kids are likely surprised by the lawsuit…

About That Amish Vaccine Exemption Lawsuit in New York

Wait, what?

The Amish vaccinate their kids?

While many Amish don’t vaccinate according to the recommended CDC schedule and get all vaccines, many do get at least some of them.

For example, when a large measles outbreak went through Amish communities in Ohio, many got in line to get vaccinated and stop the outbreak, which ended up getting at least 383 people sick.

That wasn’t the only outbreak among the Amish though.

Remember the last cases of wild polio in the United States?

“The 1979 outbreak occurred in unvaccinated Amish persons living in Iowa, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Overall, 15 cases of illness caused by wild poliovirus type 1 occurred among U.S. citizens: all 10 paralytic cases occurred among unvaccinated Amish persons; three cases of transient paralysis occurred among unvaccinated Amish persons; and two nonparalytic cases occurred among unvaccinated members of the Mennonite church who were in frequent contact with Amish persons. Epidemiologic and virologic evidence indicated this outbreak resulted from importation of poliovirus from the Netherlands through Canada (Ontario), where outbreaks had occurred during 1978 in members of religious groups with objections to vaccination.”

Poliomyelitis — United States, Canada

It was in 1979.

It was among the Amish.

And many Amish got vaccinated to help eliminate the endemic spread of polio in the United States.

“Immunization campaigns for the Amish are continuing; at least half of the nation’s Amish have now received 1 or more doses of oral poliovirus vaccine.”

Poliomyelitis — United States, Canada

So the Amish are clearly not against vaccines.

In 2004, there was an outbreak of pertussis (345 cases) in an Amish community in Kent County, Delaware.

“Of the 96 households interviewed in which a pertussis case was discovered, a total of 43 (45%) reported not vaccinating any children in their household, 40 (42%) households reported vaccinating at least some children, and 13 (14%) did not provide this information. Of the 43 households not vaccinating children, 19 cited “fear of side effects” as the reason, 13 reported that they “didn’t think about it,” and 11 did not provide specific reasons for nonvaccination. Of the 40 respondents who reported that their children had received vaccinations, 29 (64%) reported vaccination at vaccine clinics set up at Amish homes by DPH nurses.”

Pertussis Outbreak in an Amish Community — Kent County, Delaware, September 2004–February 2005

Although many of the kids weren’t vaccinated, religion didn’t seem to be what drove that decision.

“Religious factors and access to care were not among reasons most reported. “

Kettunen et al on Evaluation of low immunization coverage among the Amish population in rural Ohio.

It is usually fear, rather than religion that keeps the Amish from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

“The findings from the data analysis demonstrated that fear, especially concern over too many recommended immunizations and immunizations overwhelming the child’s system, was the most frequent reported reasons for not having children immunized according to recommendations.”

Kettunen et al on Evaluation of low immunization coverage among the Amish population in rural Ohio.

Unfortunately, this has meant that their children get a high rate of vaccine preventable diseases and that they end up getting hospitalized at higher rates than other children.

“The outcome of pregnancy was determined for the 94 Amish mothers who reported illness or had serologic evidence of maternal rubella (Table 1). CRS occurred in 10 infants, all of whom were born to mothers who had histories of rubella-like illness in the first trimester; seven had possible manifestations of CRS; nine were miscarried/stillborn; and 68 infants appeared normal at birth. During the study period, medical personnel identified one additional infant with CRS from Lancaster County whose mother was a conservative Mennonite. “

Congenital Rubella Syndrome Among the Amish — Pennsylvania, 1991-1992

So not only do the Amish get sick, they get sick for the same reason as typical anti-vaxxers – misinformation and fear of vaccines.

Is that what’s driving this lawsuit in New York?

I don’t know, but if it was just about religion, why does it include typical anti-vaccine talking points about:

  • fetal DNA contaminating our vaccines
  • that unvaccinated children were not responsible for the 2018-19 NYS measles outbreak, going so far as to cite an affidavit from Lawrence Palevsky, who said that “a measles infection in first world countries such as the United States, in 2019, is not deadly.”
  • how the 2018-19 NYS measles outbreak might not have been “true wild-type measles infections.”
  • that the theory of herd immunity is flawed
  • that vaccinated children pose more of a risk to other vaccinated children than the unvaccinated

More than anything though, how can the lawsuit say that New York’s vaccine law unreasonably burdens his “sincere religious beliefs without a compelling state interest,” when we know that the Amish aren’t really against vaccinating and protecting their kids?

You have to wonder what method his lawyer’s used to pick their “examples” of schools with religious exemptions.

About that compelling state interest…

As many parents have come to abuse religious exemptions, using them as personal belief exemptions, we have ended up in a situation in which over 30 schools in New York had religious exemptions rates of at least 50%, including 14 schools in which each and every student had a religious exemption for all vaccines.

All that even though no major religion is against vaccines!

With such a weak case, forum shopping might be his only strategy that could work…
With such a weak case, forum shopping might be his only strategy that could work…

What happens next?

More court stuff, but in the end, it hopefully means that more kids will be vaccinated and protected and we will #StopTheOutbreaks.

More on the Amish and Vaccines