Tag: attack rate

Dr. Bob Puts the Nail in the Coffin of the Herd Immunity Argument

Dr. Bob Sears, who actually wrote a book about vaccines, seems to think that he and his podcasting sidekick have put the nail in the coffin “of trying to use the herd immunity argument to justify coerced vaccinated.”

Dr. Bob seems to think that herd immunity doesn't apply to vaccines.

The meme he shared even includes the hashtag stating that herd immunity doesn’t apply to vaccines.

Dr. Bob Puts the Nail in the Coffin of the Herd Immunity Argument

While arguing against the idea of herd immunity and for coerced vaccination are common among anti-vaccine folks, neither is true.

Herd immunity is real and no-one is going to force anyone to vaccinate their kids. Vaccine mandates do not mean forced vaccination.

What about the idea that “all vaccines wane within about 2-15 years, leaving vaccinated children & adults unprotected?”

If that were true, then wouldn’t everyone who got sick in latest outbreaks be vaccinated? Why are most folks unvaccinated?

So we are either getting a lot of outbreaks because of waning immunity or your titers are getting boosted because you are getting exposed to so much natural disease. Got it?

While waning immunity is an issue for some vaccines, like mumps and pertussis, the primary and secondary failure rates are still not as bad as Dr. Bob suggests, which is why, in an outbreak, the attack rate of disease is always higher among those who are unvaccinated and unprotected.

The numbers don't always add up correctly when anti-vax folks try to do math.
The numbers don’t always add up correctly when anti-vax folks try to do math.

Is herd immunity the main argument that’s made when experts suggest we need stronger vaccine laws? I always thought the main argument is that folks should just vaccinate and protect their kids, but maintaining herd immunity so that your intentionally unvaccinated kids don’t put everyone else at risk is a good reason too.

Does everyone see the problem with Melissa Floyd’s math? This probably won’t be on the SAT, but you still want to get this right…

Like many others are doing right now, she used state level data. Since many of the folks who don’t vaccinate their kids cluster together in the same communities and schools, the “2% of those filing for exemptions” end up making up 10, 20, or even 30% of some school’s student population.

“This means if you are a primary non-responder, you are walking around every day with a false sense of security, clinically unvaccinated for that particular disease.”

Melissa Floyd

This is the whole point of herd immunity!

Because vaccines aren’t 100% effective, we can walk around all day without actually thinking about it much, hoping that we can rely on the fact that most other people are also vaccinated and protected. That keeps disease out of our community or herd.

The system typically breaks down though, not because vaccines aren’t effective enough, but because too many folks don’t get vaccinated.

“A 2011 article in “Vaccines”, edited by Stanley Plotkin, says, “Much of the early theoretical work on herd immunity assumed that vaccines induced solid immunity against infection…” Theoretical… Assumed…”

Melissa Floyd

She should have read the whole article, or at least used the whole quote…

“Much of the early theoretical work on herd immunity assumed that vaccines induce solid immunity against infection and that populations mix at random, consistent with the simple herd immunity threshold for random vaccination of Vc = (1-1/R0), using the symbol Vc for the critical minimum proportion to be vaccinated (assuming 100% vaccine effectiveness). More recent research has addressed the complexities of imperfect immunity, heterogeneous populations, nonrandom vaccination, and freeloaders.”

Herd Immunity: A Rough Guide

It doesn’t say what she thinks it says…

“Indeed, one might argue that herd immunity, in the final analysis, is about protecting society itself.”

Herd Immunity: A Rough Guide

So why haven’t we eradicated measles like we said we would?

“What’s funny is after the measles vaccine was licensed in 1963, the medical community declared a goal of eradicating measles by 1967. But 1967 came and went and it still wasn’t gone, 1977, 1987, 2000… the dates kept getting pushed, and the result was always the same. Meanwhile they continued to increase the hypothesized “herd immunity threshold”, eventually winding up at the extremely high 95% you hear today. “

Melissa Floyd

That’s actually a good question.

What happened to the previous goals of eliminating measles?

“In 1966, the USA began an effort to eradicate the disease within its own borders. After a series of successes and setbacks, in 2000, 34 years after the initial goal was announced, measles was declared no longer to be endemic in the USA.”

Orenstein et al on Eradicating measles: a feasible goal?

Along the way, we have gone from an estimated 100 million cases and 5.8 million deaths in 1980 and an estimated 44 million cases and 1.1 deaths in 1995 to “just” 7 million cases and 89,780 deaths in 2016.

“Under the Global Vaccine Action Plan, measles and rubella are targeted for elimination in five WHO Regions by 2020.”

Measles

While there is doubt that we can truly eradicate measles with the current vaccine, we can certainly control and eliminate measles if folks stop listening to anti-vaccine propaganda and they get vaccinated and protected.

More on Dr. Bob and His Herd Immunity Arguments

Propaganda Busting Confirms Anti-vaccine Sites Photoshop Images

Spend a few minutes going through our list of anti-vaccine PRATTs, and you will quickly realize that they just push misinformation and propaganda.

Propaganda Busting Confirms Anti-vaccine Sites Photoshop Images

How easy is it to refute their claims?

Consider this “article” about measles outbreaks

It shows an infant with chicken pox.

While that could be a simple mistake, it is actually a Photoshopped stock image of an infant with chicken pox that adds a big scary needle and syringe, that I guess is supposed to represent a vaccine.

Where's the syringe and needle?
Where’s the syringe and needle?

The thing is, neither the chicken pox nor MMR vaccine look like that and neither would be given with such a long needle!

In fact, that needle is about twice the size as any needle that would be used on an infant or toddler, which is why they had to Photoshop a separate photo of a big syringe and needle onto the infant with chicken pox.

It's just a stock image of a big syringe and needle...
It’s just a stock image of a big syringe and needle…

Now that you know that the photo is make-believe, you shouldn’t be surprised that their “article” is too.

This erroneous thinking has led the public, media and government alike to attribute the origin of measles outbreaks, such as the one reported at Disney in 2015 (and which lead to the passing of SB277 that year, stripping vaccine exemptions for all but medical reasons in California), to the non-vaccinated, even though 18% of the measles cases occurred in those who had been vaccinated against it — hardly the vaccine’s two-dose claimed “97% effectiveness.”

Government Research Confirms Measles Outbreaks Are Transmitted By The Vaccinated

By itself, the number of cases in an outbreak doesn’t exactly tell you a vaccine’s effectiveness. You also have to know something about how many people were vaccinated and unvaccinated and the attack rate, etc.

“Among the 110 California patients, 49 (45%) were unvaccinated; five (5%) had 1 dose of measles-containing vaccine, seven (6%) had 2 doses, one (1%) had 3 doses, 47 (43%) had unknown or undocumented vaccination status, and one (1%) had immunoglobulin G seropositivity documented, which indicates prior vaccination or measles infection at an undetermined time.”

Measles Outbreak — California, December 2014–February 2015

Anyway, in the Disneyland outbreak, if you do the math correctly, you can see that only 8 of 110 were fully vaccinated, or about 7%.

What does that tell you about vaccine effectiveness?

Not much!

Again, we don’t know how many vaccinated vs unvaccinated folks were exposed and didn’t get measles.

We can guess though…

Most folks are vaccinated, even in California. So the fact that only 7% of the people that got measles in the outbreak were fully vaccinated actually says quite a lot about how effective the MMR vaccine really is.

What about the idea that vaccinated people are starting outbreaks and spreading measles?

While the vast majority of measles outbreaks are in fact traced to someone who is unvaccinated, there was one outbreak in 2011 that was “started” by someone who was vaccinated.

“She had documentation of receipt of MMR vaccination at 3 years and 4 years of age. There was no travel during the incubation period and no known sick contacts. However, the index patient worked at a theater frequented by tourists.”

Outbreak of Measles Among Persons With Prior Evidence of Immunity, New York City, 2011

Since even the MMR vaccine isn’t 100% effective, is it really so surprising that occasionally, someone who received two doses of the vaccine could get measles and pass it to others, especially considering that around 220 people got measles in the United States that year?

“During 2011, a provisional total of 222 measles cases were reported from 31 states… Most patients were unvaccinated (65%) or had unknown vaccination status (21%). Of the 222, a total of 196 were U.S. residents. Of those U.S. residents who had measles, 166 were unvaccinated or had unknown vaccination status, 141 (85%) were eligible for MMR vaccination, 18 (11%) were too young for vaccination, six (4%) were born before 1957 and presumed immune, and one (1%) had previous laboratory evidence of presumptive immunity to measles.”

Measles — United States, 2011

Is the MMR vaccine a failure because there were some still some outbreaks in the 1980s, before we started to give kids a second dose? The attack rate in many of these school outbreaks, in which many kids had one dose of MMR, was still only about 2 to 3%.

It is safe to blame a failure to vaccinate and intentionally unvaccinated kids for most of the recent measles outbreaks.

Is the MMR vaccine a failure because we still have outbreaks among intentionally unvaccinated kids and every once in a while, in someone who is fully vaccinated who gets caught up in an outbreak?

Of course not!

It is easy to do a little research, consider what disease rates looked like in the pre-vaccine era, and know that vaccines work and that they are necessary.

More on Propaganda Busting Confirms Anti-vaccine Sites Photoshop Images

Is This Year’s Flu Vaccine Working?

Breaking News – Interim Estimates of 2018–19 Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness have now been released (see below)

Flu season is just getting started, but I’m sure that you have already heard folks rating how well this year’s flu shots are working.

Are flu vaccines working well?
Are flu vaccines working well?

Of course, if you had a flu shot and have already gotten the flu, then you’re gonna think the flu shot isn’t working very well at all.

And if you are vaccinated and protected and have avoided the flu, then it is working so far, right?

Is This Year’s Flu Vaccine Working?

While we won’t know how well this year’s flu vaccine is working until the CDC releases the preliminary estimates on flu vaccine effectiveness, there are some good signs already.

  1. The majority of the influenza viruses collected from the United States so far have been “characterized antigenically and genetically as being similar to the cell-grown reference viruses representing the 2018–2019 Northern Hemisphere influenza vaccine viruses.”
  2. The most frequently identified influenza virus type reported by public health laboratories was influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 virus.

Remember, to be effective, you want the flu vaccine to match the strains of flu virus that are circulating in the community. A mismatch in flu virus strain or antigenic drifting leads to lower flu vaccine effectiveness (VE).

Remember the 2004-05 flu season? That was the year that because of a drifted A(H3N2) virus, “only 5% of viruses from study participants were well matched to vaccine strains.” And the flu vaccine wasn’t very effective at all.

Still, even when the flu vaccine matches circulating strains, in general, as we have certainly seen, “flu vaccines provide better protection against influenza B or influenza A (H1N1) viruses than against influenza A (H3N2) viruses.”

YearFlu Virus StrainVE
2004-05A(H3N2)10
2005-06A(H3N2)21
2006-07A(H1N1)52
2007-08A(H3N2)37
2008-09A(H1N1)41
2009-10A(H1N1)pdm0956
2010-11A(H3N2)60
2011-12A(H3N2)47
2012-13A(H3N2)49
2013-14A(H1N1)pdm0952
2014-15A(H3N2)19
2015-16A(H1N1)pdm0948
2016-17A(H3N2)40
2017-18A(H3N2)40
2018-19A(H1N1)pdm0947

So if you had to guess, you could probably say that this year’s flu vaccine is going to be at least 50% effective.

So just as good as flipping a coin? Not exactly.

There are a lot of benefits to getting a flu shot besides avoiding the flu, like avoiding severe flu, hospitalization, and death.

And since flu vaccines are safe and flu can be a life-threatening disease, even in those without any medical problems, wouldn’t you take any chance you could to reduce your child’s chances of getting sick?

When will we know how well this year’s flu vaccine is really working?

The CDC typically releases the first preliminary flu vaccine effectiveness report of the season in February.

Not that you should wait! Flu season is well underway and this is a great time to get a flu vaccine and get protected for the rest of flu season.

Interim Estimates of 2018–19 Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness

On schedule, the CDC has released this year’s Interim Estimates of 2018–19 Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness.

During this period, overall adjusted vaccine effectiveness against all influenza virus infection associated with medically attended ARI was 47% (95% confidence interval [CI] = 34%–57%). For children aged 6 months–17 years, overall vaccine effectiveness was 61% (44%–73%).

Interim Estimates of 2018–19 Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness — United States, February 2019

That’s certainly better than we have seen in recent years.

More on the Effectiveness of This Year’s Flu Vaccine

Updated February 15, 2019

Do More Vaccinated or Unvaccinated Kids Get Pertussis?

While this seems like a simple question, the answer is a bit more complicated than most people imagine.

Do More Vaccinated or Unvaccinated Kids Get Pertussis?

For anti-vaccine folks, the answer is clear – more vaccinated kids get pertussis. They put all of the blame for pertussis outbreaks on waning immunity. Of course, that’s not the whole story.

While 10% of kids got pertussis, unless you are at a Waldorf school, it is unusual to find that many completely unvaccinated children.
While 10% of kids got pertussis, unless you are at a Waldorf school, it is unusual to find that many completely unvaccinated children. Plus, we don’t know the vaccine history of 40% of these kids.

While it might technically be true that more vaccinated kids get pertussis in the average outbreak, that’s only because there are many more vaccinated kids!

A more accurate and useful answer, taking into account attack rates, makes it clear that a higher percentage of unvaccinated kids get pertussis in these outbreaks.

“In conclusion we have described a school-based outbreak of pertussis that may have been fueled by moderate vaccine effectiveness combined with a failure to vaccinate.”

Terrenella et al on Vaccine effectiveness of tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid, and acellular pertussis vaccine during a pertussis outbreak in Maine

In a pertussis outbreak in Maine, attack rates were much higher in unvaccinated kids, even though more vaccinated kids got pertussis. While 29 of 214 vaccinated kids got pertussis, a much higher percentage of unvaccinated kids got sick – 6 of 28.

That means your risk of getting pertussis was much higher if you were unvaccinated.

A 2013 pertussis outbreak in Florida is a good example that even with all the bad press it gets, the DTaP and Tdap vaccines work too. This outbreak was started by an unvaccinated child at a charter school with high rates of unvaccinated kids. About 30% of unvaccinated kids got sick, while there was only one case “in a person who reported having received any vaccination against pertussis.”

In another 2013 pertussis outbreak in Florida, this time in a preschool, although most of the kids were vaccinated, the outbreak started with “a 1-year-old vaccine-exempt preschool student.” And the classroom with the highest attack rate, was “one in which a teacher with a laboratory-confirmed case of pertussis who had not received a Tdap booster vaccination, worked throughout her illness.”

Why do so many unvaccinated kids get pertussis these days?

“We found evidence of an increase in exemption rates, spatial clustering of nonmedical exemptions, and space-time clustering of pertussis in Michigan. There was considerable overlap between the clusters of exemptions and the clusters of pertussis cases.”

Omer et al on Geographic Clustering of Nonmedical Exemptions to School Immunization Requirements and Associations With Geographic Clustering of Pertussis

Besides the fact that they are unvaccinated and unprotected?

“Children of parents who refuse pertussis immunizations are at high risk for pertussis infection relative to vaccinated children. Herd immunity does not seem to completely protect unvaccinated children from pertussis.”

Glanz et al on Parental refusal of pertussis vaccination is associated with an increased risk of pertussis infection in children.

They can’t get away with hiding in the herd.

Another important consideration – in addition to the fact that more unvaccinated kids get pertussis, when they get pertussis, it is more severe than those who are vaccinated.

“Serious pertussis symptoms and complications are less common among age-appropriate number of pertussis vaccines (AAV) pertussis patients, demonstrating that the positive impact of pertussis vaccination extends beyond decreasing risk of disease.”

McNamara et al on Reduced Severity of Pertussis in Persons With Age-Appropriate Pertussis Vaccination-United States, 2010-2012.

Still thinking of skipping or delaying your child’s pertussis vaccine?

More on Do More Vaccinated or Unvaccinated Kids Get Pertussis?

How Contagious Is Measles?

Did you hear about the folks in New York who got quarantined isolated on the Emirates plane from Dubai?

Turns out that about 10 passengers had the flu or other cold viruses.
Although the worry was likely about MERS, it turns out that about 19 passengers had the flu or other cold viruses.

News like that and folks getting exposed to other infectious diseases, probably has them wondering just how contagious these diseases are. Do you have to be sitting next to someone to get them? In the same row? On the same floor?

Understanding Your Risk of Catching a Disease

Fortunately, most diseases are not terribly contagious.

We worry about some things, like SARS and Ebola, because they are so deadly, not because they are so contagious or infectious.

Wait, contagious or infectious? Aren’t they the same thing?

To confuse matters, some infectious diseases aren’t contagious, like Lyme disease. And some vaccine-preventable diseases are neither infectious nor communicable. Think tetanus. You may have never thought of it that way, but you aren’t going to catch tetanus from another person. Of course, that’s not a good reason to skip getting a tetanus shot!

To understand your risk of getting sick, you want to understand a few terms, including:

  • infectious disease – a disease that can be transferred to a new host
  • communicable – an infectious disease that can be transferred from one host to another
  • non-communicable – a non-infectious disease which can not be transferred from one host to another
  • contagiousness – an infectious disease that is easily transferred from one person to another
  • infectivity – the ability of an infectious agent to cause an infection, measured as the proportion of persons exposed to an infectious agent who become infected. Although this doesn’t sound much different from contagiousness, it is. The Francisella tularensis bacteria is highly infectious, for example, to the point that folks exposed to a culture plate are given antibiotics or put on a fever watch. Few of us get tularemia though, because transmission is through tick bites, hunting or skinning infected rabbits, muskrats, prairie dogs and other rodents, or inhaling dust or aerosols contaminated with F. tularensis bacteria. So if you get exposed, you will probably get sick, but there is a low probability for getting exposed.
  • incubation period – the time it takes to start having symptoms after you are exposed to an infectious disease. A longer incubation period increases the chances that someone will get exposed to a disease and travel home before getting sick. A shorter incubation period, like for influenza, means that a lot of people can get sick in a short amount of time.
  • contagious period- the time during which you can spread the illness to other people and may start before you have any symptoms
  • quarantine – used to separate people who have been exposed to a contagious disease and may become sick, but aren’t sick yet
  • isolation – used to separate people who are already sick with a contagious disease
  • transmission – how the disease spreads, including direct (direct contact or droplet spread) vs indirect transmission (airborne, vehicleborne, or vectorborne)
  • R0 (r nought) – the basic reproductive number or the number of new infections originating from a single infectious person among a total susceptible population
  • Rn – the net reproductive number, which takes into account the number of susceptibles in a community
  • infectious period – how long you are contagious

Got all that?

How Contagious Is Measles?

If not, understanding how easily you can get measles should help you understand all of these terms.

Measles is highly contagious, which is likely why all of the Brady kids got sick.
Measles is highly contagious, which is likely why all of the Brady kids got sick.

Measles is highly contagious, with a very high R0 number of 12 to 18.

That’s because:

  • the measles virus can live for up to two hours on surfaces and in the airspace where an infected person coughed or sneezed
  • infected people are contagious for up to four days before they have a rash and even know that they have measles, so expose lots of people even if they get put in isolation once they get diagnosed
  • infected people continue to be contagious for up to four days after the rash appears, so can continue to expose people if they aren’t put in isolation

So you don’t need to have someone with measles coughing in your face to get sick. If they coughed or sneezed at the grocery store, on the bus, or at your doctor’s office and then you entered the same area within two hours, then you could be exposed to the measles virus and could get sick.

Why don’t we see at least 12 to 18 people in each measles outbreak anymore?

That’s easy. The definition for R0 is for a total susceptible population. Most folks are vaccinated and protected, so even if they are around someone with measles, they typically won’t get sick.

Still, up to 90% of folks who aren’t immune and are exposed to measles will catch it. That includes infants too young to be vaccinated, kids too young to be fully vaccinated, and anyone who has a true medical exemption to getting vaccinated.

The measles has a very high R0 is easier to see when you compare it to those of some other diseases

 

Infection R0
Diphtheria 6-7
Ebola 1.5-2.5
Flu 1.4-4
MERS 2-8
Mumps 4.7
Pertussis 5-17
Polio 2-20
RSV 3
SARS 2-5
Smallpox 5-7
Varicella 8-10

Why such a big range for some diseases?

These are estimates and you are more or less contagious at different stages of each illness.

Fortunately, in most cases you can just get vaccinated and protected and don’t have to worry too much about them.

More on the Contagious Periods of Diseases

Is Mutating Mumps More Than the MMR Can Manage?

It is not news that we have been seeing more cases of mumps in recent years.

It is also isn’t news that many of these folks are vaccinated.

“Long Beach has been hit with a mumps outbreak that is vaccine-resistant. According to health officials in the Long Island town, almost two dozen individuals are believed to have contracted the virus, with four confirmed cases and at least 14 suspected ones.”

Natural News

That sites like Natural News is putting out misinformation about vaccine-resistant strains of mumps also shouldn’t be news to anyone.

Why Do Folks Think That Vaccine-Resistant Viruses Are Causing Mumps Outbreaks?

So are vaccine-resistant mumps viruses causing outbreaks?

There is no good evidence of that and plenty of evidence that our current vaccines, even though they aren’t perfect, do cover all wild strains of mumps.

Unfortunately, it might not be surprising that some folks are confused about vaccine-resistant mumps viruses, when we have health officials saying things like:

“Sometimes nature throws a strain at us that might have mutated a little bit, and coverage of the vaccine is not 100 percent.”

Dr. Lawrence Eisenstein, Nassau County Health Commissioner

Dr. Eisenstein’s “might have mutated a little bit” comment got twisted into “the outbreak is most likely attributable to a new strain of the virus that is resistant to vaccines” by health reporters

And out of Arkansas, where there have also been large mumps outbreaks:

“We are actually to the point that we are worried that this vaccine may indeed not be protecting against the strain of mumps that is circulating as well as it could.”

Dr. Dirk Haselow, Arkansas State Epidemiologist

Of course, to say that the vaccine may not be protecting folks “as well as it could” doesn’t mean it doesn’t work because the wild type mumps virus has evolved or mutated enough to surmount our current MMR vaccine.

Is Mutating Mumps More Than the MMR Can Manage?

Although anything is possible, we fortunately have plenty of research that says that the mumps virus hasn’t mutated and that the MMR still works.

During an outbreak, universities make sure students are up-to-date with their MMR vaccines.
During an outbreak of mumps, some kids are getting a third dose of the MMR vaccine.

In fact, although the MMR vaccine is made from the A strain or genotype of mumps, it provides good protection against all 12 known strains of wild mumps viruses, including genotype G that has been causing most of the recent outbreaks.

But how can it cover a different strain of virus that isn’t in the vaccine?

Because not all viruses and vaccines are like influenza.

“The genotyping of the mumps virus is based on the Small Hydrophobic (SH) protein, a nonstructural protein and genetically the most variable one. Based on the SH-protein 12 different mumps viruses were detected up to now. In recent epidemics in Western countries the genotype G was mainly detected, while the mumps viruses used in the live attenuated mumps vaccines belong to genotype A (Jeryl Lynn) and to a lesser extent to genotype B (Urabe). However, antibodies against the SH protein have not yet been observed in human serum. It is, therefore, unlikely that antibodies against the SH protein play an important role in antibody-mediated virus neutralization.”

Sabbe et al. on The resurgence of mumps and pertussis

It is well known that you need a very specific match of the flu vaccine to the wild flu virus that is going around to get good protection, but for many other viruses, the differences that determine the strain or genotype have nothing to do with how antibodies will recognize the virus.

“Since mumps virus is monotypic, vaccine from any strain should provide lifelong protection against subsequent infection.”

Palacios et al. on Molecular Identification of Mumps Virus Genotypes from Clinical Samples: Standardized Method of Analysis

Like measles, mumps is a monotypic virus.

“Studies have demonstrated that blood sera from vaccinated persons cross-neutralizes currently circulating mumps strains.”

CDC on Mumps for Healthcare Providers

And like measles, the mumps vaccine (MMR), protects against all strains of wild mumps viruses.

“Compared with attack rates of 31.8%–42.9% among unvaccinated individuals, attack rates among recipients of 1 dose and 2 doses of the Jeryl Lynn vaccine strain were 4%–13.6% and 2.2%–3.6%, respectively.”

Dayan et al. on Mumps Outbreaks in Vaccinated Populations: Are Available Mumps Vaccines Effective Enough to Prevent Outbreaks?

And like other vaccines, the mumps vaccine (MMR) works.

Waning immunity may be an issue, but that certainly isn’t a reason to skip or delay this vaccine and put your kids, and everyone else, at risk to get mumps.

What to Know About Mumps Strains and Outbreaks

The MMR vaccines covers all strains of mumps and getting fully vaccinated is the best way to make sure your kids don’t get mumps.

More on Mumps Strains and Outbreaks

Do More Vaccinated or Unvaccinated Kids Get Sick in Outbreaks?

Some anti-vaccine folks continue to claim that vaccines don’t work and that most outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases are actually caused by kids who have been vaccinated.

They also push the myth that more vaccinated than unvaccinated kids get sick in most outbreaks.

Vaccinated vs Unvaccinated in an Outbreak

So are outbreaks usually caused by kids who have been vaccinated?

No, of course not.

Do we sometimes see more vaccinated than unvaccinated kids in some of these outbreaks?

Yes, sometimes we do.

Vaccine Epidemiology

Wait, what?

Yes, we sometimes see more vaccinated than unvaccinated kids in an outbreak.

How can that be if vaccines work?

It is actually very easy to understand once you learn a little math and a little more epidemiology.

Basically, it is because while vaccines work, they don’t work 100% of the time, and more importantly, there are way more vaccinated kids around than unvaccinated kids.

The Mathematics of Disease Outbreaks

That means that you need to understand that more than the absolute number of vaccinated and unvaccinated people that got sick in an outbreak, you really want to know the percentages of vaccinated vs unvaccinated kids who got sick.

For example, in a school with 1,000 kids, you might be very surprised if six kids got a vaccine preventable disease, and three of them were vaccinated, leaving three unvaccinated.

Does that really mean that equal amounts of vaccinated and unvaccinated kids got sick?

I guess technically, but in the practical sense, it only would if half of the kids in the school were unvaccinated. Now unless they go to a Waldorf school, it is much more likely that over 90 to 95% of the kids were vaccinated, in which case, a much higher percentage of unvaccinated kids got sick.

Before we use a real world example, some terms to understand include:

  • attack rate – how many people will get sick when exposed to a disease
  • basic reproductive number or Ro – different for each disease, Ro basically tells you  just how contagious a disease is and ranges from about 1.5 for flu, 8 for chicken pox, and 15 for measles
  • vaccine coverage – how many people are vaccinated
  • vaccine efficacy – how well a vaccine works

You also need to know some formulas:

  • attack rate = new cases/total in group
  • vaccine coverage rate = number of people who are fully vaccinated / number of people who are eligible to be vaccinated
  • vaccine effectiveness = (attack rate in unvaccinated group – attack rate in vaccinated group) / attack rate in unvaccinated group x 100

Unfortunately, it is often hard to use these formulas in most outbreaks.

Why?

For one thing, it is hard to get accurate information on the vaccination status of all of the people in the outbreak. In addition to those who are confirmed to be vaccinated or unvaccinated, there is often a large number who’s vaccination status is unknown. And even if you know the vaccination status of everyone in the outbreak, it can be even harder to get the vaccine coverage rate or a neighborhood or city.

Outbreaks of Vaccine Preventable Diseases

Reports of measles outbreaks among highly vaccinated populations are from before we started doing a second dose in 1994.
Reports of measles outbreaks among highly vaccinated populations are from before we started doing a second dose of MMR… way back in 1994.

We know what starts most outbreaks.

And no, it’s not shedding

For example, with measles, it is typically an unvaccinated person who travels out of the country, returns home after they have been exposed but are still in their incubation period, and then exposes others once they get sick. And the great majority of folks in these measles outbreaks are unvaccinated.

Some examples of these outbreaks include:

  • the 2014 Ohio measles outbreak that started with two unvaccinated Amish men getting measles in the Philippines while on a missionary trip and ended up with at least 388 cases before it was over, almost all unvaccinated
  • a 2013 North Carolina measles outbreak with 22 cases started after an unvaccinated traveler had returned from India
  • an outbreak of measles in New York, in 2013, with at least 58 cases, tarted with an intentionally unvaccinated teen returning from a trip to London
  • a 2011 outbreak of measles in Minnesota, when an unvaccinated child traveled out of the country, developed measles, and returned to his undervaccinated community, causing the state’s largest measles outbreak in 20 years

But what about mumps and pertussis?

Those outbreaks are all among vaccinated kids, right?

Nope.

In one of the biggest mumps outbreak, in Arkansas, only 71% of people were up-to-date on their vaccines!

And keep in mind that while we do know that there are issues with waning immunity with some vaccines, you are still much more likely to become infected and get others sick if you are not vaccinated. And you will likely have a much more severe disease.

A 2013 pertussis outbreak in Florida is a good example that even with all the bad press it gets, the DTaP and Tdap vaccines work too. This outbreak was started by an unvaccinated child at a charter school with high rates of unvaccinated kids. About 30% of unvaccinated kids got sick, while there was only one case “in a person who reported having received any vaccination against pertussis.”

In another 2013 pertussis outbreak in Florida, this time in a preschool, although most of the kids were vaccinated, the outbreak started with “a 1-year-old vaccine-exempt preschool student.” And the classroom with the highest attack rate, was “one in which a teacher with a laboratory-confirmed case of pertussis who had not received a Tdap booster vaccination, worked throughout her illness.”

In outbreak after outbreak, we see the same thing, sometimes with deadly consequences – an unvaccinated child or adult triggers an outbreak and then a lot of unvaccinated folks get sick. Unfortunately, others get caught up in these outbreaks too, including those too young to be vaccinated, those who can’t be vaccinated because of true medical exemptions, and those whose vaccines may not have worked as well as we would have liked.

Get educated.

Vaccines are safe. Vaccines are necessary. Vaccines work.

What to Know About Vaccinated vs Unvaccinated in Outbreaks

Most outbreaks are started by someone who is unvaccinated, often after a trip out of the country, and the resulting outbreak will likely get many more unvaccinated than vaccinated folks sick.

More About Vaccinated vs Unvaccinated in Outbreaks