Tag: elimination

Japan’s Rubella Outbreak Should Be a Warning About What Could Happen Here

Do you remember when we used to have rubella outbreaks in the United States?

There is a level 2 travel alert for Japan because of outbreaks of rubella.

Yeah, me neither, but in the rubella epidemics of the 1960s, rubella caused 2,100 neonatal deaths and 20,000 infants to be born with congenital rubella syndrome.

Japan’s Rubella Outbreak

Thanks to the rubella vaccine, the ‘R’ in the MMR, we rarely hear about rubella anymore.

Tragically, like measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases, rubella is coming back.

RubellaCongenital Rubella Syndrome
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There are still relatively few cases, but most of us would like to keep it that way.

The US had a big spike in rubella cases in the last 1980s.

We remember that with the return of measles in the late 1980s, rubella came back right along with it, causing 13 deaths and 77 cases of congenital rubella syndrome!

And that’s what is happening in many countries right now.

In Japan, for example, in addition to a rise in measles cases this year, they are seeing big outbreaks of rubella, with weekly totals exceeding 100 cases! These are numbers that are close to what they saw during outbreaks in 2013, a year that ended with 14,344 cases of rubella and 32 cases of congenital rubella syndrome.

Japan is on track to have a big rubella year.
Japan is on track to have a big rubella year.

And they are already reporting at least one case of congenital rubella syndrome, a 4 week old, which is not surprising, considering that they had nearly 3,000 cases of rubella last year.

A newspaper article in 1965 warned about the perils of rubella and congenital rubella syndrome.
A newspaper article in 1965 warned about the perils of rubella and congenital rubella syndrome.

Is that what we want to happen here too? Are folks looking forward to having to worry about babies being born with congenital rubella syndrome, a vaccine-preventable disease?

A vaccine-preventable disease that was declared eliminated in the United States in 2004.

More on Japan’s Rubella Outbreak

When Was the Last Case of Diphtheria?

Believe it or not, measles isn’t the only vaccine-preventable disease that is still around.

While you likely aren’t too surprised about the flu deaths and the cases of meningococcal disease, did you know that kids still get Hib, babies still get hepatitis B, and that there were three cases of human rabies and a case of diphtheria in the United States last year?

When Was the Last Case of Diphtheria?

Yes, diphtheria.

Diphtheria strikes unprotected children.

That’s despite the fact that the diphtheria vaccine has been around for over 100 years, long before it was combined with the first whole cell pertussis vaccine and the tetanus vaccine to form the DPT vaccine.

A vaccine that helped control respiratory diphtheria, which could lead to the formation of a pseudomembrane in a child’s airway, giving diphtheria the nickname of the “strangling angel.”

The last big outbreaks of diphtheria in the United States occurred in the 1970s, although sporadic cases had continued since, albeit at lower and lower levels each year. Eventually, endemic respiratory diphtheria was declared eliminated in 2009.

Still, we know that there have been some recent cases of diphtheria in the United States.

In April of 2014, a teen from Montgomery County, Ohio developed diphtheria.

And again in April of 2018, someone in Oklahoma developed diphtheria.

Why do we care about a few isolated cases?

Because we know how quickly diphtheria can come back if we stop vaccinating our kids!

Just look at what is happening in many other countries that once had these diseases under good control:

  • a 22-year-old unvaccinated women who died in Australia (2011)
  • an unvaccinated 3-year-old who died in Belgium (2016)
  • a family that became infected in South Africa in which at least one child died (August 2017)
  • at least 7 cases of diphtheria in Ukraine (2018)
  • an unvaccinated man in Australia who died (2018)
  • a case in Canada (2018)
  • 8 cases and 3 deaths in Columbia (2018)

Not to mention the large number of diphtheria deaths in Yemen, Venezuela, Haiti, and among Rohingya refugees.

Let’s not bring these diseases back. Vaccines are safe, with few risks, and obviously necessary.

More on the Last Case of Diphtheria

We Know Vaccines Work

We know vaccines work.

How well do they work?

In addition to eradicating smallpox, did you know that vaccines have helped eliminate four other now vaccine-preventable diseases?

  1. diphtheria
  2. neonatal tetanus
  3. polio
  4. congenital rubella syndrome

And unlike measles, which was declared eliminated in 2000, we really don’t see these diseases anymore.

We Know Vaccines Work

How well do vaccines work?

Let’s look at the disease counts (morbidity data), how many kids got sick, just before we developed a vaccine and where we are now:

DiseasePre-Vax EraNow% Decrease
Smallpox110,672last case 1977 100%
Diphtheria30,508199.9%
Pertussis265,26913,43994.9%
Tetanus6012096.7%
Neonatal Tetanus1,000+0100%
Polio21,269last case 1993100%
Measles763,094372 99.9%
Mumps212,9342,25198.9%
Rubella488,796599.9%
Congenital Rubella Syndrome20,0000100%
Hib invasive18,0002799.9%
HepB300,0002,79999.1%
Perinatal HepB16,20095294.1%
Pneumococcal invasive64,40098698.5%
HepA254,51811,16695.6%
Varicella5,358,5956,89299.9%

Sandra Roush and Trudy Murphy provided us with pre-vaccine baselines for 13 vaccine-preventable diseases in their article, Historical Comparisons of Morbidity and Mortality for Vaccine-Preventable Diseases in the United States.

“A greater than 92% decline in cases and a 99% or greater decline in deaths due to diseases prevented by vaccines recommended before 1980 were shown for diphtheria, mumps, pertussis, and tetanus. Endemic transmission of poliovirus and measles and rubella viruses has been eliminated in the United States; smallpox has been eradicated worldwide. Declines were 80% or greater for cases and deaths of most vaccine-preventable diseases targeted since 1980 including hepatitis A, acute hepatitis B, Hib, and varicella. Declines in cases and deaths of invasive S pneumoniae were 34% and 25%, respectively.”

Roush et al on Historical Comparisons of Morbidity and Mortality for Vaccine-Preventable Diseases in the United States.

Their study, which came out in 2007, used morbidity (2006) and mortality (2004) data that was recent at the time. The data has held up very well since then, looking at 2018 statistics in the National Notifiable Infectious Diseases Weekly Tables (see below), even with talk of waning immunity for some vaccines.

But can’t you explain all of this decline away by talking about better hygiene, sanitation, and nutrition?

Of course not!

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

Walter Orenstein, MD

The pre-vaccine era for Hib was just before 1988, when the first Hib vaccine came out. We had good hygiene, sanitation, and nutrition in the 1980s and yet, a lot of kids died from Hib meningitis and epiglottitis. At least they did until he got a vaccine to prevent it.

And if it was better hygiene and sanitation, etc., why did it affect every disease at a different time? And why hasn’t better hygiene and sanitation stopped RSV, HIV, norovirus, Zika, and all of the other non-vaccine-preventable diseases?

Although there was a decline in mortality rates at the beginning of the 20th Century for all diseases thanks to better hygiene, sanitation, and nutrition, that effect plateaued by the mid-1930s. And since a lot of people were still getting sick, remember everyone used to get measles, even if a small percentage would die, it would add up to a lot of deaths!

Vaccines aren’t perfect, but they are safe, with few risks, and work well. Get vaccinated and protected if you want to keep from getting and bringing back these now vaccine-preventable diseases.

More on We Know Vaccines Work

Why Haven’t We Eradicated Measles Already?

The first measles vaccine was developed in 1963.

So why do we still have measles?

Shouldn’t measles be on the list with all of the other eradicated diseases, like smallpox and, well smallpox…

Why Haven’t We Eradicated Measles Already?

Eradicating a disease is not as simple as developing a vaccine.

If it were, a lot of diseases would have been eradicated already.

Hopefully, we will add more to the list of eradicated diseases, but there are some that will never be eradicated. Tetanus, for example, is ubiquitous in soil, so would be nearly impossible to eradicate. Other diseases, like rabies and yellow fever, would be hard to eradicate because they can infect animals or insects.

What about measles?

Anti-vaccine folks do not understand herd immunity.

While there was never a goal to eradicate measles by 1967, we have missed several deadlines to get measles under better control.

What was the first deadline?

“Recent successes in interrupting indigenous transmission of measles virus in the Americas and in the United Kingdom prompted the World Health Organization (WHO), Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and CDC to convene a meeting in July, 1996 to consider the feasibility of global measles eradication.”

Measles Eradication: Recommendations from a Meeting Cosponsored by the World HealthOrganization, the Pan American Health Organization, and CDC

Folks started talking about measles eradication in 1996.

Before that though, there had been a goal to eliminate measles in the United States.

“An effort is underway to eliminate indigenous measles from the United States; a target date of October 1, 1982 has been set.”

Although we missed that initial target date, we weren’t too far off.

“In 1978, the US Public Health Service initiated a Measles Elimination Program with the goal of eliminating measles from the United States by 1982. The goals of this program included (1) maintenance of high levels of immunity,(2) careful surveillance of disease, and (3) aggressive control of outbreaks. Unfortunately, the program failed, predominantly because of the failure to implement the recommended vaccination strategy and because of vaccine failure. An increase in measles cases was sustained from 1983 through 1991 and was particularly dramatic from 1989 through 1991.”

Poland et al on Failure to Reach the Goal of Measles Elimination

There is also the fact that measles is just so dang contagious!

Improving vaccination rates and a two-dose MMR schedule helped decrease measles rates even further and finally eliminate the endemic spread of measles in the United States in 2000.

What were some other deadlines and goals?

  • In 1989, the World Health Assembly resolved to reduce measles morbidity and mortality by 90% and 95%, respectively, by 1995, compared with disease burden during the prevaccine era.
  • In 1990, the World Summit for Children adopted a goal of vaccinating 90% of children against measles by 2000.
  • Regional measles-elimination goals have been established in the American Region (AMR) by 2000, the European Region (EUR) by 2007, and the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMR) by 2010.
  • A regional measles-elimination goals have been established in the Western Pacific (WPR) by 2012.
  • In 2012, the World Health Assembly endorsed the Global Vaccine Action Plan with the objective to eliminate measles in four World Health Organization (WHO) regions by 2015 – the Region of the Americas, EUR, EMR, and WPR.
  • Countries in all six WHO regions have adopted goals for measles elimination by 2020.

Obviously, we haven’t hit all of the goals and deadlines on time.

What have we done?

We have tremendously reduced the number of children who get measles and who die with measles. For example, instead of meeting the 2010 goals of decreasing global measles mortality by 90% over 2000 levels, we have decreased it by 74%. The world has gone from an estimated 100 million cases and 5.8 million deaths in 1980 and an estimated 44 million cases and 1.1 million deaths in 1995 to “just” 7 million cases and 89,780 deaths in 2016.

There is still some work to be done though, especially with the uptick in cases and deaths in the last few years.

“Eradication of both measles and rubella is considered to be feasible, beneficial, and more cost-effective than high-level control.”

Orenstein et al on Measles and Rubella Global Strategic Plan 2012–2020 midterm review report: Background and summary

Work that we can still do if everyone makes the commitment to implement their elimination plans.

And folks vaccinate and protect their kids!

What’s the alternative?

To go back to when even more kids got sick and died with measles?

More on Eradicating Measles

More Measles Hysteria From Bob Sears

Most folks remember Dr. Bob’s response to the measles outbreak in his home town.

He told folks DON’T PANIC!!!!

More Measles Hysteria From Bob Sears

That was nearly four years ago, during the Disneyland measles outbreak.

So what’s he saying now?

From panic to hysteria - Dr. Bob on the measles outbreaks.

He’s moved from panic (a sudden overpowering fright) to hysteria (behavior exhibiting overwhelming or unmanageable fear or emotional excess), but is still pushing his usual talking points.

He has changed the way he is talking about measles deaths though.

Dr. Bob Sears actually reassured parents that measles wasn't deadly in developed countries, neglecting to mention the dozens of people who have died in outbreaks in Europe - another well-nourished population with lower vaccination rates than the U.S.
Dr. Bob Sears actually reassured parents that measles wasn’t deadly in developed countries, neglecting to mention the dozens of people who have died in outbreaks in Europe – another well-nourished population with lower vaccination rates than the U.S.

Remember how he used to say that measles wasn’t deadly and that no one had died of measles in a long time? Now, instead of acknowledging that a woman got caught up in the 2015 outbreaks in Washington and died, he has shifted to saying that there hasn’t been a pediatric death in a long time.

Either way, it is important to understand something he leaves out. There are few deaths from measles these days because most folks are vaccinated!

When did Dr. Bob’s book about vaccines come out? The one with the alternative vaccine schedule?

Whatever his motivation, let’s take a look at what Dr. Bob is saying about measles…

“Measles hysteria is everywhere. And it’s clear the hysteria is a result of media fear around this disease, a disease every child used to get (and handle virtually without complication) not that long ago.”

Dr. Bob Sears

Not that long ago?

I’ve been a pediatrician for 22 years and I have never seen a child with measles. Neither did I have measles, as I was fortunate enough to grow up in the post-vaccine era for measles – a vaccine that has been available for since the 1960s.

And while every child did indeed once get measles, in the pre-vaccine era, not all handled it without complications, which is why measles was called the harmless killer.

Anti-vaccine folks try to hide the risks of measles in mortality rates, but the reality of it is that about 500 people died each year up until the early 1960s when the first measles vaccine was developed.

And I guess that wasn’t that long ago, after all, we had good hygiene and sanitation and healthcare at the time, and yet, a lot of people still died.

“There is another side to this measles conversation: how we’ve unintentionally shifted the burden of disease to babies and adults, both groups who are more likely to experience complications, by vaccinating all schoolchildren and losing natural immunity.”

Dr. Bob Sears

There is really only one side to this.

Folks who are intentionally not vaccinating their kids are getting measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases and are putting us all at risk to get sick.

After all, the MMR vaccine provides life-long immunity to most people. That’s not the problem.

If we went back to the pre-vaccine era, when everyone got measles naturally, as Dr. Bob seems to be advocating for, not only would those kids have to earn their immunity, but many babies (those who hadn’t had measles yet) and adults (those with immune system problems) would still be at great risk.

Are you starting to see how silly his arguments are?

We almost had measles beat!

Consider that there were just 37 measles cases in the United States in 2004. And that we have already had more than twice that amount this month alone!

And while measles was cyclical in the pre-vaccine era, it shouldn’t be when folks are vaccinated and protected. What happened to the cycles between 1997 and 2007?

“Unlike natural immunity, the measles vaccine does NOT offer lifelong protection. Estimates of its protection average around 15 years, and describe a phenomenon in the vaccine world known as “waning immunity.”

Melissa Floyd

The measles vaccine provides lifelong protection. Waning immunity only refers to protection against mumps. And no, there is no call for a third MMR dose for extra protection against measles.

“The other trend we’ve seen over the past 10 years is an increase in adult measles cases. “

Melissa Floyd

Dr. Bob’s sidekick neglects to mention that in addition to unvaccinated kis with measles, the trend is an increase in measles cases in unvaccinated adults! After all, most folks who get measles in these outbreaks are unvaccinated.

“To recap: by losing natural immunity for measles for children 5-19 years old, we’ve exposed babies, pregnant women, and adults to measles—all vulnerable groups who are more likely to experience serious complications from the disease.”

Melissa Floyd

Perhaps the only true statement that they make – “we’ve exposed babies, pregnant women, and adults to measles—all vulnerable groups who are more likely to experience serious complications from the disease.”

And no, vitamin A is not a proven therapy or measles in developed countries. It mainly helps prevent complications in kids who have a vitamin A deficiency.

Hopefully, it is becoming evident that what we need to stop is the anti-vaccine propaganda that keeps folks from vaccinating and protecting their kids. We need to stop the outbreaks.

More on More Measles Hysteria From Bob Sears

Did Better Hygiene and Sanitation Get Rid of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases?

Anti-vaccine folks, in addition to trying to argue that vaccines are full of poison, typically try to make a case that vaccines aren’t even necessary.

Why not?

They had good hygiene and sanitation in Brooklyn when my uncle got polio in 1950. What they didn't yet have was a polio vaccine.
They had good hygiene and sanitation in Brooklyn when my uncle got polio in 1950. What they didn’t yet have was a polio vaccine. If the wide use of indoor plumbing got rid of the plague in the early 1900s, why didn’t it get rid of all other infectious diseases at the same time?

Because, they claim, vaccines don’t even work. They claim that it was better hygiene and sanitation, not vaccines that helped get rid of smallpox, polio, and measles.

Did Better Hygiene and Sanitation Get Rid of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases?

On the surface, the idea that better hygiene and sanitation helped get rid disease makes a lot of sense.

“The 19th century shift in population from country to city that accompanied industrialization and immigration led to overcrowding in poor housing served by inadequate or nonexistent public water supplies and waste-disposal systems. These conditions resulted in repeated outbreaks of cholera, dysentery, TB, typhoid fever, influenza, yellow fever, and malaria.

By 1900, however, the incidence of many of these diseases had begun to decline because of public health improvements, implementation of which continued into the 20th century. Local, state, and federal efforts to improve sanitation and hygiene reinforced the concept of collective “public health” action (e.g., to prevent infection by providing clean drinking water).”

Achievements in Public Health, 1900-1999: Control of Infectious Diseases

It makes a lot of sense because better hygiene and sanitation did actually help control and eliminate many infectious diseases, including cholera, dysentery, and typhoid fever.

Others, like yellow fever and malaria, decreased because the mosquitoes that spread them were brought under control.

“Strategic vaccination campaigns have virtually eliminated diseases that previously were common in the United States, including diphtheria, tetanus, poliomyelitis, smallpox, measles, mumps, rubella, and Haemophilus influenzae type b meningitis.”

Achievements in Public Health, 1900-1999: Control of Infectious Diseases

That still left a lot of work for vaccines.

After all, we had good hygiene and sanitation in the United States when kids were routinely dying of polio, measles, Hib meningitis, pneumococcal meningitis, and rotavirus, etc.

Any way, if better hygiene and sanitation can get rid of so many diseases, why has each vaccine-preventable disease been controlled at a different time – yellow fever (1905), polio (1979), smallpox (1980), measles (2000), neonatal tetanus (2000), congenital rubella syndrome (2004), respiratory diphtheria (2009)?

What about the infectious diseases which don’t have vaccines? Why hasn’t better hygiene and sanitation helped control those diseases yet, like RSV, norovirus, Ebola, and Zika, etc.?

“Perhaps the best evidence that vaccines, and not hygiene and nutrition, are responsible for the sharp drop in disease and death rates is chickenpox. If hygiene and nutrition alone were enough to prevent infectious diseases, chickenpox rates would have dropped long before the introduction of the varicella vaccine, which was not available until the mid-1990s. Instead, the number of chickenpox cases in the United States in the early 1990s, before the vaccine was introduced in 1995, was about four million a year. By 2004, the disease incidence had dropped by about 85%.”

Misconceptions about Vaccines

And why does better hygiene and sanitation only work for chicken pox in countries that routinely use the chicken pox vaccine?

Do you want to believe that vaccines don’t work to justify skipping or delaying your child’s vaccines and leaving them unvaccinated and unprotected?

Be more skeptical, learn more about vaccines, and make the right choice to get your kids vaccinated.

More on the Hygiene and Sanitation Anti-Vaccine Theory

Why Are the DPT and OPV Vaccines Still Used in Some Countries?

As most folks know, neither the DPT nor OPV vaccines are used in the United States.

Pope Francis helped launch a polio vaccine campaign when he visited Mexico in 2016.
Pope Francis helped launch a polio vaccine campaign when he visited Mexico in 2016.

That they are still used in other countries likely raises some questions for those folks that get them.

Why Are the DPT and OPV Vaccines Still Used in Some Countries?

As I am sure you have guessed, there is no conspiracy about the continued use of these vaccines in other parts of the world. We aren’t getting rid of old stocks of vaccines or using cheaper vaccines in poorer parts of the world.

So what’s the reason?

To understand why they are still used in other countries, it helps to understand why they aren’t used here.

Remember that the DPT vaccine, which protects folks against diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, came under attack in the 1970s and 80s as some folks blamed the vaccine for causing vaccine injuries, including seizures and encephalopathy. It didn’t, but we still got a new vaccine, DTaP, which doesn’t seem to work as well.

“Although concerns about possible adverse events following their administration have led to the adoption of acellular pertussis vaccines in some countries, whole-cell pertussis vaccines are still widely produced and used globally in both developed and developing countries. Whole-cell pertussis vaccines that comply with WHO requirements, administered according to an optimal schedule have a long and successful record in the control of whooping cough. Furthermore, the excellent efficacy of some currently available whole-cell pertussis vaccine has also been shown, not only in recent clinical trials, but also on the basis of the resurgence of disease where vaccination has been interrupted or when coverage has markedly decreased. Therefore, WHO continues to recommend whole-cell pertussis vaccines for use in national immunization programmes.”

WHO on Recommendations for whole-cell pertussis vaccine

The WHO now recommends that if countries do switch to DTaP,  the acellular pertussis vaccine, they should be prepared to add additional periodic booster doses and immunizations during pregnancy, which may still “may not be sufficient to prevent resurgence of pertussis.”

The OPV vaccine, on the other hand, was replaced because it can rarely cause vaccine-associated paralytic polio (VAPP) and circulating vaccine-derived polio virus (cVDPV). Of course, it does it at much lower rates than wild polio virus, so until polio is well controlled, the benefit of using OPV outweighs the risk. In addition to being less expensive and easier to use, OPV has the benefit over IPV of providing better herd immunity.

At some point, as we did in the United States in 2000, countries make a switch to the IPV vaccine.

In 2016, remaining countries that use OPV switched from trivalent OPV to bivalent OPV, because wild polio virus type 2 was eradicated in 1999. Once the remaining two types are eradicated, we can stop using the OPV vaccine altogether.

Until then, countries either use:

  • OPV plus one dose of IPV
  • sequential IPV-OPV schedules – high vaccine coverage and low risk of wild polio importation
  • IPV only schedules – sustained high vaccine coverage and very low risk of wild polio importation

So there is no conspiracy. These vaccines are safe and they work.

Without them, there would be over:

  • 1.3 million pertussis related deaths each year
  • 600,000 cases of paralytic polio each year

With most of these cases affecting young children.

More on the Continued Use of DPT and OPV Vaccines