Tag: eradicated diseases

Is Polio Returning to Venezuela?

Breaking News – further tests have found that the person with suspected polio did not have either wild polio or vaccine-derived poliovirus (VDPV). Could it still be polio? (see below).

Polio is on the verge of being eradicated.

In 2017, there have only been 118 cases of polio in the whole world, including 22 cases of wild poliovirus in Afghanistan and Pakistan and 96 cases of vaccine-derived poliovirus (VDPV) in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Syria.

So far this year, there have only been 15 cases of polio in the whole world, including 10 cases of wild poliovirus in Afghanistan and Pakistan and five cases of vaccine-derived poliovirus (VDPV) in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria.

Is Polio Returning to Venezuela?

Most of us are aware that vaccine-preventable diseases are just a plane ride away.

We see it, or at least read about it, all of the time, as we continue to see outbreaks of measles affecting our communities.

But polio?

Could polio return?

Venezuela has been polio free for nearly 30 years. The last case of a wild poliovirus infection was in March 1989. And yet ,there are now thought to be at least four cases of poliovirus, type 3 in the Delta Amacuro state of north east Venezuela, where they are also seeing cases of diphtheria and measles.

Report of polio in Venezuela

Among the polio cases is a 2-year-old boy who was unvaccinated, an unvaccinated child who lived next to him, and a partially vaccinated child 8-year-old who lived next door.

“It has been reported unofficially that it is polio vaccine virus.”

Venezuelan Society of Public Health Report

But what is the source of the polio vaccine virus?

We supposedly stopped using oral polio vaccines that can shed in January 2016, right?

Actually, we began the switch from trivalent OPV (tOPV) to bivalent OPV (bOPV) in 2016, removing the the type 2 polio virus that is most likely to cause VAPP. Making sure kids get a dose of IPV first also lowers the risk of VAPP. At least it does when kids get vaccinated according to plan.

“Other children from the same community were vaccinated in April 2018 with oral bivalent polio vaccine.”

PAHO on Epidemiological Update Detection of Sabin type 3 vaccine poliovirus in a case of Acute Flaccid Paralysis 

When did the first case appear? Although we are just hearing about it now, his symptoms began in April, right around the time another child received a bivalent oral polio vaccine.

“No additional AFP cases have been identified to date through active search for AFP cases carried out in the community.”

PAHO on Epidemiological Update Detection of Sabin type 3 vaccine poliovirus in a case of Acute Flaccid Paralysis 

Fortunately, in the past month, no further cases have been identified.

Children in Venezuela are supposed to get at least one dose of IPV (inactivated polio vaccine), followed by four doses of bOPV (bivalent oral polio vaccine).
Children in Venezuela are supposed to get at least one dose of IPV (inactivated polio vaccine), followed by four doses of bOPV (bivalent oral polio vaccine).

So what does this all mean?

For one thing, wild polio isn’t returning to Venezuela. And it doesn’t look like we will see a large outbreak of cVDPV, as there are no further cases of AFP in the area.

But it does illustrate that we can easily see a return of vaccine-preventable disease if we don’t keep vaccinating until they are eradicated. Remember, low vaccination coverage is associated with outbreaks of cVDPV. If everyone is vaccinated and protected, then they won’t get polio, whether it is wild type or shed from someone who was vaccinated.

Latest Updates on AFP in Venezuela

While a Sabin type 3 polio virus had been initially isolated from the stool samples of the unvaccinated 34-month-old boy with polio symptoms, further tests have now been completed.

“Tests carried out by the specialized global laboratory for genetic sequencing have ruled out the presence of both wild poliovirus and vaccine-derived poliovirus (VDPV). The latter- VDPV- is a Sabin virus with genetic mutations that give it the ability to produce the disease. There is no risk of spread to the community or outbreaks of polio from this case.”

PAHO

So what does he have?

The possibilities are non-polio AFP, as many viruses and other diseases can cause polio-like symptoms.

So why did he have the Sabin type 3 polio virus in his stool?

It is well known that the oral polio vaccines shed. Even though he was  unvaccinated, he was likely exposed to others in the community who were recently vaccinated, as it is possible to shed the vaccine virus in your stool. The attenuated (weakened) vaccine virus is unlikely to cause symptoms though, unless it develops the mutations found in VDPV strains, which this one didn’t.

“The child is being further evaluated clinically to determine alternative causes of paralysis. The final classification of the case of acute flaccid paralysis [to define whether or not it is associated with the vaccine] will be based on clinical and virological criteria assessed at 60 days after the onset of paralysis.”

PAHO

So despite what folks are reporting, they didn’t say that this case couldn’t be associated with the polio vaccine. We just know that it is isn’t wild polio and the virus doesn’t have the mutations associated with cVDPV strains, which can not only cause polio symptoms, but can also spread from one person to another, causing outbreaks.

Remember, although the attenuated vaccine virus in the oral polio vaccine is unlikely to cause polio symptoms, it sometimes can, in about 1 in 2.7 million doses.

“VAPP at this time can’t be ruled out, of course, as it’s one of the possibilities.”

Communications Officer
Global Polio Eradication Initiative

Could this child have VAPP?

“A VAPP case was most often defined as a case of acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) with residual paralysis (compatible with paralytic poliomyelitis) lasting at least 60 days, and occurring in an OPV recipient between 4 and 40 days after the dose of OPV was administered, or in a person who has had known contact with a vaccine recipient between 7 and 60–75 days after the dose of OPV was administered.”

Platt et al on Vaccine-Associated Paralytic Poliomyelitis: A Review of the Epidemiology and Estimation of the Global Burden

I guess we will find out in a few weeks, as his symptoms started at the end of April.

Still, remember that VAPP is not contagious.

What to Know About Polio Returning to Venezuela

Several cases of a vaccine strain of polio virus have been found in Venezuela, which is linked to low vaccinated levels.

More on Polio Returning to Venezuela

Updated June 17, 2018

Costs of a Measles Outbreak

The endemic spread of measles was eliminated in the United States in 2000, but unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped us from having outbreaks of measles each year.

Since reaching a record low of just 37 cases of measles in 2004, other milestones in the measles timeline we should all know about include that there were:

  • 220 measles cases in 2011, a 15-year record and the highest number of cases since 1996 at least until 2014, when we had at least 667 cases
  • 58 cases in the 2013 New York City measles outbreak and for a short time, the largest outbreak since the endemic spread of measles was eliminated in the United States
  • 382 cases in the 2014 measles outbreak in Ohio and now the largest outbreak since the endemic spread of measles was eliminated in the United States
  • 170 measles cases in the first few months of 2015, including a large outbreak in California that was linked to Disneyland.
  • 188 cases and a measles death in 2015

That’s still far below where we used to be though, especially when you consider that before the first measles vaccine was licensed, there was an average of about 549,000 measles cases and 495 measles deaths in the United States each year.

Containing a Measles Outbreak

Several factors help to limit the measles outbreaks that we continue to see in the United States. Most important is that fact that despite the talk of personal belief vaccine exemptions and vaccine-hesitant parents not getting their kids vaccinated, we still have high population immunity.

In the United States, 90.8% of children get at least one dose of the MMR vaccine by the time they are 35 months old and 91.1% of teens have two doses. While not perfect, that is still far higher than the 81% immunization rates the UK saw from 2002 to 2004, when Andrew Wakefield started the scare about the MMR vaccine. Instead of overall low immunization rates, in the U.S., we have “clusters of intentionally under-vaccinated children.”

It also helps that the measles vaccine is highly effective. One dose of a measles vaccine provides about 95% protection against measles infection. A second, “booster” dose helps to improve the effectiveness of the measles vaccine to over 99%.

To further help limit the spread of measles, there are a lot of immediate control measures that go into effect once a case of measles has been suspected, from initiating contact investigations and identifying the source of the measles infection to offering postexposure prophylaxis or quarantining close contacts.

That’s an awful lot of work.

A 2013 measles outbreak in Texas required 1,122 staff hours and 222 volunteer hours from the local health department to contain.

Costs of a Measles Outbreak

In addition to requiring a lot of work, containing a measles outbreak is expensive.

A study reviewing the impact of 16 outbreaks in the United States in 2011 concluded that “investigating and responding to measles outbreaks imposes a significant economic burden on local and state health institutions. Such impact is compounded by the duration of the outbreak and the number of potentially susceptible contacts.”

We still don’t know what it cost to contain many big outbreaks, like the ones in New York City and Ohio, but we do know that it cost:

  • over $2.3 million to contain the 2017 outbreak in Minnesota – 75 people got measles, 71 were unvaccinated, and more than 500 people were quarantined over a 5 month period
  • up to an estimated $3.91 million (but likely much more) to contain the 2015 outbreaks in California
  • two unrelated cases in Colorado in 2016 cost $49,769 and $18,423, respectively to investigate
  • $50,758.93 to contain an outbreak at a megachurch in Texas
  • $150,000 to contain (13 cases) an outbreak in Cook County, Illinois
  • $223,223 to contain (5 cases, almost all unvaccinated) to contain another outbreak in Clallam County, Washington, an outbreak that was linked to the death of an immunocompromised woman.
  • more than $190,000 of personnel costs in Alameda County, with 6 cases and >700 contacts, it is estimated that over 56 staff spent at least 3,770 hours working to contain the outbreak
  • $5,655 to respond to all of the people who were exposed when a 13-year-old with measles was seen in an ambulatory pediatric clinic in 2013
  • $130,000 to contain a 2011 measles outbreak in Utah
  • $24,569 to contain a 2010 measles outbreak in Kentucky
  • $800,000 to contain (14 cases, all unvaccinated) a 2008 measles outbreak at two hospitals in Tuscon, Arizona
  • $176,980 to contain a 2008 measles outbreak in California
  • $167,685 to contain a 2005 measles outbreak in Indiana – unvaccinated 17-year-old catches measles on church mission trip to Romania, leading to 34 people getting sick, including an under-vaccinated hospital worker who ends up on a ventilator for 6 days
  • $181,679 (state and local health department costs) to contain a 2004 measles outbreak in Iowa triggered by a unvaccinated college student’s trip to India
Ending with 667 cases, 2014 became the worst year for measles in the United States since 1994.
Ending with 667 cases, 2014 became the worst year for measles in the United States since 1994. How much did these outbreaks cost to contain?

It is important to keep in mind that these costs are often only for the direct public health costs to the county health department, including staff hours and the value of volunteer hours, etc. Additional costs that come with a measles outbreak can also include direct medical charges to care for sick ($14,000 to $16,000) and exposed people, direct and indirect costs for quarantined families (up to $775 per child), and outbreak–response costs to schools and hospitals, etc.

We should also consider what happens when our state and local health departments have to divert so much time and resources to deal with these types of vaccine-preventable diseases instead of other public health matters in the community. Do other public health matters take a back seat as they spend a few months responding to a measles outbreak?

There were 220 cases of measles in the United States in 2011. To contain just 107 of those cases in 16 outbreaks, “the corresponding total estimated costs for the public response accrued to local and state public health departments ranged from $2.7 million to $5.3 million US dollars.”

In contrast, it will costs about $77 to $102 to get a dose of the MMR vaccine if you don’t have insurance. So not only do vaccines work, they are also cost effective.

What to Know About the Costs of a Measles Outbreak

Containing a measles outbreak is expensive – far more expensive than simply getting vaccinated and protected.

More on the Costs of a Measles Outbreak

How Many People Die from Vaccine Preventable Diseases These Days?

People don’t often die from vaccine-preventable diseases these days.

At least not in industrial countries.

Deaths from Vaccine-Preventable Diseases Today

Well, they aren’t supposed to.

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.

Tragically, we are seeing more and more deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases every day in countries that once had these diseases under good control:

  • over 100 measles deaths across Europe and a measles death in the United States a few years ago
  • diphtheria deaths in Australia, Belgium, South Africa, and Venezuela
  • life-threatening tetanus cases in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Ukraine
  • a rabies death in the United States in a child who’s parents skipped the post-exposure rabies vaccine
  • pertussis deaths in the United States
  • influenza – a record number of deaths in the United States, with most kids unvaccinated
  • rotavirus – yes, unvaccinated kids still die of rotavirus in the United States in the 21st Century! In a recent outbreak in California, in which a child died, almost all of the kids were unvaccinated.

And not surprisingly, these deaths are almost always in unvaccinated children.

Deaths from Vaccine-Preventable Diseases in the Pre-Vaccine Era

While tragic, we are still fortunate that these deaths are no where close to the levels we once saw before we had vaccines to protect our kids.

In the pre-vaccine era, we used to see:

  • up to 15,000 deaths and 200,000 diphtheria cases each year until the 1940s
  • an average of 175,000 cases of pertussis each year in the early 1940s, with about 1,118 deaths from pertussis in 1950 and 467 deaths from pertussis in 1955
  • up to 20,000 cases of paralytic polio each year until the early 1950s
  • an average of about 186,000 cases of mumps each year before 1967, with an average of 40 deaths a year
  • up to 500 deaths and 500,000 measles cases each year until the early 1960s
  • a rubella epidemic in 1964-65 that caused 12.5 million rubella virus infections and “resulted in 11,250 therapeutic or spontaneous abortions, 2,100 neonatal deaths, and 20,000 infants born with congenital rubella syndrome”
  • up to 20,000 cases of invasive H. influenzae (Hib) disease each year, with more than half of them having meningitis, and about 300 to 600 deaths, mostly children under age 2 years. In 1980, 45 children died with epiglottitis and there were an additional 222 deaths from Hib meningitis.
  • up to 11,000 hospitalizations and 100 chicken pox deaths each year until 1995
  • up to 17,000 cases of invasive pneumococcal disease in children younger than 5 years each year (before 2000), including 13,000 cases of bacteremia (blood infection) and 700 cases of pneumococcal meningitis, with 200 deaths.
  • just over 400,000 visits to the doctor and up to 272,000 visits to the emergency room, 70,000 hospitalizations and 20 to 60 deaths each year in children under age 5 years because of rotavirus infections until 2006

But that deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases aren’t common is hardly a reason to skip or delay your child’s vaccines, as some might suggest. It is just testament to the fact that vaccines work.

That these deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases quickly rise as rates of vaccinations drop is a tragic reminder that vaccines are necessary.

As more people are vaccinated and diseases disappear, they forget how bad those diseases are, skip or delay getting their vaccines, and trigger outbreaks.
As more people are vaccinated and diseases disappear, they forget how bad those diseases are, skip or delay getting their vaccines, and trigger outbreaks. Photo by WHO

And what makes it even more tragic is that this was all predicted and could have been prevented if folks didn’t listen to anti-vaccine propaganda that scares them away from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

Worldwide Deaths from Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

Of course, talk of deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases shouldn’t stop with the developed or industrial world.

Even as a lot of progress is being made, as more and more people get vaccinated, worldwide, there were:

  • about 89,780 measles deaths, mostly young children
  • about 215,000 deaths from rotavirus infections
  • at least 1 million deaths from hepatitis B
  • almost 200,000 deaths from Hib
  • over 4,200 deaths from chicken pox
  • about 50,000 deaths from meningococcal infections
  • about 160,000 deaths from pertussis
  • about 826,000 deaths from pneumococcal infections
  • almost 60,000 deaths from rabies
  • just over 70,000 deaths from tetanus
  • about 222,000 deaths from typhoid
  • between 30,000 to 60,000 deaths from yellow fever

As you can see, most of these diseases are still big killers around the world.

“You hear about people who don’t like to vaccinate their kids in the Western world, which I suppose is a personal choice, but when you’re out there, the result of your children not being vaccinated is that they’ll likely die, or be horribly maimed. So yes, I saw a real desire to have their children protected, and also a real understanding of it – I didn’t seem to come across anybody who went ‘What is it?’ Or ‘What does it do?’ They all seemed to know about it.”

Ewan McGregor on Cold Chain Mission

In most of these countries, the problem is access to vaccines though, not parents refusing to get their kids vaccinated.

What to Know About Deaths from Vaccine Preventable Diseases

Unvaccinated kids are still dying from vaccine-preventable diseases.

More on Deaths from Vaccine Preventable Diseases

Which Vaccine Is the Most Dangerous?

In 2002, Dan Rather did a report for 60 Minutes on “The Most Dangerous Vaccine.”

Can you guess which vaccine he was reporting on?

Which Vaccine Is the Most Dangerous?

You are thinking his report was about MMR, the so-called “autism shot,” right?

“And then the nurse gave my son that shot. And I remember going, “Oh, God, no!” And soon thereafter I noticed a change. The soul was gone from his eyes.”

Jenny McCarthy on Oprah

It was around the time that the “media’s MMR hoax” was in high gear.

“Whatever you think about Andrew Wakefield, the real villains of the MMR scandal are the media.”

Ben Goldacre on The MMR story that wasn’t

But 60 Minutes had already done a segment on “The MMR Vaccine” with Andrew Wakefield back in 2000.

The smallpox vaccine was considered the most dangerous as President Bush decided whether or not it was necessary to vaccinate millions against this deadly disease.
The smallpox vaccine was considered the most dangerous as President Bush decided whether or not it was necessary to vaccinate millions against this deadly disease.

No, this story was about the smallpox vaccine.

And if you had to rank vaccines from safest to most dangerous, then yes, you could say that the original smallpox vaccine, the one with the most side effects, is the most dangerous.

Fortunately, that very same smallpox vaccine helped eradicate smallpox and few of us need to even think about getting a smallpox vaccine. It is still given to some folks in the military though and is available if necessary.

The story was about a plan to vaccinate many more people, including hospital workers. At the time, there was a worry about terrorist attacks using smallpox.

“Here’s another way to do it. We can make the vaccine. Make sure we understand who’s going to get it, who’s going to be giving it. Then wait, wait for there to be one case of documented smallpox somewhere on the face of this earth and then we can move into vaccinating people, large numbers of people.”

Paul Offit, MD

Not everyone was on board with the plan though. Dr. Offit, for one, didn’t think that it was a good idea to start vaccinating people for a threat that we didn’t know would appear, especially since the older smallpox vaccine had more side effects than other, more modern vaccines.

Again, that doesn’t mean that the smallpox vaccine is dangerous.

Smallpox is dangerous and deadly. If there is a risk that you could get smallpox, then you would much rather have the smallpox vaccine, even with its side effect profile.

And fortunately, a new attenuated smallpox vaccine, Imvamune, is also available and has less side effects. Two other smallpox vaccines, ACAM2000 and APSV, which are similar to the original DryVax vaccine that was used in the US, are also still being used until Imvamune is formally approved by the FDA.

Vaccine preventable diseases are dangerous.

While they aren’t 100% without risk, vaccines, from rotavirus to HPV, are safe and necessary.

What To Know About the Most Dangerous Vaccine

All vaccines are safe and effective, but if you had to rank them, the original smallpox vaccine would be the most dangerous because it has the most side effects.

More on the Most Dangerous Vaccine

 

Vaccines Statistics and Numbers

To help you get better educated about vaccines, it can help to learn some vaccine statistics and some other numbers behind vaccines.

Vaccine Statistics

For all of the talk of some folks delaying or skipping vaccines, do you know how many vaccines are given each day?

According to the CDC, from 2006 to 2016, at least 3,153,876,236 doses of vaccines were distributed in the United States. These are the vaccines that are covered by the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, such as DTaP, MMR, Hepatitis A and B, HPV, and flu, etc.

That’s over 286 million doses each year!

The WHO reports that 85% of infants around the world receive vaccines against DTP, polio, measles, and hepatitis B.
The WHO reports that 85% of infants around the world receive vaccines against DTP, polio, measles, and hepatitis B.

How about worldwide?

That’s harder to know, but consider that the World Health Organization reports that 85% of infants worldwide, or almost 100 million infants, get at least:

  • 3 doses of DTP
  • 3 doses of hepatitis B
  • at least one doses of measles
  • 3 doses of polio

Plus, an increasing number are getting vaccines to protect them against Hib, pneumococcal disease, rotavirus, HPV, meningitis A, mumps, rubella, tetanus, and yellow fever.

“UNICEF supplies vaccines reaching 45 per cent of the world’s children under five years old as part of its commitment to improving child survival.”

How many vaccine doses are we talking about?

A lot. UNICEF alone buys 2.8 billion doses of vaccines each year! Those vaccines are then distributed to children in over 100 countries.

Vaccine-Preventable Disease Statistics

As impressive as the number of vaccines that are given each year are the numbers about what happens when we give vaccines:

  • there are 2 to 3 million fewer deaths in the world each year because people are vaccinated and protected
  • in the Unites States, every $1 spent on vaccines provides $3 in direct benefits and up to $10 in benefits if you include societal costs
  • in developing countries, every $1 spent on vaccines provides $16 in direct benefits, but that goes up to $44 when you take “into account the broader economic impact of illness”
  • for children born in the United States during “1994–2013, routine childhood immunization was estimated to prevent 322 million illnesses (averaging 4.1 illnesses per child) and 21 million hospitalizations (0.27 per child) over the course of their lifetimes and avert 732,000 premature deaths from vaccine-preventable illnesses,” and it also “will potentially avert $402 billion in direct costs and $1.5 trillion in societal costs because of illnesses prevented”
  • only two countries continue to have wild polio – Afghanistan and Pakistan – and together, they only had 21 cases in 2017

Still, only one vaccine-preventable disease, smallpox, has been eradicated.

And worldwide, more than 3 million people still die from vaccine-preventable diseases every year, many of them young children.

Other Vaccine Numbers

There are some other numbers about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases folks should know:

  • the number of pediatricians who got a $3 million vaccine bonus – zero
  • the number of vaccines that contain antifreeze as an ingredient – zero
  • the number of vaccines that contain peanut oil as an ingredient – zero
  • the number of studies that link vaccines to autism – zero
  • the number of diseases that homeopathic vaccines can prevent – zero
  • the number of anti-vaccine sites that mention any benefits of vaccines – zero
  • the number of VAERS reports that are thought to be unrelated to a vaccine – 53%
  • the number of VAERS reports that are thought to be definitely caused by a vaccine – 3%
  • the number of definite VAERS reports that were serious – 1 (anaphylaxis)
  • the number of myths about vaccines that can scare you away from vaccinating and protecting your kids – 100s

Vaccines work. Vaccines are safe. Vaccines are necessary.

Get vaccinated and protected.

What’s the biggest number you should be thinking about? Way too many people are still getting and dying from vaccine-preventable diseases.

What to Know About Vaccine Statistics

Although more work needs to be done to protect more people, vaccine statistics clearly show that vaccines work and that they are safe and necessary.

More on Vaccines Statistics

The Unvaccinated Child

We know that your unvaccinated child is not healthier than vaccinated children.

And we know that among pediatric flu deaths, most are unvaccinated.

What else do we know about unvaccinated children?

Who’s Who Among Unvaccinated Children

Many children with cancer and other medical conditions benefit from herd immunity.
Many children with cancer and other medical conditions have medical exemptions to getting vaccinated and benefit from herd immunity. (CC BY 2.0)

Although it seems like unvaccinated kids all get grouped together, it is important to remember that not all unvaccinated kids are intentionally unvaccinated.

Some are too young to be vaccinated or fully vaccinated, some have medical exemptions, usually to just one or a few vaccines, and sometimes just temporary, and some have skipped or delayed one or more vaccines because of a lack of access to health care.

Whatever the reason, they are all at risk because they are unvaccinated.

The intentionally unvaccinated child poses the bigger risk though, because they tend to cluster together and are more likely to be either completely unvaccinated or to have skipped multiple vaccines. A child with a medical exemption because she is getting chemotherapy, on the other hand, very likely lives with a family who is completely vaccinated and protected. Similarly, a child with an allergy to a vaccine likely isn’t missing multiple vaccines.

Risks to the Unvaccinated Child

Of course, the main risk to the unvaccinated child is that they will get a potentially life-threatening vaccine-preventable disease.

While many vaccine-preventable diseases are no longer endemic in the United States and other developed countries, they have not been eradicated.

People do still get vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States.

And tragically, people do still die of vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States.

Can’t you just hide in the herd, depending on everyone else to be vaccinated and protected to keep these diseases away from your unvaccinated child? While that ends up being what happens most of the time, as there are no real alternatives to getting vaccinated, that strategy doesn’t always work. And it is a gamble that’s not worth taking and won’t keep working if more parents skip or delay getting their kids vaccinated.

Risks of the Unvaccinated Child to Everyone Else

Unvaccinated kids are also a risk to those around them, as they are more likely to get sick with a vaccine-preventable disease, since they have no immunity. No, they are not an instant danger if they don’t actually have a vaccine-preventable disease, but since you can be contagious a few days before you have symptoms, you are not always going to know when your child is sick and a risk to others.

Why does that matter if everyone else is vaccinated and immune?

Well, obviously, everyone else is not vaccinated and immune, including those with medical exemptions and those who are too young to be vaccinated. And since vaccines aren’t perfect, some people who are vaccinated can still get sick.

That’s why it is critical that if your unvaccinated child is sick or was exposed to someone who is sick, you are sure to:

  • notify health professionals about your child’s immunization status before seeking medical attention, as they will likely want to take precautions to keep you from exposing others to very contagious diseases like measles, mumps, and pertussis
  • follow all appropriate quarantine procedures that may have been recommended, which often extends up to 21 days after the last time you were exposed to someone with a vaccine-preventable disease
  • seek medical attention, as these are not mild diseases and they can indeed be life-threatening, even in this age of modern medicine

Hopefully you will think about all of these risks before your unvaccinated child has a chance to sick.

Getting Your Unvaccinated Child Caught Up

Fortunately, many unvaccinated kids do eventually get caught up on their vaccines.

It may be that they had a medical exemption that was just temporary and they are now cleared to get fully vaccinated.

Or they might have had parents who were following a non-standard, parent-selected, delayed protection vaccine schedule, but they have now decided to get caught up to attend daycare or school.

Others get over their fears as they get further educated about vaccines and vaccine myths and decide to get caught up and protected.

Is it ever too late to get vaccinated?

Actually it is.

In addition to the fact that your child might have already gotten sick with a particular vaccine preventable diseases, some vaccines are only given to younger kids.

For example, you have to be less than 15 weeks old to start the rotavirus vaccine. And you should get your final dose before 8 months. That means that if you decide to start catching up your fully unvaccinated infant at 9 months, then you won’t be able to get him vaccinated and protected against rotavirus disease. Similarly, Hib vaccine isn’t usually given to kids who are aged 5 years or older and Prevnar to kids who are aged 6 years or older, unless they are in a  high risk group.

Still, you will be able to get most vaccines. And using combination vaccines, you should be able to decrease the number of individual shots your child needs to get caught up. An accelerated schedule using minimum age intervals is also available if you need to get caught up quickly.

You should especially think about getting quickly caught up if there is an outbreak in your area or if you are thinking about traveling out of the country, as many vaccine-preventable diseases are still endemic in other parts of the world.

What to Know About The Unvaccinated Child

The main things to understand about the unvaccinated child is that they aren’t healthier than other kids, are just at more risk for getting a vaccine preventable disease, and should get caught up on their vaccines as soon as possible.

More on The Unvaccinated Child

Diphtheria in Canada

Breaking News – there is a new case of diphtheria in Canada (June 2018), and no, according to health officials, this one is not cutaneous diphtheria.

A lot of people were surprised by the news of a case of diphtheria in Canada last year.

Some folks were quick to blame the anti-vaccine movement, assuming it was in an unvaccinated child.

News soon came that the child was vaccinated!

“I’ve always been on top of that, I’m a firm believer in immunizations.”

Mother of 10-year-old with diphtheria

What happened next?

Anti-vaccine folks began using the fact that he was vaccinated, but still developed diphtheria, as some kind of proof that vaccines don’t work.

The Case of Diphtheria in Canada

They are wrong.

The diphtheria vaccines have worked very well to control and eliminate diphtheria from Canada, just like it has in the United States.

Diphtheria has become rare since the pre-vaccine era.
Diphtheria has become rare since the pre-vaccine era.

So how did a vaccinated child in Canada get diphtheria?

It’s simple.

He has cutaneous diphtheria, not respiratory diphtheria.

What’s the difference?

“Extensive membrane production and organ damage are caused by local and systemic actions of a potent exotoxin produced by toxigenic strains of C. diphtheriae. A cutaneous form of diphtheria commonly occurs in warmer climates or tropical countries.”

Vaccines Seventh Edition

Cutaneous diphtheria occurs on your skin. It is usually caused by non-toxigenic strains of Corynebacterium diphtheriae.

On the other hand, respiratory diphtheria is usually caused by toxigenic strains of Corynebacterium diphtheriae.

Diphtheria strikes unprotected children.The diphtheria vaccine (the ‘D’ in DTaP and Tdap), a toxoid vaccine, covers toxigenic strains. More specifically, it covers the toxin that is produced by toxigenic strains of Corynebacterium diphtheriae. It is this toxin that produces the pseudomembrane that is characteristic of diphtheria.

It was the formation of this pseudomembrane in a child’s airway that gave diphtheria the nickname of the “strangling angel.”

So why the fuss over this case in Canada? They likely don’t yet know if it is a toxigenic strain. If it is, then it could be a source of respiratory diphtheria.

But remember, even if these kids developed an infection with the toxigenic strain of Corynebacterium diphtheriae, those that are fully vaccinated likely wouldn’t develop respiratory diphtheria. Again, it is the toxin that the bacteria produces that cause the symptoms of diphtheria. The vaccine protects against that toxin.

For example, when an intentionally unvaccinated 6-year-old in Spain was hospitalized with severe diphtheria symptoms a few years ago, although many of his friends also got infected, non of them actually developed symptoms because they were all vaccinated.

Diphtheria Is Still Around

Diphtheria is DeadlyTragically though, especially since diphtheria is still endemic in many countries, we are starting to see more and more lethal cases of diphtheria, including cases in many more countries where it was previously under control:

  • at least 142 diphtheria deaths in Venezuela since 2016, among about 1,602 cases
  • at least 85 deaths in Yemen, among about 1,584 cases since 2017
  • at least six deaths among Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh
  • at least two cases of diphtheria in Ukraine
  • a family that became infected in South Africa in which at least one child died (August 2017)
  • an unvaccinated 3-year-old who died in Belgium (2016)
  • a 22-year-old unvaccinated women who died in Australia (2011)

It is even more tragic that diphtheria is not under control in so many more countries.

In 2016, the WHO reported that there were just over 7,000 cases of diphtheria worldwide. While that is down from the 30,000 cases and 3,000 deaths in 2000, thanks to improved vaccination rates, there is still work to be done.

And as this recent case in Canada shows, diphtheria is still around in many more places than we would like to imagine.

Get educated. Vaccines are necessary.

What to Know About Diphtheria in Canada

A case of diphtheria in Canada is a good reminder that vaccines are still necessary.

More on Diphtheria in Canada

Updated on June 25, 2018