Tag: free-riders

What Did Benjamin Franklin Say About Vaccines?

Wait, we had vaccines when Ben Franklin was around?

You can learn what Benjamin Franklin thought about vaccines from his autobiography.
You can learn what Benjamin Franklin thought about vaccines from his autobiography.

That was a long time ago.

What Did Benjamin Franklin Say About Vaccines?

Well, we had variolation

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

Benjamin Franklin

The Benjamin Franklin quote many anti-vaccine folks are using these days (do anti-vaccine folks get daily talking points to use?) doesn’t really have anything to do with vaccines though, at least not in the way that they think it does.

“The Franklin quote he nodded to on Tuesday, ironically, means the opposite of what Paul was arguing. When Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety,” he was opposing the Penn family’s attempt to carve out an exception for themselves from the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s attempt to tax their lands for the collective good of frontier defense. The liberty Franklin was defending was the liberty the rest of us deserve now, too — liberty to choose to protect ourselves.”

Saad B Omer on Rand Paul is wrong: Vaccines are no threat to liberty

It should be clear that Ben Franklin’s quote shouldn’t be used to attack vaccine mandates. If anything, it can be used to attack free-riders and those who skip or delay vaccines and try to hide in the herd!

“It is a quotation that defends the authority of a legislature to govern in the interests of collective security. It means, in context, not quite the opposite of what it’s almost always quoted as saying but much closer to the opposite than to the thing that people think it means.”

Benjamin Wittes onBen Franklin’s Famous ‘Liberty, Safety’ Quote Lost Its Context In 21st Century

Interestingly, Benjamin Franklin did famously talk about vaccines, or at least smallpox variolation.

“In 1736 I lost one of my sons, a fine boy of four years old, by the small-pox, taken in the common way. I long regretted bitterly, and still regret that I had not given it to him by inoculation. This I mention for the sake of parents who omit that operation, on the supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a child died under it; my example showing that the regret may be the same either way, and that, therefore, the safer should be chosen.”

Benjamin Franklin

He got a little temporary safety, avoiding the side effects of variolation, but what were the consequences? What did he lose?

What do you lose when you make decisions about vaccines based on vaccine misinformation?

What do folks like Rand Paul have to gain by speaking out against vaccines?

More on Benjamin Franklin and Vaccines

Bob Sears on Hiding in the Herd

How do some intentionally unvaccinated kids get away without getting sick?

Mandatory vaccination laws still don't mean forced vaccination.
Mandatory vaccination laws still don’t mean forced vaccination.

How does a pediatrician get away without seeing kids harmed by vaccine-preventable diseases?

Bob Sears on Hiding in the Herd

Most folks know the answer

“And in my 20 years of pediatric practice, I have never once seen a child seriously harmed by a vaccine-targeted infection. Oh sure, I’ve seen kids get sick. And they all get better. And this is in a practice where most of my patients don’t vaccinate (or don’t anymore after one child suffers). So if anyone should be seeing kids get harmed from infections, it should be me, right? But not even one. “

Bob Sears

There are a few simple reasons that all of Dr. Bob’s intentionally unvaccinated kids all get better when they get sick.

In addition to respiratory problems (think iron lungs), polio causes muscle atrophy.
In addition to respiratory problems (think iron lungs), polio causes muscle atrophy. (CC BY-NC 4.0)

For one thing, vaccine-preventable diseases don’t kill every single person that gets them! Even in the pre-vaccine era, most kids did recover. Tragically though, not all did. And not all did without complications.

That’s why we say that you have to earn your natural immunity.

Even more importantly though, since most other parents vaccinate their kids, his intentionally unvaccinated kids are simply at less risk to get a vaccine-preventable disease.

They are hiding in the herd – free-riding and benefiting from the herd immunity that’s provided by those of us who do vaccinate and protect our kids.

Mostly though, Dr. Bob has been lucky.

185 kids, mostly unvaccinated, died with the flu last year.
185 kids, mostly unvaccinated, died with the flu last year.

And so have his patients.

They are especially lucky that more folks don’t listen to him and instead understand that vaccines are safe, with few risks.

“Here’s the thing…it doesn’t matter if vaccines played a role in reducing the incidence of certain diseases in industrialized nations 60 years ago. Yep, I said it. ***Decades have passed and we’re STILL vaccinating like we are in a developing country and it’s the year 1900.***”

Melissa Floyd

Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that kids were dying from Hib meningititis, Hib epiglotittis, pneumococcal disease, meningococcal disease, hepatitis B, and rotavirus. You don’t have to go back 60 years or all of the way to 1900!

“I also warn them not to share their fears with their neighbors, because if too many people avoid the MMR, we’ll likely see the diseases increase significantly.”

Dr. Bob Sears in The Vaccine Book

And that so many people do get vaccinated is the only thing keeping these diseases from coming back at even higher numbers.

Even Dr. Bob used to know that…

More on Bob Sears on Hiding in the Herd

Why Are We Worried About 60,000 Unvaccinated Kids?

In the recent New York Times OpEd, How to Inoculate Against Anti-Vaxxers, the editorial board mentioned the 60,000 children in Texas who “remain wholly unvaccinated thanks in part to an aggressive anti-vaccine lobby.”

“But there’s like 74 million children, so I think that’s a pretty small number. I don’t know why you guys are freaking out about 60,000 really healthy babies running around. Do you know?

Hillary Simpson

Hillary Simpson obviously doesn’t understand how herd immunity works.

Do you?

Why Are We Worried About 60,000 Unvaccinated Kids?

First things first, though.

Just how many unvaccinated kids are there in Texas? How about the United States?

It is actually hard to know exactly.

It's easy to forget, with so much talk about anti-vaxxers these days, but the great majority of parents vaccinate and protect their kids!
It’s easy to forget, with so much talk about anti-vaxxers these days, but the great majority of parents vaccinate and protect their kids!

In Texas, for instance, while only a small percentage of kids get non-medical vaccine exemptions, with about 7 million children in the state (yes, there are 74 million children in the United States, but that’s not how you measure herd immunity), that adds up to a lot of unvaccinated kids.

In addition to about 60,000 unvaccinated kids in school, there are homeschooled children who aren’t vaccinated.

“We’re probably looking at more than 100,000 kids in the state of Texas who are not getting their vaccines.”

Dr. Peter J. Hotez: “A Scary Anti-Science Movement Has Become Very Strong in Texas”

But still, should we be worried about 100,000 unvaccinated kids, when there are 7 million kids in Texas?

Don’t those immunization levels still keep us above herd immunity levels of protection?

Well, they likely would, and this would indeed be less concerning if the unvaccinated children were spread out randomly throughout the entire state. Of course, that’s not what happens and we instead get clusters of unvaccinated children (and adults) in very specific schools, neighborhoods, and even churches.

There are higher numbers of unvaccinated kids in very specific parts of the states, leading to pockets where it is more likely that an outbreak could happen.
There are higher numbers of unvaccinated kids in very specific parts of the states, leading to pockets where it is more likely that an outbreak could happen.

So while it can seem like we have herd immunity levels of protection at the state or city level because of high average vaccination levels, these pockets of susceptibles who are unvaccinated and live in the same neighborhood or go to the same school (where is the Waldorf school in Texas?) can mean that we don’t have herd immunity in those places, leading to outbreaks.

And that’s why we get concerned about 60 to 100,000 unvaccinated children who:

Still, remember that the great majority of parents understand the benefits of vaccines, are not scared by anti-vaccine propaganda, and vaccinate their kids.

In 2015, for example, only 1.3% of children in the United States had received no vaccines by age 24 months. And more than 90% of children completed their primary series of vaccines.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be concerned about those who don’t, but maybe you should be a little bit more concerned about your decision to not vaccinate your kids.

More on Clusters of Unvaccinated Kids

Is My Fully Vaccinated Child at Risk from Your Unvaccinated Kids?

Parents who skip or delay their own child’s vaccines often seem surprised that the rest of us are so concerned about their decision.

If vaccines work, they say, why do we care if their kids aren’t vaccinated?

Vaccines are protecting our kids, so they shouldn’t be at risk, right?

“Think of camping as an analogy. If everyone at a campground properly stores their food, bears won’t be enticed to come around. If even one person leaves their food unprotected, it invites bears in to investigate all the campsites for opportunities to eat.”

How does choosing not to immunize affect the community?

Of course, the issue isn’t just the risk to our fully vaccinated kids, but also the risk to those who are too young to be vaccinated, too young to be fully vaccinated, and those who can’t be vaccinated because of true medical contraindications.

In addition to those who are intentionally unvaccinated, these others often get caught up in outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases.

Is My Fully Vaccinated Child at Risk from Your Unvaccinated Kids?

But there is also a risk to those who are fully vaccinated, and no, that doesn’t mean that vaccines don’t work.

It just means that they don’t work 100% of the time.

And most of us don’t think that your vaccine choice should put our kids at extra risk.

Anti-vaccine propaganda pushes some folks to make bad decisions about vaccines.
Anti-vaccine propaganda pushes some folks to make bad decisions about vaccines.

Did you hear about the one measles outbreak in 2011 that was started by someone who was fully 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

The thing about that outbreak, is that of the 222 cases that year, she was the only one known to be vaccinated. So she was almost certainly exposed to measles by someone who wasn’t vaccinated.

As someone who was fully vaccinated, is it fair that she got caught up in those outbreaks?

It is especially unfair that our kids are at extra risk for vaccine-preventable diseases because some folks make a decision to leave their kids unvaccinated and unprotected because they believe anti-vaccine misinformation like:

  • you have nothing to worry about because your child is vaccinated – again, vaccines aren’t 100% effective, so there is still some risk until a disease is finally eradicated
  • someone who is vaccinated could also get your child sick – yes, but someone who is vaccinated would be less likely to get sick than someone who is unvaccinated
  • vaccinated kids are shedding virus, making everyone sick – no, they aren’t, not even during “shedding season
  • getting vaccinated doesn’t prevent disease, it just makes it so you have fewer symptoms, but you still get others sick – in most cases, vaccines keep you from getting sick altogether – they so prevent disease in most cases, but yes, if you still got sick, you will likely have milder symptoms than if you were completely unvaccinated
  • you can’t spread a disease you don’t have – that’s true, but if you are unvaccinated and unprotected, you are at much higher risk to get these diseases and then spread them to others
  • vaccines don’t prevent diseases from spreading anyway – if you don’t get a disease because you are vaccinated, you aren’t going to spread it
  • getting vaccinated just turns you into a carrier – this is about the study in baboons, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get vaccinated

What about the idea that you will just keep your unvaccinated kids home if they do catch something?

What are the chances that you could be exposed to measles during an outbreak?
What are the chances that you could be exposed to measles during an outbreak?

Looking at all of the places that the folks in the Clark County measles outbreak exposed others, it should be clear that waiting to quarantine your child if they get sick isn’t very effective.

What’s the problem?

An infant with measles during the 2014 outbreaks in the Philippines.
An infant with measles during the 2014 outbreaks in the Philippines. Photo by Jim Goodson, M.P.H.

With many diseases, you are contagious before you show symptoms. That is especially true with a disease like measles, when you may not even realize it is measles until you finally break out in a rash, after having 3 to 5 days of high fever.

That’s why it is important to vaccinate and protect your kids. When you skip or delay a vaccine, it is not just your own family that you are putting at risk.

More on Risks from Unvaccinated Kids

What Happens When You Research the Disease?

We know how anti-vaccine folks think.

Anti-vaccine math…

And now we know how they do their research

How Anti-Vaccine Folks Research Disease

If you’re like me, you are probably wondering why they picked 2016 as the year to research.

Why look just at 2016?

And, there you see it.

In the past 6 years, 2016 was the year with the fewest cases of measles. Why not choose 2017 or 2018 to do their research?

But let’s look at 2016, even though the information isn’t complete:

  • 86 cases
  • cases in 19 states, including Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah
  • a large outbreak in Arizona (31 cases) linked to a private detention center and all that is known is that 7 of 9 staff members who got measles had received at least one dose of MMR, and 3 had received their dose very recently
  • a large outbreak in Shelby County, Tennessee, at least 7 cases, including 6 unvaccinated and one partially vaccinated child
  • a large measles outbreak (17 cases) in Los Angeles County and Santa Barbara County that was linked to the Los Angeles Orthodox Jewish community
  • two cases in Colorado, including an unvaccinated toddler and an unvaccinated adult – outbreaks which cost at least $68,192 to control

And of th cases in 2016, it seems that just 16% were vaccinated.

What about the claim that 26% were vaccinated?

That wasn’t 26% of the total number of cases, but rather 26% of the cases among US residents.

So if you do the math, that’s just 14 cases that were vaccinated, and out of 86 cases, that’s really just 16%. And a lot of those cases are skewed by the one outbreak at the detention center, in which they may have only received one dose of MMR and nearly half may have gotten vaccinated after the caught had already started!

What about the claim that “the odds of dying from the measles are like 0.00000013%” using numbers “before the vaccine was introduced in 1963?”

“Before a vaccine became available in 1963, measles was a rite of passage among American children. A red rash would spread over their bodies. They would develop a high fever. Severe cases could cause blindness or brain damage, or even death.”

CDC says measles almost eliminated in U.S.

In the pre-vaccine era, your odds of getting measles were very high. Remember, everyone eventually got measles.

And looking at statistics of reported measles cases and reported measles deaths, we know that death occurred in about 1 to 3 in every 1,000 reported cases.

So everyone got measles, but not everyone survived having measles.

Even if you use a more liberal count of 1 death in 10,000 cases, when all kids get measles, that’s a lot of deaths. Remember, about 450 people used to die with measles each year.

What about your odds of dying with measles now?

If you are fully vaccinated, then they are extremely low.

They are pretty low if you are unvaccinated too, in most cases, because you are benefiting from herd immunity and the fact that most folks around you are vaccinated, reducing your risk of being exposed to measles. Still, the risk is much higher than most anti-vaccine folks expect, because they often make the mistake of using the entire population of the United States in their calculations. They should instead just use the folks who are unvaccinated and susceptible, a much smaller number.

Want to increase your risk?

  • travel out of the country
  • hang out in a cluster with other unvaccinated people
  • stay unvaccinated

The odds aren’t in your favor to avoid measles if you are unvaccinated. Eventually, your luck might run out.

Starting to see the mistakes anti-vaccine folks make when they say they have done their research?

“How do they know how many people would have gotten measles and how many of them would have died?!?”

It’s not rocket science.

It’s epidemiology.

“We constructed a state-space model with population and immunisation coverage estimates and reported surveillance data to estimate annual national measles cases, distributed across age classes. We estimated deaths by applying age-specific and country-specific case-fatality ratios to estimated cases in each age-country class.”

Simons et al on Assessment of the 2010 global measles mortality reduction goal: results from a model of surveillance data.

Unfortunately, after years of improvements, measles deaths increased in 2017. And they will continue to increase, as our risk of getting measles continues to increase if folks don’t get vaccinated and protected.

Lastly, why does it “sound like millions of people would have died without the measles vaccine?”

Maybe because millions of people died in previous years, before they were vaccinated and protected.

Indeed, do your research, but you will find that vaccine-preventable diseases aren’t as mild as anti-vaccine folks believe. That’s why it is important to get vaccinated and protected.

More on Researching Vaccine-Preventable Disease

People with Cancer Are at Risk from Unvaccinated Kids

We know that kids with cancer aren’t at risk from shedding if someone has recently been vaccinated.

Johns Hopkins Medicine, which includes the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System went out of their way to correct this anti-vaccine misinformation.
Johns Hopkins Medicine, which includes the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System went out of their way to correct this anti-vaccine misinformation.

The real risk comes from those who are unvaccinated.

People with Cancer Are at Risk from Unvaccinated Kids

Confused on how that works?

Kids with cancer typically have a compromised immune system, so are at greater risk for getting sick and catching infectious diseases. This includes a risk from vaccine-preventable diseases because they often can’t be vaccinated and any vaccines they had in the past might no longer provide protection.

Don’t believe me?

Want some examples?

  • a 6-year-old girl who was in remission for ALL and had just received her final dose of chemotherapy was admitted with fever and neutropenia, found to have measles, and died after 28 days of intense therapy (1989)
  • an 8-year-old being treated for leukemia developed chicken pox and died two weeks later (1998)
  • a partially vaccinated 4-year-old girl who was being treated for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) was exposed to a cousin with chicken pox and later developed multi-organ failure and died (2012)
  • a 26-year-old man who was being treated for chronic lymphocytic leukemia died in Switzerland after he became infected with measles (2017)
  • a 6-year-old boy with leukemia died in Italy after catching measles from his intentionally unvaccinated sibling (2017)

Of course, there are many more, including many kids with cancer who get exposed to a vaccine-preventable disease and have to get treated with immunoglobulin and hope they don’t get sick. And many more who do get sick and are treated in the hospital for weeks and months and thankfully, get better.

And there are even more who get caught up in quarantines because they have true medical contraindications to getting vaccinated, and so have to stay home from school with the intentionally unvaccinated kids whenever there is an outbreak of measles or chicken pox, etc.

What can we do about this?

Vaccinate our kids! We have a choice. These kids with cancer don’t.

More on People with Cancer at Risk from Unvaccinated Kids

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?