Tag: The Cutter Incident

Who is Alexander Langmuir?

Alexander Langmuir is typically described as a hero or titan of public health.

Then why do some folks think he was against the flu and measles vaccines?

Who is Alexander Langmuir?

Dr. Alexander Langmuir has been called the father of infectious disease epidemiology.

Why?

In 1949, he established the CDC’s Epidemiology Program. Actually, at the time, the CDC was still called the Communicable Disease Center.

Dr. Alexander Langmuir and his Polio Surveillance Unit at the EIS in 1955.
Dr. Alexander Langmuir and his Polio Surveillance Unit at the EIS in 1955.

Dr. Langmuir, as Chief Epidemiologist at CDC for 21 years, also:

  • founded the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS)
  • instituted a malaria surveillance system
  • established national disease surveillance system for the United States
  • was involved in resolving the Cutter incident
  • brought the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report to CDC
  • investigated the swine influenza virus vaccine incident, when it was thought that some people developed GBS after getting the new swine flu vaccine in 1976

His work saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

Don't believe any propaganda or quotes without sources attributed to Alexander Langmuir.
Don’t believe any propaganda or quotes without sources attributed to Dr. Alexander Langmuir.

Did he ever tell folks to not get a flu shot?

Was he ever concerned about mercury in flu shots?

Considering that Dr. Langmuir died in 1993, before folks became concerned about thimerosal in vaccines, that’s unlikely. That’s especially so considering that the only place you can find these types of quotes are on anti-vaccine websites.

Still, Langmuir was critical of flu shots.

“From this appraisal of the experience in the past three and one-half years, it is apparent that progress in the control of influenza has not been impressive.”

Langmuir et al. on The Epidemiological Basis For The Control Of Influenza

He didn’t think that they worked well enough. Or more importantly, he didn’t think we had enough information about how well they worked.

“Our information regarding the occurrence of influenza is largely qualitative. Schools close, absenteeism increases, medical services become taxed, virus isolations and serological identifications are made in great numbers, and daily accounts appear in our newspapers and on television. We know we have an epidemic and we know its specific cause, but we have few quantitative measures of incidence, age- and sex-specific attack rates, and character and severity of complications. Further- more, we have only crude data regarding mortality. We do not know what proportion of excess deaths occurs among reasonably active and productive citizens in contrast to deaths among persons who are already invalids suffering from severely debilitating pre-existing disease. Despite this serious deficiency we base our recommendations for vaccine use largely on mortality experience. We undertake major efforts to produce influenza vaccine in large amounts, but we have no meaningful information regarding its actual distribution. We do not know to what extent it actually reaches persons at highest risk.”

Langmuir et al. on A Critical Evaluation of Influenza Surveillance

But he wasn’t anti-vaccine.

And he never said that flu shots weren’t safe.

“The availability of potent and effective measles vaccines, which have been tested extensively over the past 4 years, provides the basis for the eradication of measles in any community that will raise its immune thresholds to readily attainable levels.”

Langmuir et al. on Epidemiologic Basis For Eradication Of Measles In 1967

And concerning all that he did in the field of public health, he is certainly not someone that anti-vaccine folks should be quoting.

More on Alexander Langmuir

Vaccination Tragedies are Rare

Vaccines work to prevent at least 2 to 3 million deaths each year worldwide.

Tragically, either because of errors or contamination, vaccines can sometimes actually cause people to get sick.

This can happen when health workers:

  • use a reconstituted vaccine after six hours – live vaccines can quickly become contaminated if they are kept and used for too long a time
  • mixup diluents – in addition to using the wrong diluent vaccination tragedies can occur when a dangerous medication is used instead of a vaccine’s standard diluent
  • improperly handle vaccines – breaking the cold chain
  • a vaccine is given to someone with a true medical contraindication

Fortunately, these situations are rare.

History of Vaccination Tragedies

With billions of doses of vaccines being given each year, it is likely not surprising that we see some problems. But when many of those vaccines are being given to kids, even one mishap, especially if it leads to life-threatening complications, is too many.

That’s why many safe guards have been put in place in the manufacturer and distribution of modern vaccines, so that we don’t see these types of vaccine tragedies:

  • the Cutter Incident, when, in 1955, at least 56 people developed polio and 5 children died after being vaccinated with inactivated polio vaccine that was poorly manufactured by Cutter Laboratories and still contained live polio virus
  • hepatitis-contaminated yellow fever vaccines – some lots of yellow fever vaccines used in the military in 1942 were unintentionally contaminated with the hepatitis B virus
  • the Lubeck Disaster – 75 children died and others got tuberculosis in 1929 Germany after there was a mixup between the BCG vaccine and the strain of Mycobacterium tuberculosis that causes tuberculosis. The BCG vaccine was supposed to be made with a weakened strain of Mycobacterium bovis bacteria instead.
  • the Bundaberg incident – 12 children died in Australia in 1928 after being given contaminated diphtheria vaccine from a multidose vial without preservative
  • tetanus contaminated smallpox vaccine in the 1890s and early 20th century

Although vaccines are much safer now, some rare incidents still occur.

Fifteen infants died and 75 children got sick in Syria in 2014 after they received a neuromuscular blocking agent, atracurium, instead of the measles vaccine they were supposed to get. How? The measles vaccine that was being used is mixed with a diluent, but instead of using the proper diluent, the health worker unintentionally used a bottle of atracurium instead.

In 2015, at least two kids died and 29 got sick in Chiapas, Mexico, among 52 children who were vaccinated. The children were reportedly given a BCG vaccine, the rotavirus vaccine, and/or a hepatitis B vaccine that day. However, the only vaccine that all of the sick children received in common was the hepatitis B vaccine. Since 130,000 doses from the same batch of vaccines had been given in the area, it was not thought to be a manufacturing problem or widespread issue. It was instead bacterial contamination of hepatitis B vaccine vials at that one clinic.

Fifteen children died in 2017 in a village in South Sudan after a poorly trained team that wasn’t adhering to WHO immunization safety standards used the same syringe to reconstitute measles vaccines over a four day period. They also didn’t keep the vaccine vials refrigerated.

“A single reconstitution syringe was used for multiple vaccine vials for the entire four days of the campaign instead of being discarded after single use. The reuse of the reconstitution syringe causes it to become contaminated which in turn contaminates the measles vaccine vials and infects the vaccinated children.”

Statement regarding findings of joint investigation of 15 deaths of children in Nachodokopele village, Kapoeta East County in South Sudan

As you can imagine, the conditions that led to these tragedies aren’t present when most kids get vaccinated.

Even in developing countries, most children get vaccinated by people adhering to WHO immunization safety standards. Why did they happened then? Both Syria and South Sudan have been rocked by war for years, leading to a breakdown in the ability to provide routine health care, even as basic as getting kids vaccinated. And Comunidad La Pimienta, Simojovel, Chiapas is a very poor part of southern Mexico.

These kinds of tragedies aren’t going to happen at your pediatrician’s office, as they don’t even have drugs like atracurium.

What Happened in Samoa?

Two toddlers died after being vaccinated at Safotu Hospital in Samoa.
Two toddlers died after being vaccinated at Safotu Hospital in Samoa.

In Samoa, four years after the deaths of the children in Syria, we are once again hearing about reports of deaths after kids were vaccinated with the MMR vaccine.

Two children in Samoa, both one-year-olds, died within minutes  of being vaccinated on the same day in the same hospital on the island of Savai’i.

Not surprisingly, as health officials investigate the cause, use of the MMR vaccine had been suspended in Samoa.

So what happened?

“Until the investigations have been completed and reported on we cannot say what did happen.

However, given the batch of vaccine involved had been in use in that country since August last year, and given the same batch of vaccine has been used in South American countries and the Caribbean island nations without incident, it seems unlikely that there was anything wrong with the vaccine.

The reports from the parents of the children affected on Friday indicate the reactions occurred within minutes after vaccination. This would preclude a response to the vaccine viruses as this takes at least a week. While anaphylaxis occurs within minutes and can be fatal when not treated the odds of seeing this twice in a day at the same place, given a chance of 1 in a million doses, is literally astronomical.”

Dr. Helen Petousis Harrison on What happened in Samoa?

Since it happened so quickly, it sounds like it could have been a mix-up with the diluent, as happened in Syria. A five dose vial of MMR is used in Samoa, which means that unlike premixed vaccines, it does have to be mixed with a diluent.

What about contamination? It is known that vaccine vials can be contaminated with Staphylococcus bacteria if they are mishandled. Although Staphylococcus bacteria can directly cause infections, they can also release a toxin that can cause toxic shock syndrome (TSS).

Considering how quickly these children got died though (within minutes), it isn’t likely that the vaccines became contaminated with Staphylococcus toxins. There have been reports of TSS following vaccination in the past, usually with vaccines that don’t use preservatives, but symptoms typically develop over four to 24 hours.

“This particular vaccine batch lot arrived to Samoa in August 2017 and has been in use since then. The same vaccine batch lot used in Samoa is also in use in a number of South American and Caribbean countries (Belize, Ecuador, St. Vincent, Trinidad Tobago, Chile, Aruba, Dutch Antilles, St. Kitts & Nevis and Cuba) with no reports of adverse events from those countries.”

Government of Samoa – Ministry of Health Press Statement

Could this be related to what happened to two other children in Samoa who had died after getting their MMR vaccines?

Almost certainly not. Those children, siblings, died years earlier, one in 2015 and the other in 2017. Neither died immediately after being vaccinated and there are reports that they may have had some kind of an immunodeficiency syndrome that contributed to their deaths.

“A number of media outlets are already covering these tragic events, speculating on the cause of death before the investigation is completed, and the stories have been picked up by the anti-vaccination movement.”

Government of Samoa – Ministry of Health Press Statement

That some folks would use these rare tragedies to scare parents from vaccinating and protecting their kids is shameful. But that’s the modern anti-vaccine movement

What to Know About Vaccination Tragedies

Kids shouldn’t get sick or die after getting vaccinated. Fortunately, they rarely do, except in extreme circumstances that can make it more likely for errors to occur.

More on Vaccination Tragedies

Are There Hidden Ingredients in Vaccines?

We know all of the ingredients in vaccines.

We know that they are safe and aren’t toxic.

So what now? Anti-vaccine folks move the goalposts and start talking conspiracy theories about hidden ingredients in vaccines.

Are There Hidden Ingredients in Vaccines?

There are no hidden ingredients in vaccines.

A list of ingredients is included on the vaccine’s package insert and can be found on a number of articles on the Internet.

That’s how we know that vaccines do not contain a vaginal spermicide, antifreeze, aborted fetal tissue, or peanut oil.

Multi-dose vials of flu vaccine still contain the preservative thimerosal.
It is no secret that multi-dose vials of flu vaccine still contain the preservative thimerosal, and that most flu vaccines are now thimerosal free.

One anti-vaccine group did test and find thimerosal in a vaccine, but it was a flu vaccine that said it contained thimerosal. How much did they find? The amount that was supposed to be in the vaccine… If they were really reporting about some kind of conspiracy, you would have thought they would have tested one of the thimerosal free flu vaccines that are available.

What about the idea that “some information regarding additives and residuals is considered to be a trade secret and thus confidential?”

The chapter in the book Vaccines where that quote comes from also states that because of FDA regulations “the use of, and quantity of, additives and residuals should be disclosed on the vaccine label.”

Specifically, vaccines labels must include:

  • the preservative used and its concentration
  • known sensitizing substances
  • the type and calculated amounts of antibiotics added during manufacture
  • the inactive ingredients when a safety factor
  • the adjuvant, if present
  • the source of the product when a factor in safe administration
  • the identity of each organism used in manufacture, and, where, applicable, the production medium and method of inactivation

So what are the trade secrets?

“It is important to recognize that FDA-approval of all new vaccines involves not only assessment of the antigens and final contents, but the entire process of synthesis. Each and every component introduced and used in the manufacture is scrutinized. While there are a wide array of excipients required to either manufacture, package or deliver effective immunity, each of these is part of this approval process.”

Vaccinophobia and Vaccine Controversies of the 21st Century

They are likely very specific details about the production process. In other words, how exactly they put all of the ingredients together to actually make the vaccine.

There is no secret about what’s in your child’s vaccines. No hidden ingredients either.

What about warnings over contaminates in vaccines?

When they rarely occur, contaminated vaccines are discovered and removed. Keep in mind that vaccines are very safe from contamination and the only issue with any recent incidents is that they are used by the anti-vaccine movement to further scare parents who are on the fence about vaccines.

What to Know About Hidden Ingredients in Vaccines

There are no secret or hidden ingredients in vaccines.

More on Hidden Ingredients in Vaccines

How Quickly Can You Debunk Anti-Vaccine Propaganda?

It is well known that much of the stuff on anti-vaccine websites is pure misinformation that is simply put out there to scare parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

At least it is well known by the people who understand that vaccines are safe, vaccines are necessary, and that vaccines work.

If you are on the fence or hesitant to vaccinate your kids, you might not be so sure and might not know who to trust when it comes to getting information about vaccines.

That’s why it is important to get educated, be skeptical, and do your own research.

How Quickly Can You Debunk Anti-Vaccine Propaganda?

What do you think about the following photo description that is making the rounds on anti-vaccine websites and on Facebook?

How quickly could you figure out if the information is true or not?

Is this a photo of kids in iron lungs because of the Cutter Incident?
Is this a photo of kids in iron lungs because of the Cutter Incident?

Of course, the Cutter Incident is actually true and plenty of folks ended up in iron lungs, mostly because of natural polio infections though, not because of the polio vaccine.

“In 1952 alone, nearly 60,000 children were infected with the virus; thousands were paralyzed, and more than 3,000 died.”

Jason Beaubien on Wiping Out Polio: How The U.S. Snuffed Out A Killer

Let’s start doing some research…

The first clue that this isn’t real is that the cases from the Cutter Incident would have been spread out over the five Western and mid-Western USA states where kids got this particular polio vaccine. With about 200 of them severely affected, they almost certainly would not have had such a large group of people in iron lungs, enough to fill a gymnasium, in just one area.

The next clue is that the iron lungs aren’t plugged in.

That led me to a quick search for ‘iron lung photos’ and an article on Understanding Historical Photos that features the iconic “Iron lungs in gym” photo.

“At first glance, this image shocks and saddens from the enormity of the problem of sick children in need of iron lungs. On closer examination, it is clear that the equipment that usually accompanied people using iron lungs, such as tracheotomy tubes and pumps and tankside tables, is not present (compare the picture to photographs in the section on the iron lung). This scene was staged for a film. It is not historically accurate as a respirator ward, but is an example of an established photographic technique (famously used, for example, by WPA photographers in the 1930s) of directing the viewer’s response by creating a shot that would not naturally occur. ”

Smithsonian National Museum of American History on Understanding Historical Photos

A little more research helped me discover that the photo was taken:

  • for an informational film that was being produced by the March of Dimes
  • in the auditorium of the Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Downey, California USA
  • in 1953

So it took less than a few minutes to figure out that the folks who claim to be “exposing the truth” about vaccines are pushing pure propaganda.

Remember, the Cutter Incident happened in 1955, two years after this photo was taken…

So, a staged 1953 photo for an informational movie for the March of Dimes does not show kids in iron lungs from the Cutter Incident!

How long would you have believed this or other polio myths?

How long would it take you to debunk them?

What to Know About Debunking Anti-Vaccine Propaganda

Learn just how quickly most anti-vaccine misinformation can be debunked if you simply practice being a little skeptical and do your own research.

More About Debunking Anti-Vaccine Propaganda

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Best Books to Help You Research Vaccines

There are many books to help you get educated about vaccines and avoid getting influenced by vaccine scare stories and anti-vaccine talking points.

Some can even help you understand why you are afraid of vaccines.

Unfortunately, if you simply search Amazon for books about vaccines, you are going to be hit with a list of anti-vaccine books. These are books that push their own made-up, so-called alternative immunization schedules and misinformation about vaccines to scare you away from vaccinating and protecting your kids.

Best Vaccine Books

Which books about vaccines have you read?

Did you even realize you had so many choices?

These books about vaccines can help with your research about vaccinating and protecting your family.
These books about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases can help with your research about vaccinating and protecting your family.

Some of my favorite vaccine books that can help you with your research on vaccination and making the right decision for your child include:

How many of these books about vaccines have you read?

What To Know About Vaccine Books

If you were scared away from vaccinating your kids because of a book you read or something you saw on the Internet, consider reading a few of these vaccine books that are based on evidence, not fear.

More Information on Vaccine Books:

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