Tag: vaccine deaths

America’s New Normal: Propaganda About the Unhealthiest Generation

My son started to have migraines when he was about 11 years old.

Must be stress, BPA, poor eating habits, all of the screen time, or vaccines, right?

“Americans spend the least on food, the most on health care, have the most highly vaccinated kids, and have the sickest kids of any industrialized country. More kids than not are now chronically ill, developmentally delayed, and eating or injecting prescription medications from cradle to grave – which is going to be a quicker trip for them than it was for their parents, according to data on life expectancy in the US. We are inured to childhood autism, epilepsy, allergy, asthma, diabetes, obesity, Crohn’s disease and cancer. We are dying younger. We are going backwards.”

Judy Converse on America’s New Normal: Chronically Ill Kids

That likely seems like a young age to get migraines and would fit well with the narrative that kids today are part of the unhealthiest generation ever.

Except that I started to get migraines at about the same age, and so did my mother. Like many of the other conditions that seem to be ballooning today, migraines have a genetic component.

The Unhealthiest Generation?

The CDC has long kept statistics on everything from asthma and cancer rates to diabetes and life expectancy rates and helps folks see how healthy kids really are today.
The CDC has long kept statistics on everything from asthma and cancer rates to diabetes and life expectancy rates and helps folks see how healthy kids really are today.

Who says that today’s kids are part of the unhealthiest generation ever?

Mostly anti-vaccine folks who blame vaccines for making kids unhealthy and alternative medical providers who think their holistic remedies will fix all of the problems they see in our unhealthy kids who they claim are full of “toxins.”

Toxins? If you are going to believe that our kids are all sick, then you have to buy into the narrative that toxins are everywhere, especially in vaccines, and they are making kids sick.

Of course, none of that is true.

Vaccines are safe and work to prevent us from getting sick and there are 2 to 3 million fewer deaths in the world each year because people are vaccinated and protected.

“From developing groundbreaking treatments for deadly chronic diseases to saving babies who are born premature, pediatric researchers have increased the ability of children to live full and fulfilling lives that only a few decades before would have been tragically cut short.”

Sandra G. Hassink, MD on the 7 Great Achievements in Pediatric Research

And today’s kids, all 73.6 million of them in the United States, aren’t the unhealthiest. They are actually a very healthy generation, being born with the lowest child and infant mortality rates ever, low rates of hospitalizations, and one of the highest life expectancies in history.

Our Healthy Kids

How do we know today’s kids are healthy?

One easy way is to compare them to kids in the past…

If you have only been listening to the alarmists who talk about the unhealthiest generation all of the time, you likely wouldn’t know that:

  • while 2.6% of kids were thought to be in fair or poor health in 1991, that is down to just 1.8% today (2015)
  • fewer kids today (4.5%) report having had an asthma attack in the previous year than they did in 1997 (5.4%), and that fewer kids have asthma today (8.5%) than in 2003 (8.7%)
  • since 1997, fewer children, whether or not they have insurance, are visiting the emergency room
  • fewer children are requiring overnight hospital stays, down from 5.5% to just 2.1% today (2015)
  • rates of hay fever or respiratory allergy are down since 1997, from 17.5% of kids to 15.6% of kids today (2015)
  • rates of epilepsy have been stable in children for at least 40 years
  • fewer kids have multiple ear infections since 1997, when 7.1% of kids had 3 or more ear infections, to just 5% of kids today (2015)
  • fewer kids are being prescribed antibiotics
  • cancer rates have been stable in kids, although mortality rates have been declining
  • suicide rates are rising, but only from historic lows – they used to be about the same or higher in the early 1990s

Of course, some conditions are on the rise, including ADHD, type 1 diabetes, food allergies, eczema,  obesity, and most autoimmune diseases.

“A few conditions have decreased because of prevention (eg, lead encephalopathy), a few represent relatively new conditions (eg, human immunodeficiency virus type 1 infection), and some have increased after dramatic improvements in survival for individually low-prevalence childhood conditions that previously had high fatality rates (eg, leukemia, cystic fibrosis, congenital heart diseases). Most growth, however, reflects dramatic increases in incidence of a few high-prevalence conditions.”

James M. Perrin, MD on The Increase of Childhood Chronic Conditions in the United States

And autism rates have been up, but we mostly know why.

“…the numbers of people born with autism aren’t necessarily increasing dramatically. It’s just that we’re getting better and better at counting them.”

Emily Willingham

Although we don’t know why most other conditions are trending up (it isn’t vaccines), we will hopefully continue to develop new theories and reverse those trends.

It should be reassuring that many of the trends do show that our kids are indeed healthy.

What to Know About Our Healthy Kids

From gun violence and climate change to the threat of emerging infections, out children do face many threats and are certainly under a lot of stress. There is no evidence that this is the unhealthiest generation though. If anything, they are on track to be one of the healthiest.

More on Our Healthy Kids

Why Do We Only Fear Vaccine Preventable Diseases?

How many diseases can be prevented with vaccines?

Would you believe that there are about 29 vaccine-preventable diseases, from adenovirus and anthrax to typhoid fever and yellow fever?

That’s a lot more than the 16 that kids today routinely get vaccinated against

Diseases That Are Not Vaccine Preventable

Whether you think about 16 or 29 vaccine-preventable diseases, they are a drop in the pocket when you think about all of the diseases that can’t be prevented with a vaccine.

Just consider all of the viruses and bacteria that can get you sick during cold and flu season:

  • group A Streptococci – strep throat and scarlet fever
  • Human metapneumovirus (HMPV) – bronchiolitis, colds, and viral pneumonia
  • Human parainfluenza viruses (HPIVs) – bronchiolitis, bronchitis, colds, croup, or viral pneumonia
  • norovirus – diarrhea and vomiting
  • respiratory adenovirus – bronchitis, colds, croup, viral pneumonia, pink eye, and diarrhea
  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) – wheezing and bronchiolitis in younger children, but colds in older kids and adults
  • rhinovirus – the classic common cold
  • rotavirus – diarrhea and vomiting, was much more common in the pre-vaccine era
  • seasonal coronavirus – colds, bronchitis, and viral pneumonia
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae – ear infections, meningitis, sinus infections, and pneumonia

In addition to the flu, only rotavirus and Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcal vaccines) are vaccine preventable.

And there are still thousands of other diseases that aren’t vaccine preventable, including African trypanosomiasis, Chagas disease, Chikungunya, Cytomegalovirus (CMV), Dengue fever, Ebola, Herpes Zoster, HIV, Hookworm disease, Leishmaniasis, Malaria, Schistosomiasis, and Zika, some of the most deadly diseases around.

Why Do We Only Fear Vaccine-Preventable Diseases?

So is it true that we only fear vaccine-preventable diseases and that’s why folks get vaccinated?

“Why aren’t you walking around concerned about leprosy every day? Why aren’t you concerned about someone from another country bringing leprosy into Australia or the US and somehow exposing all of our most vulnerable to this illness? I’ll tell you why. Because there’s no vaccine for leprosy. You are afraid of what we vaccinate for because these illnesses are hyped up all of the time. It’s propaganda. You are told what to fear, so they can then sell you an alleged solution.
The only diseases we fear are the ones that a vaccine has been developed and marketed for. We never feared measles and mumps in the early 20th century… Because its what the media tells us to do.”

Learn the Risk – Why aren’t we afraid of all diseases?

Did you know that there actually is a vaccine for leprosy? Don’t expect it to be added to our immunization schedule any time soon or to increase your fears about leprosy, as leprosy is not highly contagious and it can be cured.

Forget about leprosy though… If folks didn’t fear measles and mumps in the early 20th century, before we had vaccines to control these diseases, then why did epidemics so often lead to newspaper headlines, quarantines, and school closings?

Quarantines were routine in the pre-vaccine era.
Quarantines were routine in the pre-vaccine era.

And if we only fear diseases that a vaccine has been developed and marketed for, then why are so many parents afraid of RSV and herpes?

How many new parents won’t even let family members kiss their newborns because they are worried about herpes, even if they don’t have a cold sore? How many parents get panicked if they hear RSV, which can cause severe disease in high risk babies, but typically only causes cold symptoms in most others.

Anyway, fear doesn’t drive most of us to vaccinate and protect our kids. We just understand that vaccines are safe and necessary and that getting vaccinated is a smart decision.

It is the diseases that aren’t vaccine preventable that might scare us a little bit…

What to Know About Fearing Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

Anti-vaccine folks push propaganda to make parents afraid of vaccines and to scare them away from vaccinating and protecting their kids. The idea that we are only afraid of vaccine preventable diseases is a good example.

More on Fearing Vaccine Preventable Diseases

What Is Vaccine Injury Denial?

Few people deny that vaccine injury is real.

Vaccine injuries, while rare, are certainly real.

That’s why we have table injuries, the Vaccine Court, and the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

What Is Vaccine Injury Denial?

Again though, vaccine injuries are rare.

“Vaccine Injury Denialism is rampant across the mainstream media, where child-abusing vaccine pushers like the New York Times, Washington Post and CNN deliberately contribute to the holocaust of vaccine injuries now devastating humanity’s children. Sadly, the same denialism about the alarming growth in medical injuries caused by vaccines is also endemic across universities, science journals and medical schools, where doctors are indoctrinated into a kind of “Flat Earth” denialism of vaccine injury reality.”

Mike Adams on Vaccine Injury Denialism is the denial of fundamental human dignity

Claims of vaccine injury denial come when we are skeptical or don’t believe that anything and everything is a vaccine injury.

Barbara Loe Fisher's NVIC even claims that Shaken Baby Syndrome can be a vaccine injury.
Barbara Loe Fisher’s NVIC even claims that Shaken Baby Syndrome can be a vaccine injury.

For example, in some circles, if you point out that vaccines do not cause asthma, ADHD, autism, Celiac disease, diabetes, eczema, food allergies, infertility, multiple sclerosis, POTS, SIDS, or transverse myelitis, etc., then claims of vaccine injury denial begin to fly.

That shouldn’t be surprising, as these and other so-called vaccine induced diseases make up the bulk of the vaccine injury stories that scare many parents.

“IMAGINE YOU LIVE IN A COUNTRY in which a minority of people are taken in the middle of the night, and beaten, kicked, poisoned, half-drowned… they are crippled for life, maimed, and they are expected to accept a doctor’s or a judge’s view that “It wasn’t the Gestapo” or “It’s not even an injury”.

Imagine that minority amounted to tens of millions of people.

Now imagine that these victims are lured into traps by their own doctors with promises of medicine that will prevent illness – but in reality the doctors are paid for every patient they manage to convince to show up – and the doctors determine which injuries they caused and which were just “coincidences”.

Now imagine the media is primed to tell the world that no such injuries ever occur. Now your neighbors are denying it, calling you crazy for thinking there is a link…”

James Lyons-Weiler on Should Vaccine Risk/Injury Denial Be Prosecutable Offenses?

But doctors and the media, and your neighbors for that matter, don’t deny that claims of vaccine injury are real because of some grand conspiracy or simply because they want to.

It is because of research and science, understanding the difference between correlation and causation, and more research. And we understand that vaccines are both passively and actively monitored for side effects.

Vaccine injuries, although real, are rare.

The only denialism about vaccines that is important, is among those who deny that vaccines work and that they are safe and necessary.

What to Know About Vaccine Injury Denial

Anti-vaccine folks like to claim that anyone who doesn’t believe that vaccines cause all of their vaccine-induced diseases are part of a conspiracy of vaccine injury denial.

More on Vaccine Injury Denial

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

10 Reasons You Aren’t Vaccinating Your Kids

Yes, we know.

It’s because you have done your research.

“Many would argue that we have become a culture characterized by intolerance of any risk (particularly of co-mission as opposed to omission), such that when harm does occur someone is to blame.”

Poland et al on Understanding those who do not understand: a brief review of the anti-vaccine movement

But that’s not really why you aren’t vaccinating your kids.

10 Reasons You Aren’t Vaccinating Your Kids

Research has explained the real reasons, most of which happen subconsciously, and they include the following  well known cognitive phenomena:

  1. ambiguity aversion – the idea is that people tend to prefer known risks rather than unknown risks and while you would think that would tend to widely favor getting vaccinated (known, very small risks of a vaccine) vs remaining unprotected (relatively unknown risk of getting a vaccine-preventable disease and coping with possible complications), that’s not how vaccine-hesitant people think. If you are skipping or delaying any vaccines, you are likely to overestimate the risks of vaccines, include ‘risks’ that are not even associated with vaccines, and make getting vaccinated seem like a much bigger and ambiguous risk than it really is. Also, some vaccine-hesitant parents see much more ambiguity in the whole getting vaccinated decision than there really is, mostly because of the false balance in media reporting. There is no ambiguity – experts agree that vaccines are safe and necessary.
  2. anticipatory regret – you might decide to skip or delay a vaccine because you “wouldn’t be able to forgive yourself” if your child had a severe reaction, explaining the anti-vaccine slogan that “You can always get Vaccinated, but you can never get Unvaccinated.” While it is a catchy slogan, it misses the fact that some parents do regret their decision to not vaccinate their kids because they did wait too long and their child did get a vaccine-preventable disease. You can’t always get vaccinated and severe reactions are very rare.
  3. availability heuristic – we think things are likely to happen if we can easily remember them and we are most likely to remember things like vaccine scare stories because we see them all of the time. That doesn’t make them true or mean that they really are common though. Have you seen many of those videos?
  4. bandwagoning – many of us like to jump on the bandwagon – doing what everyone else is doing. So how does bandwagoning fit into vaccine hesitancy, considering that most people vaccinate and protect their kids? Just consider that many of unvaccinated kids we see today are grouped together in “pockets of susceptibles” because their vaccine-hesitant parents are also clustered together in an echo chamber, making it seem like skipping or delaying vaccines is a more popular option than it really is. Also, so much of the vaccine sentiment online is negative, it is easy for it to seem like it is the same in the real world. For example, it has been found that 75% of the vaccine sentiment on Pinterest, 66% of the vaccine sentiment on YouTube, and 30-35% of the vaccine sentiment on Facebook and Twitter is negative! Do your friends and family members vaccinate their kids?
  5. cognitive dissonance – this is the anxiety you get from believing in two things that contradict each other, like if you are afraid to vaccinate your child, but you are just as afraid that if he isn’t vaccinated, then he will get measles. One belief eventually wins out and makes it easier for you to believe anything else that reinforces it, even things that aren’t logical and which are easily disproven. Even if you don’t realize it, and you probably won’t, this is when you begin to use cherry picking, confirmation bias, survivorship bias, etc., and become a Dunning Kruger master.
  6. control – most of us like to be in control, or at least feel like we are in control. Saying no to a vaccine, especially a vaccine that you feel is involuntary (your child needs it to attend daycare or school), may help you feel a little more in control of what may seem like a never ending bombardment of risks facing your child.
  7. explanatory attribution – people like, or even need, to find a meaning for things, such as why kids are autistic, and when you don’t have one, it becomes very easy to make one up or latch onto someone else’s idea of a vaccine injury or vaccine induced disease.
  8. free-riding – while some people are hiding in the herd out of necessity, including those who are too young to be vaccinated and those with medical exemptions, others are free-riders and are benefiting from the fact that most of the rest of us do get vaccinated and do vaccinate our kids.
  9. omission bias – when given the option, some people prefer doing nothing instead of doing something, even if it leads to something much worse happening in the future. Choosing to do nothing, like skipping or delaying your child’s shots, is still a decision though, and if your child or someone else’s child gets sick, your action (by omission) is still the cause and you would still be morally responsible.
  10. optimism bias – some parents are overly optimistic about their ability to protect their intentionally unvaccinated kids from getting a vaccine-preventable disease or even that they can treat them if they do get sick with essential oils, homeopathic remedies, a trip to the chiropractor, or other alternative type treatments. They can’t.

Of course, none of these things would be able to take hold so well without one other thing – fear.

Fear helps these cognitive biases, heuristics, and logical fallacies take hold and change your perception of risk into something that is much different from reality. That’s why some people think that the risks of vaccines are greater than the risks of catching a vaccine-preventable disease or even greater than the risks of having a vaccine-preventable disease.

They aren’t. Vaccines are safe.

immunization-program-stages
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

Again, some people fear vaccines more than they fear the complications of vaccine-preventable diseases. Surprisingly, this effect is well known and has been predicted. If you don’t know or have never seen anyone with a vaccine-preventable disease, like polio, measles, diphtheria, or tetanus, then it’s easy to believe that they really were mild diseases.

They weren’t. And they still aren’t. Vaccines are necessary.

Rotavirus vaccines are associated with a very small risk of intussusception, but that is not a good reason to miss the benefits of this vaccine.
My daughter getting all of her two month vaccines to make sure she was safe and  fully protected. Photo by Vincent Iannelli, MD

But why are some parents so afraid of vaccines that they have panic attacks if they even think about vaccinating their baby? It certainly doesn’t help if you believe one or more of the 100 myths about vaccines that you might see on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube. Or that you are likely constantly being hit with vaccine scare videos that make it sound like every child has a vaccine injury.

All of that propaganda can make you more susceptible to the cognitive biases that we all have to deal with from time to time, even leading you to believe in the many anti-vaccine conspiracy theories that are always floating around.

But fear shouldn’t be what drives your decision making.

We shouldn’t have to wait for outbreaks for folks to start vaccinating their kids again.

Get educated and understand that vaccines are safe, with few risks and many benefits. Learn to think critically, be more skeptical about the things you see and read about vaccines, and overcome your biases.

What to Know About Why You Aren’t Vaccinating Your Kids

You aren’t vaccinating your kids because something or someone has scared you and a series of cognitive bias are making it hard for you to see the truth that vaccines are safe, necessary, and that they work.

More On Why You Aren’t Vaccinating Your Kids

Is It a Vaccine Reaction?

Why do anti-vaccine folks think that there are so many vaccine reactions?

It is mostly because they think that anything bad that happens after someone is vaccinated, even if it is weeks or months later, must have been caused by the vaccine.

“Differentiation between coincidence and causality is of utmost importance in this respect. This is not always easy, especially when an event is rare and background rates are not available.”

Heininger on A risk-benefit analysis of vaccination

Of course, this discounts that fact that most people have a basic risk, often called the background rate, for developing most of these very same conditions, and they can just coincide with getting vaccinated.

Put more simply, the “reaction” would have happened whether or not they had been vaccinated.

“…when a number of well-controlled studies were conducted during the 1980s, the investigators found, nearly unanimously, that the number of SIDS deaths temporally associated with DTP vaccination was within the range expected to occur by chance. In other words, the SIDS deaths would have occurred even if no vaccinations had been given.”

WHO on Six Common Misconceptions About Immunization

That doesn’t mean that everything automatically gets blamed on coincidence though.

Is It a Vaccine Reaction?

Vaccine adverse events can be reported to VAERS online or using a downloadable form.
Vaccine reactions can be reported to VAERS online or using a downloadable form.

When trying to determine if a child has had a vaccine reaction, experts typically go through a series of questions, looking at the evidence for and against :

  • How soon after the vaccine was given did the reaction occur? Was it minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, or years later?
  • Is there any evidence that something else could have caused the reaction?
  • Is there a known causal relation between the reaction and the vaccine?
  • Is the reaction a table injury?
  • Is there evidence that the vaccine does not have a causal association with the reaction?
  • Do any lab tests support the idea that it was a vaccine reaction?

Why is it important to consider these and other questions?

Because most of us are very good at jumping to conclusions, are quick to place blame, and like to know the reasons for why things happen.

We don’t like to think that things are just caused by coincidence.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore, because of this).

We are especially good at linking events and often automatically assume that one thing caused another simply because it occurred afterwards.

It is incident to physicians, I am afraid, beyond all other men, to mistake subsequence for consequence.

Dr Samuel Johnson

But we also know that correlation does not imply causation. And because of the great benefits of vaccines, it is important to find strong evidence for a correlation before we blame vaccines for a reaction.

Too often though, the opposite happens. Despite strong evidence against a correlation, parents and some pediatricians still blame vaccines for many things, from SIDS and encephalitis to autism.

Background Rates vs Vaccine Reactions

Although anti-vaccine folks are always calling for vaccinated vs unvaccinated studies to further prove that vaccines are indeed safe, much of that work is already done by looking at the observed rate of possible reactions and comparing them to the background rate of reactions and conditions.

We often know how many people are expected to develop certain conditions, from seizures and type 1 diabetes mellitus to acute transverse myelitis and juvenile and rheumatoid arthritis.

“On the basis of the reviewed data, if a cohort of 10 million individuals was vaccinated in the UK, 21.5 cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome and 5.75 cases of sudden death would be expected to occur within 6 weeks of vaccination as coincident background cases. In female vaccinees in the USA, 86.3 cases of optic neuritis per 10 million population would be expected within 6 weeks of vaccination. 397 per 1 million vaccinated pregnant women would be predicted to have a spontaneous abortion within 1 day of vaccination.”

Black et al on Importance of background rates of disease in assessment of vaccine safety during mass immunisation with pandemic H1N1 influenza vaccines

Intussusception is a good example of this.

This might surprise some folks, but we diagnosed and treated kids with intussusception well before the first rotavirus vaccines were ever introduced. And then, it was only after the risk of intussusception after vaccination exceeded the background rate that experts were able to determine that there was an issue.

Background rates also explain why unvaccinated kids develop autism. It’s not a coincidence.

“Knowledge of the background incidence rates of possible adverse events is a crucial part of assessing possible vaccine safety concerns. It allows for a rapid observed vs expected analysis and helps to distinguish legitimate safety concerns from events that are temporally associated with but not necessarily caused by vaccination.”

Gadroen et al on Baseline incidence of intussusception in early childhood before rotavirus vaccine introduction, the Netherlands, January 2008 to December 2012

Fortunately, studies have never found an increased risk above the background rate for SIDS, non-febrile seizures, and other things that anti-vaccine folks often blame on vaccines. So when these things happen on the same day or one or two days after getting vaccinated, it almost certainly truly is a coincidence. It would have happened even if your child had not been vaccinated, just like we see these things happen in the days before a child was due to get their vaccines.

For example, using background incidence rates in Danish children, one study found that if you vaccinated a million children with a new flu vaccine, you could expect that naturally, after seven days, you would see:

  • facial nerve palsy – one case
  • seizures – 36 cases
  • multiple sclerosis – one case
  • type 1 diabetes – three cases
  • juvenile and rheumatoid arthritis – three cases

After six weeks, those numbers of course go up. In addition to 4 kids developing MS, 20 develop diabetes, 19 develop arthritis, and 218 have seizures, and there would have been at least two deaths of unknown cause.

Would you blame the flu shot for these things?

What flu shot?

This was a “hypothetical vaccine cohort” that used 30 years of data from the Danish healthcare system to figure out background rates of each condition.

“In addition, the expected number of deaths in Japan following an estimated 15 million doses of H1N1 vaccine administered would be >8000 deaths during the 20 days following vaccination, based on the crude mortality rate.”

McCarthy et al on Mortality Rates and Cause-of-Death Patterns in a Vaccinated Population

Looking at background rates is especially helpful when folks report about vaccine deaths.

Using the Japan example that McCarthy studied, if they had looked at background rates, then all of a sudden, the 107 deaths they found after 15 million doses of H1N1 vaccine were given in 2009 would not have been so alarming. Background rates would have predicted a much, much higher number of deaths to naturally occur in that time period simply based on crude mortality rates.

Again, none of this means that possible vaccine reactions are dismissed as being coincidences. They just aren’t immediately assumed to have been caused by vaccines, because vaccines are necessary and a lot of research has already gone into demonstrating that vaccines are safe and vaccines continue to go through routine safety monitoring to make sure they stay safe.

What to Know About Evaluating Vaccine Reactions

Vaccines are safe and many of the things that folks think are vaccine reactions can be explained by looking at the background rates for these conditions and understanding that they would have happened anyway.

More on Evaluating Vaccine Reactions

How Many People Die in the USA Every Year from Being Vaccinated?

We know that vaccines work to save lives from vaccine-preventable disease.

If you are at all hesitant about vaccines and are doing your research, you have likely come across the myth that vaccines are more dangerous than the diseases they protect us against though.

This is only because most people don’t remember the pre-vaccine era when measles, polio, small pox, and diphtheria, etc., were big killers. So even though vaccine side effects are about the same as they always have been, they can become a much bigger focus for some people because they don’t see any of the mortality or morbidity from the diseases that the vaccines have gotten so good at preventing.

immunization-program-stages
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

It is at this crossover point that anti-vaccine folks are able to get away with pushing myths, such as like more people die from the MMR vaccine than from measles.

They don’t.

How Many People Die in the USA Every Year from Being Vaccinated?

Although vaccines are not perfectly safe, it is extremely rare for a vaccine reaction to be deadly.

“As for vaccines causing death, again so few deaths can plausibly be attributed to vaccines that it is hard to assess the risk statistically.”

WHO on Six common misconceptions about immunization

So why do anti-vaccine folks think that they are more common than they really are?

That’s an easy question to answer.

“Differentiation between coincidence and causality is of utmost importance in this respect. This is not always easy, especially when an event is rare and background rates are not available.”

Heininger on A risk-benefit analysis of vaccination

They often believe than anything and everything that happens after someone is vaccinated, even if it is weeks or months later, must have been caused by the vaccine. This discounts that fact that most people have a basic risk, often called the background rate, for developing these conditions that can coincide with getting vaccinated. It also explains why they believe in so many so-called vaccine induced diseases.

Another reason is that they also misuse VAERS reports when talking about vaccine deaths.

“In a review of reports of death following vaccination submitted to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) from the early 1990s, the Institute of Medicine concluded that most were coincidental, not causally associated.”

Moro et al on Deaths Reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, United States, 1997–2013

Not surprisingly though, studies have shown that most of the deaths in VAERS are not actually related to vaccines.

In fact, most of the things that anti-vaccine folks blame on vaccines, including things you see in many of their vaccine-injury stories, are not related to vaccines.

How Many People Die in the USA Every Year from Vaccine-Preventable Diseases?

Fortunately, most people are vaccinated, and deaths from  vaccine preventable diseases are tremendously below what they were in the pre-vaccine era.

Most people will be surprised to know that they aren’t zero though.

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.

For example, in 2015:

  • there were at least 37 cases of perinatal hepatitis B infections
  • five infants and children less than age 5 years died of rotavirus disease
  • a 14-month-old died of Hib meningitis
  • an infant died of pneumococcal meningitis
  • a 3-year-old with congenital rubella syndrome died
  • at least two teens died of meningococcal meningitis
  • a woman in Washington died of measles – the immunosuppressed women was exposed to an outbreak in Clallam County that mostly included intentionally unvaccinated kids
  • 85 kids died of the flu

Of course, worldwide, especially in developing countries, the number of deaths are much higher, which is a good reminder of what would happen if more of us stopped vaccinating!

And it is an even better reminder that you have to look at the number of deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases today in the context that most people are vaccinated and protected.

If you are truly looking at a risk vs benefit analysis of whether or not to get vaccinated, it is still the great benefit of avoiding vaccine preventable diseases vs the very small risks of getting vaccinated that you should think about.

“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

It is also the small risks of getting vaccinated vs the much greater risk of going back to the pre-vaccine era if you decided to skip or delay any vaccines.

It is not that you have been scared into thinking that the risks of  vaccines outweigh their benefits.

“Millions of vaccinations are given to children and adults in the United States each year. Serious adverse reactions are rare. However, because of the high volume of use, coincidental adverse events including deaths, that are temporally associated with vaccination, do occur. When death occurs shortly following vaccination, loved ones and others might naturally question whether it was related to vaccination. A large body of evidence supports the safety of vaccines, and multiple studies and scientific reviews have found no association between vaccination and deaths except in rare cases.”

Miller et al on Deaths following vaccination: What does the evidence show?

It is not that the risk of getting a vaccine preventable disease is low because you might be able to get away with hiding in the herd.

It is not that the risk of getting a vaccine preventable disease is low because you are counting on everyone else in the world to get vaccinated and eliminate or eradicate the disease and your risk.

If too many parents who are on the fence start believing that their kids have zero risk of getting polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases and continue to skip or delay vaccines, then boom, we are back to the days when outbreaks would close schools and kids would suffer from the devastating effects of these diseases.

Even the schools were closed in San Antonio when polio came to Texas in 1946.
Even the schools were closed in San Antonio when polio came to Texas in 1946.

While anti-vaccine folks won’t have such an easy time convincing people that these diseases are mild anymore, none of us want to wait for more outbreaks to occur before folks get the message that vaccines are safe and necessary.

What to Know About Vaccine Deaths

Despite what anti-vaccine folks would have you believe as they try to scare you away from vaccinating and protecting your kids, vaccines are safe and necessary and vaccine deaths are very rare.

More on Vaccine Deaths