Downplaying the Effects of Vaccine-Preventable Disease

It’s one of the more odious anti-vaccine tactics: arguing that diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, or diphtheria have minor health consequences. We learned last week that a man who was immunocompromised was killed by measles virus, which he likely acquired from an inadequately vaccinated child in an airport. I’ve discussed before how the birth defects caused by rubella provided the pro-legal and safe abortion movement significant support in the 1960s (which, of course, doesn’t stop some arch-conservatives from playing footsie with anti-vaccinationism. No, that makes no sense to me either). But two good posts lay out how dangerous these diseases can be.

Puff the Mutant Dragon (boldface mine):

Also I think many people don’t realize how dangerous some of these vaccine-preventable diseases truly were. Take pertussis. About half of all babies who get whooping cough will end up in the hospital. Of those who are hospitalized, one in four will get pneumonia; two-thirds will have slowed or stopped breathing, and 1.6% or 1-2 in a hundred will die. And all this is with appropriate medical treatment. (You can imagine what it was like before modern medical care.)

Or take diphtheria. According to the CDC, the fatality rate for diphtheria is 5-10%, and in kids under five it’s more like 20%. (Back before modern medical care it was 50%). That means even with appropriate medical treatment as many as 1 in 5 small children infected with diphtheria will possibly die.

And OK, sure, rubella is significantly more mild; the fatality rate for this disease is low. Only problem is, ~90% of pregnant women who get rubella will pass it to their fetus, which can cause either birth defects or miscarriage. That’s kind of a problem. Before the vaccine, an estimated 4 out of every 1000 babies was affected with birth defects or problems caused by a rubella infection.

So what I’m trying to say is…this is not your common cold. These are nasty diseases. These are not diseases you want spreading around.

And perhaps it would be good for the anti-vaccine folks out there (the ones still fighting anyway) to take a moment and think about that. We’ve managed to largely eliminate diseases like diphtheria and pertussis, and we’re saving millions of lives.

Jen Gunter (boldface mine):

We were told at our first [medical school] lecture that many of our vaccines would be updated. If you could provide immunization records I think it reduced the number you were given. For varicella (chicken pox) we would get our titers checked and those not immune would also be vaccinated. We would also have to get the hepatitis B vaccine. If I remember correctly we all received a dose of the oral polio (live attenuated) vaccine and those with medical records proving immune issues were given the inactivated shot.

What if we didn’t want the vaccines? Well, no vaccinations no ward rotations. No ward rotations, no diploma.

This strict vaccine policy stemmed not from public policy, but from one person’s death. A patient who was severely immunocompromised and in isolation, but expected to eventually recover. He/she was exposed to chicken pox while in hospital and died from the infection. There was an extensive investigation and while I don’t remember if they identified who brought the virus into the isolation ward the message was clear – no one at that hospital should ever be a vector. Not an orderly, a nurse, or a doctor. Up to date vaccines were a condition of employment

If I get pertussis I know the chance that I will get seriously ill is very low. However, I have a child with damaged lungs and a compromised heart. He will get sicker than I will. And what if I am in the grocery store and expose a 2 month old? They will also get sicker than I will. I get my pertussis vaccine for them.

That’s why anti-vaccinationism is so pernicious: ultimately, vaccination is not about protecting you–it is about protecting people from you.

This entry was posted in Public Health, Vaccination, Viruses. Bookmark the permalink.