Fact: We don’t make vaccines for trivial diseases.
Why the Myth Exists
We almost never hear about people dying of measles, mumps, chickenpox, and the like.
Variations on this Myth
- “Doctors can cure these diseases if they occur.”
- “These diseases are just rites of passage.”
- “Children actually need these diseases, to have better health later on.”
Examples Found Online
The Real Deal: What the Evidence Shows
Vaccine-Preventable Diseases Are Quite Serious
We don’t make vaccines for trivial diseases.
Vaccine-preventable diseases frequently kill healthy children and adults. Even chickenpox kills healthy children from time to time.
In 1974, approximately the year I suffered and recovered from chickenpox (before there was a vaccine available), 106 people died from the disease in the United States.
Here are the numbers of deaths due to a handful of diseases in the United States, in the single year of 1950, according to the CDC:
|Pertussis (Whooping Cough)||120,718||1,118|
These numbers were certainly much higher in prior centuries. For example, diphtheria killed around 15,000 people annually in the U.S.
Prior to vaccines, a family would need to bring several children into the world, to have any hope that perhaps one or two would live past the age of five. Many infants would die from disease before their first birthday. This practice of parenting many “extra” children is still prevalent in countries with minimal to no access to vaccines.
These diseases—and many more—are now preventable with proper vaccine coverage and herd immunity.
Here are the same diseases for the year of 2008 in the United States:
|Pertussis (Whooping Cough)||13,278||20|
Each of these sharp declines in morbidity (cases) and mortality (deaths) is largely due to vaccination.
Mortality is Not the Only Undesirable Outcome
Diseases don’t cause only death. Complications from vaccine-preventable diseases can bring severe misery and disability. This is an outcome often overlooked by anti-vaccine activists.
It would require quite a lengthy report to go into all of the potential complications in any depth. Instead, I wish to give a handful of sobering examples.
Measles can not only destroy a child’s hearing and vision, it may damage his or her immune system for another two to three years. When the measles vaccine is introduced in a community, there is a significant drop in other childhood diseases as well.
Rubella is typically mild in children and adults. However, it can be devastating to the fetus of a mother who catches rubella during her first trimester. Her baby has a 50-90% chance of being born with Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS). In a single outbreak of rubella in the U.S. in 1964-1965, 20,000 children were born with CRS. 2,100 of these newborns with CRS died, 11,000 were born deaf, 3,500 were blind, and 1,800 were intellectually disabled (once labeled mental retardation).
In young children with a Hib infection, up to 30% experience hearing loss or neurologic damage.
Here are a few more of the serious complications from vaccine-preventable diseases:
|Measles||pneumonia, bronchitis, deafness, encephalitis, blindness|
|Mumps||meningitis, encephalitis, pancreatitis, hearing loss|
|Pertussis (whooping cough)||pneumonia, seizures, fractured ribs, failure to thrive|
|Varicella (chickenpox)||pneumonia, permanent scarring, brain inflammation, joint infections|
|Diphtheria||airway blockage, pneumonia, heart damage, nerve damage, paralysis|
|Poliomyelitis (polio)||loss of sensation, meningitis, paralysis, permanent disability|
|Tetanus||fractures, suffocation, heart attack|
|Hepatitis B||chronic live inflammation, cirrhosis, live cancer|
|Hib||airway blockage, pneumonia, meningitis, neurologic damage, deafness|
|Meningococcal Disease||organ failure, circulatory collapse, deafness, blindness, neurologic damage, gangrene|
|Human Papillomavirus (HPV)||cervical, vulvar, vaginal, penile, anal, and throat cancers|
For those who wish a little greater detail, I’ve created these infographics:
Suffering is another undesirable fact of vaccine-preventable disease. Why would you wish your child to needlessly suffer, and miss important schooling, when vaccines are available?
Vaccines Are Why Disease Rates Are So Low
Why do some people think these diseases are mild? It is likely due to disease incidence currently being low in countries with high vaccination rates. It is easy to dismiss illnesses you almost never hear of anymore.
Modern medical care is why death rates are low for vaccine-preventable diseases that do crop up. We have the technology and pharmaceuticals to markedly reduce death rates for many of these diseases.
However, doctors cannot “cure” viral infections. They can ease some symptoms, and they can provide emergency care when complications arise.
In many cases, modern medicine is helpless against a vaccine-preventable disease that is out of control and destroying a human body.
Death doesn’t always happen immediately. Sometimes, a child will apparently “recover” from measles, only to be struck down by a complication from it years later. Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis (SSPE) can be caused by the measles virus hiding out in neural tissue. The virus then may cause irreversible brain inflammation and death as many as ten years after the initial illness. There is no cure for SSPE.
Low Disease Rates Is One Reason People Think Vaccines Are Unnecessary
Vaccines are a victim of their own success. As time goes by, there are greater numbers of people who don’t remember the devastation caused by these diseases. Adults who grew up without fear of disease are raising children, and unfortunately are sometimes deciding against vaccination.
When vaccination rates decrease, disease rates climb. The next outbreak is only a plane ride away. Often, an outbreak is cause by unvaccinated children or adults visiting a country with low vaccination rates, and then bringing a disease home with them.
Some vaccine-preventable diseases that had gone away are returning and wreaking havoc. And they are killing and disabling people. Pertussis had reached a low of 1,010 cases and 7 deaths in 1976, just as anti-vaccine activists began vilifying the pertussis vaccine. Pertussis incidence has since climbed back up into the tens of thousands of cases annually in the U.S.
Vaccine-Preventable Diseases Are Not Good for You
There is no evidence that any of these diseases provide protection against cancer, etc. A handful of studies draw these conclusions. These studies suffer from design and methodology flaws that fall apart under basic scrutiny.
References and Further Reading
- “Reported Cases and Deaths from Vaccine Preventable Diseases, United States, 1950-2011” (PDF) | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- “What Would Happen If We Stopped Vaccinations?” | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- “A Look at Each Vaccine” | The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
- “Deadly Measles Complication In Kids More Common Than Thought, Highlighting Need For Vax” | Judy Stone | Forbes
- Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis: the Devastating Measles Complication is More Common than We Think” | Kristen Wendorf, MD, MS et al | Oxford Journal
- “Measles Still Has a Devastating Impact in Unvaccinated Populations” | William J Moss | PLoS Med
- “The Measles Vaccine Can Protect Against Much More Than Measles, According To New Study” | Alicia Chang | The Huffington Post
- “Varicella-Related Deaths — United States, January 2003–June 2004” | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- “Prepare For Flu Season: 90% Of Children Who Died From Influenza Virus Last Year Were Unvaccinated” | Dana Dovey | Medical Daily
- “Rubella” | The History of Vaccines
- “Diphtheria: Clinical Features” | Centers for Disease
News Sampling: the Worldwide Impact of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases
- “Health threat: Nine children dead in Zhob measles outbreak” | Mohammad Zafar | The Express Tribune [Pakistan] 12/25/2016
- “Health Ministry: 1,725 cases of measles were confirmed, seven deaths caused by this disease” | ACTMedia [Romania] | 12/19/2016
- “Boy’s chickenpox were so bad he was left with flesh-eating disease” | Simon Robb | Metro [United Kingdom] | 08/08/2016
- “Heartbroken Family Hopes Baby’s Death From Whooping Cough Raises Awareness” | Nicole Pelletiere | ABC News [United States] | 07/29/2016
- “Measles led to death of Clallam Co. woman; first in US in a dozen years” |Washington State Department of Health [United States] | 07/02/2016
- “Five diphtheria deaths in Malaysia so far” | Azura Abas | New Straits Times Online [Malaysia] | 06/29/2016
- “Infant reported as first whooping cough death for Kern County in 2016” | Alexis Lewis, Jessica Harrington | 23ABC News [United States] | 05/03/2016
- “Chicken pox toddler’s death ‘could have been avoided’” | Lucy Grosvenor | Buxton Advertiser [United Kingdom] | 02/05/2016
- “Port Orchard girl’s flu death potent reminder of complications” | JoNel Aleccia | Seattle Times | 01/21/2016
- “Howard City toddler dead. [Hib] Meningitis confirmed.” | Tim Burke | Big Rapids Daily News [United States] | 07/2015
- “Unvaccinated boy dies from diphtheria in Spain” | Fiona Govan | The Local [Spain] | 06/27/2015
- “Hib Outbreak Kills Unvaccinated Child” | Daniel J. DeNoon | WebMD | 01/23/2009
- “Minn. [Hib] Meningitis Cases Worry CDC Officials” | NBC News | 01/23/2009