When 99% Safe is Bad.

I’ve been reading about the Whooping Cough epidemic in California and a Polio epidemic in Tajikistan. These cases illustrate what can happen with vaccination rates fall off or are absent. As proof that vaccinations do save lives, I give you this report from Vaccine Central:

An outbreak of polio in Tajikistan has been halted thanks to vigorous vaccination efforts by 1,000 teams of doctors and nurses. The effort took three months to bear fruit, and was sponsored jointly by USAID and the Tajikistan Ministry of Health. The outbreak infected a reported 430 people, with 19 fatalities,  before it was brought under control. The most recent round of vaccinations was conducted on 15–19 June . Preliminary data report coverage of 99.3, with coverage higher than 97% reported from all regions and in the groups aged 0–6 and 7–15 years. Correspondingly, no new cases of infection have been recorded since June 21st. International travelers to this area, and other areas where polio is present, are advised to check with their health care provide to ensure that they are properly vaccinated against the disease.

You can find a more detailed report at USAID.gov.

Polio is a devastating disease that often leaves it’s victims who do survive permanently paralyzed and/or forced to rely on machines just to breath. This disease has almost been eradicated, but keeps cropping up, invariably in places where vaccinations are limited or even suppressed due to fears of the vaccines themselves. Where vaccinations programs are fully carried out, the disease disappears.

To give you an idea of just how bad this disease is, in the United States, the 1952 polio epidemic became the worst outbreak in the nation’s history. Of nearly 58,000 cases reported that year 3,145 died and 21,269 were left with mild to disabling paralysis.* The vast majority of those affected were children.

Smallpox is another disease that has probably been the largest scourge of human-kind in all history. Smallpox was responsible for an estimated 300–500 million deaths during the 20th century alone.** Through an intensive, worldwide effort, smallpox was eradicate, with the last known case occurring in 1975.

There are a lot of people, mainly parents, out there who believe the risks of vaccines themselves are greater than the risks of getting one of the diseases they prevent. Here are some Vaccine Injury statistics from 2009:***

Fiscal Year                 Total
2009                          397

It was projected that about 85 million doses of vaccines would be distributed in 2009. That means that out the 85 million people vaccinated, .000000467% reported side effects serious enough to be awarded compensation from the U.S. Government. That’s a 4.67 millionth of a percent! Assuming that the number of actual side effects was under reported, you will still need almost 850,000 unreported cases to get to even 1% side effects. That means that vaccine are 99% safe. I think you’d be hard pressed to find anything else anywhere with a 99% safety record.

Vaccinating our children is one of the safest and surest ways to ensure their health and the health of the population at large. To argue otherwise in the face of over 50 years of success in either eradicating or significantly reducing the numbers of serious preventable diseases is irresponsible and morally reprehensible.

Next time you hear stories of the dangers of vaccinations, just remember, the numbers, science and data are overwhelming against them.

* Poliomyelitis, Wikipedia.com, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poliomyelitis#Eradication
*Smallpox, Wikipedia.com, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smallpox#Eradication
***U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, http://www.hrsa.gov/vaccinecompensation/statistics_report.htm

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5 thoughts on “When 99% Safe is Bad.

  1. In the US in 1978 1.5 million people were hospitalised because of medication side-effects alone. In 1991 in the US, 72,000 people were killed due to iatrogenic – that is drug-induced – causes whilst 24,073 died of victims of firearms shootings, which makes doctors nearly three times more lethal than guns! This has serious implications for other countries including Britain because the US are the foremost pioneers in the health care field and what occurs in health care in the US is usually implemented in Britain a decade later.

  2. It’s not that vaccination may help in some cases, it is rather that you are seeking pharmaceutical solutions to economic and political problems. Look at the drop in the death from infectious childhood diseases that occurred before the introduction of vaccinations. 95% of the work has been done by better sanitation, housing and nutrition.

    Pharmaceutical solutions are expensive and the are not brought about for the best interests of the sick, these are secondary to the primary aim of financial profit.

    The only real solution would be to nationalise the pharmaceutical industry and making it none profit making and finally we might see some true openess in the examination of ways of treating the sick.

    • While that may be true, if you take those numbers verses the entire number of people who are taking medication and receiving medical treatment, you’ll likely find that the number of bad outcomes is, as a percentage, fairly low. Nothing in life is perfect and no treatments are without side effects and adverse reactions, no matter if they are modern science based medicine or alternative medicine (with the exception of homeopathy, which remedies contain no active ingredients what-so-ever).

      To compare the number of people killed by guns to those killed by adverse medical outcomes is a non-sequitur. They are two completely unrelated issues. Gun use is not regulated, there is no scientific testing required for gun usage. The way guns are used verses the way medicine is used are totally inconsistent with each other, so you can not make a reasonable comparison of the two.

      The bottom line is that there is a far higher risk of death from untreated or under teated medical conditions than from the treatments themselves, and that is reason enough to continue to promote those treatments. Also, as more and more people are treated, the treatments become, on the whole, safer and more effective as we learn more about the side effects and risks and are able to mitigate them.

  3. Polio, Whooping Cough and Measles were still at epidemic levels well into the 1940’s and 1950s, almost 30 – 40 years after the improvements in housing and sanitation you mention. The current polio epidemic is hitting the affluent and middle class just as much as the impoverished so housing and sanitation is not a factor there.

  4. Hi

    The polio vaccine wasn’t introduced in the UK until 1962, the measles vaccine as part of the MMR wasn’t brought in until 1982, Pertussin vaccine in 1950’s – all these well after the huge drop off rate in death rates.

    If the 6 or 7 biggest killer annually in the USA (known to be hugely under reported) being prescribed medication is an acceptably low outcome, then presumably the 19 fatalities in Tajikistan is barely worth a mention?

    However, I am not really arguing against the supposed efficacy of vaccinations. What I am saying is that the price tag attached to the vaccination/pharmaceutical approach to health-care is not viable for 95% of the world’s economies. Excellent that Tajikistan received help in the current outbreak but can the nation afford the pharmaceutical package that follows? It’s a bit like giving free heroin to the punter and then charging them later when they are hooked. The UK, a fairly wealthy developed country can barely afford health care as it is – how can a developing country ever hope to support one?

    Indeed homeopathic remedies have no measurable active component. This isn’t an argument against it. Surely that would be like saying, pre-telescopes, because I can’t see moons aound Jupiter they don’t exist. The current molecular view of reality is only a model of reality, it is not actually real. Are you so sure that in another 400 years time the current crop of scientists won’t be scoffing at our current concepts of medicine/science?

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