Vaccination is a choice. So is being well informed.

30 Jan

I see a lot of headlines in my Facebook newsfeed about the new measles pandemic. It’s usually paired with commentary about how “anti-vaxxers” are irresponsible, reckless and should bury their heads in shame.

We aren’t going to vaccinate our son and since none of my friends that know ask me about why we came to that decision (but surely want to know our reasoning), I’d like to share what lead me to this decision.

But first, some background on me. I have never been one to take anything at face value, especially from someone in a position of power or authority. From my days as an activist teen, I always asked WHY. And as an adult, and especially as a mother, I must know why. WHY *must* I vaccinate? Here are (what I think) are the main arguments for vaccination:

1. It will keep your child from contracting preventable, potentially life-threatening diseases

2. It’s your societal duty to ensure that there’s herd immunity for those that cannot be vaccinated

3. There’s a measles pandemic because people don’t vaccinate!

Those are the biggies, right? There are others, of course (“because my doctor told me to”), but I think these are the most prevalent.

Let’s face it, there is a LOT of misinformation out there. I made the mistake a year or so ago of publicly sharing an article about vaccinations from naturalnews.com. I was lambasted and it made me cower. I regretted giving clout to a source that didn’t deserve it but I was also taken aback by the instantaneous and vehement response from parent-friends and non-parents alike. I decided to keep my views to myself.

But those with strong views in favour of vaccination do not cower. They share their views widely on Facebook, Twitter, etc., as if they are so obviously right and sharing various junk journalism proves that.

I want to be clear here. It is a parent’s right to decide what’s best for their child. I hold no judgement against anyone that chooses to vaccinate and I expect the same respect.

But the problem is – no one wants to ask me about why we don’t vaccinate. I know they have opinions about it and I would love nothing more than an educated dialogue about our choices.

I’ve fallen down the research rabbit hole and have a huge cache of material that I need to put together. But for this post, I’m going to give you insight into how I read articles I see posted on my feed. People are so quick to rip down “quack anti-vaxx” articles as being inaccurate, but I can tell you with 100% certainty, it goes both ways. And I’m not talking about FOX News or The Sun.

I’m going to critique an article that recently showed up in my feed from a reputable magazine, The Atlantic: “The New Measles“.

First paragraph (bold emphasis is mine):

“Measles used to be an illness everyone got.

Before vaccination became widespread in the 1960s, pediatricians knew to check their patients’ throats for the spray of telltale spots. Scientists raced for decades to develop an effective vaccine. And in the meantime, newspapers printed matter-of-fact death tolls, tallying high numbers of deaths by measles, scarlet fever, smallpox, and other illnesses of the recent past.

Now, I had a look at those “death tolls” reporting “high number of deaths”. The article links to a newspaper clipping from the Salt Lake Tribune from 19 September 1909. There is a column called “Report on Contagious Diseases Prevalent In Utah At This Time”. The resolution isn’t great, but I zoomed in enough to transcribe the text:

“The health report covering the month of August for the the whole state of Utah was issued Saturday by the state board of health. It shows that out of a total population of 346,873 there were 300 deaths from all causes; 106 districts reported no deaths whatever during the month, out of 146 districts reporting: 73 districts were free from all contagious diseases. Concerning contagious diseases the report is as follows: Scarlet fever, cases 57, deaths 2; small pox, cases 101, no deaths; diphtheria and membranous croup, cases 37, deaths 2; typhoid fever, cases 108, deaths 2; whooping cough, cases 191, deaths 7; measles cases 16, no deaths; chicken pox, cases 17, no deaths; pneumonia, cases 24 (report incomplete), deaths 13; tuberculosis, cases 16 (reporting not complete), deaths 3.”

But I wonder how many other readers actually followed through on that link? Because I certainly don’t think that 16 cases of measles in the month of August in Utah with zero deaths justifies the phrasing “high numbers of death.” But that kind of language keeps eyeballs on pages, doesn’t it?

Measles is very contagious. Many, many children contracted it but the fatality rates are grossly misrepresented in much of the media’s reporting about it.

Now let’s take a look at the second paragraph in The Atlantic article (bold emphasis is my own):

People expected to get measles in those days, but they didn’t expect to survive. Measles killed some 2.6 million people each year before vaccination was widespread, according to the World Health Organization. Today, some 145,000 people die of measles each year—most of them because they lack access to the vaccine—and just a tiny fraction of them are in the United States, where the vaccine is readily available and widely used.”

There is so much wrong with this paragraph.

People didn’t expect to survive if they got measles in those days? According to the CDC, in 1920 “469,924 measles cases were reported, and 7575 patients died“. According to my calculator, the fatality rate with those figures is 1.6%. “Didn’t expect to survive” seems like a bit of an overstatement then, doesn’t it?

Here is a table from the Oxford Journal of Infectious Diseases that illustrates the measles death rate ratios in New York state from 1910-1969 (click the graph to see the source).

Screen shot 2015-01-28 at 9.55.05 PM

Next sentence in the same paragraph states: “Measles killed some 2.6 million people each year before vaccination was widespread, according to the World Health Organization.”

That seems like a really high number to me. Too high. I am still looking for where this “2.6 million” number came from. It’s very difficult to find official statistics before 1980 online.

Neither the CDC or the WHO has this information available. I was able to find a table documenting incidences of measles globally from 1980-2013 though:
http://apps.who.int/immunization_monitoring/globalsummary/timeseries/tsincidencemeasles.html

You can’t download the table, so I exported it into an Excel spreadsheet so I could get a closer look at the numbers. Have a look: WHO_measles_1980-2013 (you’ll need Excel to view it and do the sums yourself).

If you can locate a reliable source of statistics that lists global fatality rates from measles from 1900-1980, please let me know!

And finally, the last part of that paragraph. It claims (like so many others) that “Today, some 145,000 people die of measles each year—most of them because they lack access to the vaccine—and just a tiny fraction of them are in the United States, where the vaccine is readily available and widely used.”

The thing is, people are dying of measles complications despite having been vaccinated. Here’s the summary of a study done in West Africa, “Effect of subclinical infection on maintaining immunity against measles in vaccinated children in West Africa” published in The Lancet:

“Clinical measles occurred in 20 (56%) of 36 unvaccinated children and in one (1%) of 87 vaccinated children. Subclinical measles occurred in 39 (45%) of 86 vaccinated children who were exposed to measles and in four (25%) of 16 unvaccinated children. The frequency was inversely related to pre-exposure antibody concentration (p<0·001 for trend) and directly related to intensity of exposure (p=0·002 for trend). Antibody concentrations in subclinical cases increased on average by 45-fold and remained raised for at least 6 months.”

Poor sanitation, malnourishment and living in an overcrowded population is the reality for the vast majority of the people suffering from measles complications. For those people, vaccination could be their only defense against diseases that shouldn’t be deadly in a healthy person.  The WHO states that 45% of all childhood deaths are linked to malnutrition.

Another study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, titled “Undernutrition as an underlying cause of child deaths associated with diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria, and measles” found that:

“The RR (relative risk) of mortality because of low weight-for-age was elevated for each cause of death and for all-cause mortality. Overall, 52.5% of all deaths in young children were attributable to undernutrition, varying from 44.8% for deaths because of measles to 60.7% for deaths because of diarrhea.”

So, when we see these 6-digit figures of estimated measles fatalities, we need to consider other crucial factors like where these deaths occur and why. It’s not as simple as lacking a vaccination.

Last year, there were just over 280,000 reported cases of measles. So, if 145,000 people are dying from the measles each year (that’s 0.0024% of a 6 billion global population btw), are we expected to believe that the fatality rate is over 50%?!

The numbers just don’t add up. But then, that’s expected when the main source of “factual” information about measles comes from the CDC, who have well-documented ties to the pharmaceutical industry. But that’s a whole other blog post.

And I’m only on the first two paragraphs of the article. What I’ve talked about above is just a tiny fraction of the reason why we made our decision. I just want my friends to understand that OUR reason not to vaccinate was not an easy decision. It was researched.

This is Part One of the article critique. I didn’t think the first two paragraphs would give me so much material so will split it up.

 

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12 Responses to “Vaccination is a choice. So is being well informed.”

  1. Suzy February 3, 2015 at 7:28 pm #

    So you’re saying that 1) as parents, we can make the choice however it affects society at large, because kids are our “property” so we can choose how we raise them? So I think I’ll let my child defecate on the street. It doesn’t harm anyone, directly, and I don’t believe in sanitation so it’s cool. No worries about the bacteria that is spread in defecation.

    As for being well-informed, your basis for choosing to put your child/others at risk (thanks to herd immunity) is that in an article in 1909, it reported in the month of August that of 16 reported cases, 0 died. And that it doesn’t add up to the numbers WHO is claiming for mortality. You do realize that science has changed a lot since then, that perhaps deaths were contributed to other factors and pinpointing at a one month report from 1909 might not be the best reasoning to support your anti-vaccination ideas? Not to mention that, even if one doesn’t die (which apparently is sustaining your belief), measles is not a fun and jolly disease to have. http://www.jennymccarthybodycount.com/Anti-Vaccine_Body_Count/Whats_The_Harm.html

    What I am gathering from this blog post is that you are suspicious of death counts and CDC (because of supposed ties to pharmaceutical companies) so you don’t mind if your child gets preventable diseases that vaccinations will, in light of herd immunity, combat. The reasoning for you is that death is unlikely and that is all that matters, even though there’s technically no reason to not vaccinate because 1) the autism link was a study that has since been proven a hack and the “scientist” who did it refuses to replicate it 2) CHEMICALS ARE BAD but let’s be real, unless your kid is bubble boy, he’s gonna be exposed to chemicals and 3) measles, whooping cough, mumps, rubella etc are unlikely to kill so who cares if the kid is sick every often (like this child of anti-vaxxers http://www.slate.com/articles/life/family/2014/01/growing_up_unvaccinated_a_healthy_lifestyle_couldn_t_prevent_many_childhood.html ).

    p.s. are you also a climate change non-believer? I’m guessing yes.

    • amansterdam February 4, 2015 at 11:24 am #

      My child is not my property but I am responsible for making decisions on his behalf until he is old enough to do so himself.

      You’ve clearly read what you wanted to read in my post but I’ll take the bait because your comment is exactly the reason I was motivated to blog about this. I don’t make decisions out of fear and I am not swayed by the tide of opinions and emotional rhetoric either.

      This article was about the incessant tide of junk journalism concerning measles vaccinations and how most people don’t look into the sources that these articles cite (or don’t, as is the case in most articles). They just take everything they read at face value and that’s the end of it. I discussed that newspaper clipping that The Atlantic cited because it’s a good example of facts being manipulated to fulfil the author’s agenda.

      I’m not even going to click on the link you posted because I wouldn’t consider Jenny McCarthy a reputable source on the issue.

      I’m not suspicious of death counts. I’m suspicious of how statistics are manipulated. I would like factual reporting of statistics, not randomly slapping numbers into an article without any context.

      Your assumptions are just that, assumptions. I didn’t mention autism once in my post.

      And as for herd immunity, I was saving that for another post but since you asked. Herd immunity is a scare mongering tactic. It is a theory that is outdated and no longer applicable in today’s society. For one, there are plenty of scientific studies on how measles were contracted by people that had been fully vaccinated. Secondly, for herd immunity to exist, there needs to be a constant vaccination rate of 90%. Given the low-cost of airline travel and open borders, that is impossible to maintain. So, if you believe in herd immunity and think it will protect your child, I would suggest finding a remote island with very high walls.

      As for Dr. Wakefield, you know that he has been vindicated, right? Of course, this was kept quiet in the media: http://www.bmj.com/rapid-response/2011/11/02/wakefield%E2%80%99s-lancet-paper-vindicated-%E2%80%93-yet-again

      Yes, chemicals are bad and I am going to do everything I can to protect him from unnecessary exposure.

      And as for your third point – the death ratios for those diseases and other important factors like risk of complication, rate of infection, etc., all greatly differ so it’s pretty stupid to group them all together.

      That Slate article is ONE person’s experience, so again, it has no influence whatsoever on how we make decisions for our son.

      • Suzy February 4, 2015 at 8:01 pm #

        I did read your post and I do get the fact you’re skeptical about how facts are being construed. However, at the end of the day, REGARDLESS of whether you think the numbers are phooey and herd immunity is nowhere near 90% (and to be honest, with air travel and open borders, your reasoning is “don’t even bother with the layer of extra protection” because… why not, anyone can cough on anyone anyway, so MIGHT AS WELL NOT HAVE SOME INTERNAL IMMUNITY BUILT IN), you’re putting at risk your own child to get those diseases that have for the most part in recent history been more or less eradicated in the first world -not to mention others who are either too young to be vaccinated as seen in the links I posted that you haven’t unscreened- or cannot be vaccinated, not by choice. And the point of the NYT op-ed piece and the Slate piece wasn’t to say “THIS IS SCIENTIFIC FACT TO SUPPORT MY POINT”, it was to show first-person experience of getting these diseases that vaccinations help protect against. The objective wasn’t to say “oh you’re clearly going to die from these diseases, look at these links” but that these diseases aren’t a fun walk in the park and can be devastating on people. As for the Jenny McCarthy link, LOL, I never linked to HER site or even think she’s of any reasonable scientific source for anything. That was just a link to show how these diseases are in terms of experience – it was just an unfortunately URL. Again, you say “it’s just one person’s experience” and “one person’s opinion” of how shitty it was having chicken pox on the eyeball that caused vision to deteriorate or losing mobility in a limb thanks to polio, all before vaccines became available, fine. If you want to brush it off… what can ya do. Feel bad for your kid though.

        As for your Dr. Wakefield being “vindicated”, OH MY GOSH I would think that you, being all skeptical about how people are reading things at face value (I quote you), would be able to see through the B.S. on this so-called scientific study for his quiet “vindication”. It was conducted by Autism Speaks – which if you know anything about autism, those who are parents of kids with autism, they question Autism Speaks’ agenda. Don’t take my word for it, look it up. And that is it, for proof that he was vindicated?? I mean really, the journal he posted the original paper had it retracted (http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2810%2960175-4/abstract) and five really solid epidemiological reports that were very clear that MMR is not associated with autism, and does not cause autism” (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/childhood-vaccines-cleared-of-autism-diabetes-link-new-report/).

      • amansterdam February 4, 2015 at 8:44 pm #

        Suzy, I agree, immunity is important. But I would rather my son have natural immunity from wild measles than a chemical one that interferes with how his body would naturally function (and isn’t guaranteed effective anyways). The CDC states on its website that “Before a vaccine was available, infection with measles virus was nearly universal during childhood, and more than 90% of persons were immune by age 15 years.” That is a powerful statement that resonates with me. Obviously I am aware that there can be complications from measles and yes, it’s always tragic when any child gets ill. Those cases are rare, even if they pull at heartstrings. As for your links, well, I’m just not even going to waste my time with something called “jennymccarthybodycount.com”. As for Wakefield, I don’t care to debate with you the merits of his vindication, but there are several court cases where the ruling was in favour of a plaintiff suing because of the vaccine/autism link – http://www.cbsnews.com/news/family-to-receive-15m-plus-in-first-ever-vaccine-autism-court-award/. That’s just one example.

        As for “unscreening” your links, I approved both the comments you left on my blog.

        And as for your comment about “brushing if off”, that’s the opposite of what I’m doing. I let facts speak for themselves and when those facts are manipulated, I tend to question why. I don’t let fear dictate my decision-making process.

      • amansterdam February 4, 2015 at 8:50 pm #

        Your comments with the links went to my spam folder (as is the case when comments are posted with just links). I’ve approved them and will read them.

    • amansterdam February 4, 2015 at 11:26 am #

      And yeah, this is an op-ed, not fact, so you’re really not making any grand revelations here.

    • amansterdam February 4, 2015 at 8:53 pm #

      Yeah, this is just more emotionally fuelled fear mongering and I’ve seen it already in my news feed ad nauseum. If anything, it just goes to prove my point about how statistics are pulled out of context to meet the author’s agenda.

  2. Suzy February 8, 2015 at 12:06 am #

    Re: the suing of the autism/vaccine story from 2010 you linked you, you might want to read further on it rather than just using that as vindication of vaccines just being the root of the issue

    “Officials at the US Department of Health and Human Services investigating Hannah’s medical history said that vaccines had “significantly aggravated an underlying mitochondrial disorder, which predisposed her to deficits in energy metabolism”, causing damage “with features of autism spectrum disorder”. The officials said that the vaccine didn’t “cause” her autism, but “resulted” in it.

    Lindsey Kent, of the University of St Andrews in the UK, says that mitochondrial disorders are very rare, only affecting 0.0057 per cent of the population. And the proportion of those with autism as well will be even smaller, with autism affecting just 1 per cent of children. As to the specific mutation in Hannah’s DNA, there are only four other cases known worldwide, according to Salvatore DiMauro of Columbia University in New York.”
    http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2010/09/family-win-15-million-in-autis.html

    I like how you account everything to 1) fear mongering 2) statistics are pulled out of context to meet an agenda, or the general public consensus of the society at large not including a pocket of usually white, middle to upper class, liberal people. I’m also curious, as you say it’s all fear mongering and statistics from CDC/scientific publications etc are all lies to fit an agenda/the media discourse, would that mean you also are skeptical about the scientific consensus and associated fear mongering when it comes to global warming? Or do you believe in global warming… it’s hard to tell because those who don’t believe it, generally conservatives, use those two reasons as well. But then the anti-vaxxers are often liberal so I’m curious how that works.

    • amansterdam February 9, 2015 at 9:38 am #

      Suzy,

      I’m more than happy and willing to engage in debate about this with you, but please don’t twist my words out of context. In no way whatsoever did I claim any vindication of vaccines as being at the root of autism. I said “…but there are several court cases where the ruling was in favour of the plaintiff suing because of the vaccine/autism link.” See that last word? LINK. Not CAUSE. There’s a significant difference.

      As for your claim about me accounting everything to fear mongering and statistics pulled out of context – YES, that’s exactly what I’m saying the MEDIA is doing. And that is exactly what I’ve proven in my article using The Atlantic’s piece as just one example.

      I’m really having a hard time following your rationale about my views on vaccination being related to my views on global warming but since you’re so curious, yes, I do believe in global warming.

      • Suzy February 9, 2015 at 9:16 pm #

        Regardless, because of the “non-causal link” link verbiage, at the end of the day, you appear to put a lot of weight into the report of someone who has had his report discredited and himself barred from practicing medicine in the UK — even if your original reasoning for “vaccination as a choice” is not relevant to autism, the fact you bring up that he was “vindicated” shows support for him somehow. And perhaps I am wrong that this is the reason. but it just happens to be the flag that anti-vaxxers like to wave whenever questioned.

        You’re not getting the rationale re: anti-vaxxers vs climate change deniers??

        Scenario one:
        – Majority of persons with specialized knowledge on the subject (doctors and health practitioners) claim that vaccines are important for all children, especially those who are too young to be vaccinated (like babies) or children with suppressed immune systems (like kids undergoing chemo) but anti-vaxxers deny the professional opinion of these individuals who have that medical background, choosing to justify it with their own reasons. Sometimes referring to anomalies of professionals like Dr Wakefield to support their cause. They then ~choose~ to not vaccinate, thereby ignoring the general consensus of medical practitioners on the subject.

        Scenario two:
        – Majority of scientists studying climate change agree it is happening and have published reports illustrating evidence of it occurring. But the global warming denying contingent don’t agree it’s happening, either referring to “really cold winters!” or “not human caused” or “it’s not a big deal” and latch onto the reports from the on-the-fringes, scientists-for-hire who work with think tanks (most of the time) who also claim climate change isn’t happening. So they support politicians who strike down bills related to climate change and they continue living their life as if it’s not an issue. Though I guess you could say at least their denial is less directly endangering to others.

        Like the Trident commercials, 1 in 10 dentists agree! But nope, gonna ignore the other 9. Because because.

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