By Erin K. Costello
As parents we have probably said it a hundred times, maybe even a thousand times; we would gladly take a bullet for our kids. If given the opportunity, we would sacrifice our life for theirs. If we could, we would take away their heartache, disappointment, and failures and lay it on our shoulders. As parents we also say that we would gladly take away their suffering and make it our own. I only know of one type of parent that isn't willing to end such suffering, the anti-vaccinationist parent. For these parents, watching their children suffer, even watching them come close to death, is not only acceptable, it is often times sought out.
Even for those among us who are not actively involved in the vaccine debate on-line, you most likely have seen or heard of anti-vaccinationists wanting to infect their children with vaccine preventable diseases (VPD) for the purpose of obtaining “natural immunity,” as opposed to manufactured immunity. Recently, one Boulder, Colorado woman made the news for posts made to Facebook regarding a chicken pox party. Before Ms Pox Colorado there was the Texas nurse who lost her job for HIPAA violations not too long ago. Though HIPAA violations are abhorrent enough, what was most alarming to many people was a post she made about wanting to swab inside the mouth of a measles infected child, so she could bring it home and infect her 13 year old unvaccinated child, with the goal of establishing “natural immunity.” Anti-vaccinationists will almost always focus only on the mortality rates of a disease, and then compare them with all the risks or reaction from a vaccine, regardless how small the risk, or how minor the risk or reaction may be. They will rarely, if ever, shed concern for the morbidity of a disease. They care if their child will die from a disease, this is why almost every ajti-vaccinationist will opt for the rabies vaccine for themselves or child if necessary. Sadly though, when it comes to their kids suffering through an illness, they will eagerly opt out of preventing this suffering. Though, when it comes to the parents themselves, they will often accept the vaccination to avoid their own suffering
Think about that for a second. Anti-vaccination parents will choose to accept real risks of their children experiencing the pain and suffering caused from falling ill, all while they cite the imaginary or almost non-existent risks to their kids’ lives and health, most of which are not considered to be severe ailments, as their reason for the vaccine refusal. Once I realized this, I decided to look into what kind of risks there truly are with accepting the vaccinations, and for refusing the vaccinations.
First, let’s establish what is meant by “natural immunity,” In biology, “natural immunity” typically means, “resistance manifested by a species (or by races, families, and individuals in a species) that has not been immunized (sensitized, allergized) by previous infection or vaccination; much of it results from body mechanisms that are poorly understood but differ from those responsible for the altered reactivity associated with the specific nature of acquired immunity; in general, innate immunity is nonspecific and is not stimulated by specific antigens.” Natural, or innate immunity is usually inherent. Whether it be by race, family, species, or other means, it is usually something we already possess and did not acquire due to prior exposure to a pathogen, whether by vaccination or natural exposure. However, this definition does not apply when anti-vaccinationists use the term “natural immunity.” When used in the vaccinate/don’t vaccinate debate, “natural immunity” is obtained after being exposed and sick with a disease as opposed to exposure through vaccination.
When comparing natural immunity and vaccine induced immunity, it is true that natural immunity usually causes better immunity. Natural immunity occurs after a single infection, and vaccine induced immunity (VII) usually occurs after several doses of the vaccine. Natural immunity can also last longer than VII. However, the big difference between the two is the price paid for immunity.
The price you pay for VII is quite low. According to the CDC, the most common vaccine reactions are mild in nature, such as:
* Pain or soreness at injection site
* Lack of appetite
* Mild fever
* Abdominal pain, cough, nausea
* Headaches, upper respiratory tract infection
*Muscle and joint aches, stuffy nose, sore throat
For granted, any of these reactions can be common for many who receive vaccinations. Though, none are serious and they usually dissipate after 1-2 days.
There are those few rare instances where a more moderate reaction can occur. The DTaP can cause:
* Seizure (about 1 child out of 14,000)
* Non-stop crying, for 3 hours or more (up to about 1 child out of 1,000)
* High fever, over 105 degrees F (about 1 child out of 16,000)
The flu shot can cause the following:
* There may be a small increased risk of Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) after inactivated flu vaccine. The risk has been estimated at 1 or 2 additional cases per million people vaccinated.
The MMR vaccine can cause the following moderate events:
* Seizure, often associated with a fever
* Temporary pain and stiffness in the joints, mostly in teenage or adult women
* Temporary lo platelet count, which can cause unusual bleeding or bruising
* Rash all over body
Tdap can be associated with the following moderate (interfered with activities) events:
* Pain where shot was given (up to 1 in 5 or 6)
* Redness or swelling where the shot was given (up to about 1 in 16 adolescents or 1 in 12 adults)
* Fever over 102 degrees F (about 1 in 100 adolescents or 1 in 250 adults)
* Headache (about 1 in 7 adolescents or 1 in 10 adults)
* Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach ache (up to 1 or 3 people in 100)
* Swelling of the entire arm where the shot was given (up to about 1 in 500)
The most severe vaccine reactions, such as allergic reaction, long term seizures, coma, brain damage, deafness, or death happen so rarely that it is difficult to determine if they are caused by the vaccine or something else.
I can empathize with how off-putting these figures can be. As a parent who didn’t write or read about this subject often, seeing these figures would make me want to stop vaccinating. It appears dangerous and risky. However, this is only small part of the data parents should consider.
Taking away the mild and moderate reactions, and only considering the serious reactions, let’s look at what the data shows. According to the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program data (NVICP), from January 1, 2006 to December 31, 2016 there were 3,153,876,236 vaccinations administered. During this same 10 year time frame 5,426 claimants petitioned The NVICP. Of those there were 3,676 compensated, and 1,750 not compensated. This means that 99.99982% of vaccinations administered had no negative effect that required a petitioning of the court, and only 0.00018% of those vaccinations did petition the court. Furthermore, it means that 99.99988% of those vaccinations administered did so without any compensation from the court, and only 0.00012% of those vaccinations had won any compensation. In other words, you have about 1.8 out of a million chances of experiencing a possible reaction serious enough to warrant petitioning of the NVICP, and about 1.2 out of a million chance of experiencing a possible reaction that the court deemed credible enough to award compensation. Serious reactions do not only refer to death, they include the examples listed above like long term seizures, coma, brain damage, and deafness. Either way, serious reaction refers to an ailment that isn’t able to be remedied, or easily remedied and can affect one’s life greatly in many ways for quite some time. The reaction has to be debilitating for some time, if not for life. When looking at the data for serious events, vaccines don’t seem as scary as they did earlier. This debate isn’t only about vaccines though, it is also about the diseases they prevent. So what about those diseases?
Thanks to the wonderful advancements of modern medicine, there are vaccinations available for many diseases. For the interest of keeping your attention and not boring you terribly, I’m going to keep information for each disease brief, and only cover vaccinations for diseases that are common, or have recently become more common, in the U.S.
The symptoms of this disease, which can last anywhere from 3-7 days, include:
* High fever
* Runny nose
* Red, watery eyes
Complications from measles, even today, can be anywhere from common to severe, or long lasting. Severe complications include:
* Pneumonia and encephalitis
* As many as one out of every 20 children with measles gets pneumonia, this is the most common cause of death from measles in young children
* About one child out of every 1,000 who get measles will develop encephalitis that can lead to convulsions and can leave the child deaf or with intellectual disability
* For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die from it.
Long-term complications include:
* Subacute sclerosing pan-encephalitis (SSPE), a very rare but fatal disease of the central nervous system that results from a measles virus infection acquired earlier in life. SSPE generally develops 7 to 10 years after a person has measles.
What are you chances of catching measles?
Before the measles vaccine was developed in 1963, measles caused an estimated 3-4 million cases a year. Close to 500,000 cases were reported to the CDC annually, resulting in:
* 48,000 hospitalizations
* 4,000 cases with encephalitis (swelling of the brain)
* 450 to 500 deaths
Today, about 7 our of 100 people who get one dose of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine will still catch measles, and about 3 out of 100 people who get two doses of the MMR vaccine will still catch measles. That being said, overall your chance of getting measles today really, really low. In 2017, there were 118 cases of measles in the US. When applied to the national population at the end of 2017 which was about 325.7 million, about 0.0000362% of people caught measles. This is with a national herd immunity rate of about 91.1% though. These are also national figures. When you break down the country by regions, by state, by county, or by city these rates can vary widely. It is these local figures you should concern yourself with first since they can affect you the most and do so immediately. The less people vaccinated, the lower your area’s herd immunity becomes, thus the greater your chances for an outbreak. As stated above, the vaccine does not protect everyone 100% of the time. Plus, there are those who are more at risk than those vaccinated. These individuals are usually the most vulnerable among us. They include newborns (CDC recommends they don’t get vaccinated for measles until 12 months of age), the immunocompromised, and those not vaccinated for measles.
If you happen to be one of the 7 out of 100 who received one dose of the MMR, or one of the 3 out of 100 who received two doses of the MMR, a newborn, immunocompromised, or unvaccinated for measles, and you are somehow exposed to measles, you have about a 90% chance of catching measles. Measles carries an R0 number, or reproductive ratio, of (R0: measures the average number of secondary cases generated by one primary case in a susceptible population) 12-18. That makes measles highly contagious. This is because the virus can live for up to tow hours on surfaces and in the air where an infected person coughed or sneezed, infected people are contagious for up to four days before they show symptoms, they continue to be contagious for up to four days after onset of symptoms.
Symptoms of mumps include:
* Pain the the swollen salivary glands on one or both sides of your face
* Pain while chewing or swallowing
* Muscle aches
* Weakness and fatigue
* Loss of appetite.
Complications from mumps usually involve involve inflammation in a body part such as:
* Testicles (3.3% to 10% of adolescent and adult males)
* Brain (less than 1%)
* Membranes and fluid around the brain and spinal cord (less than 1%)
* Pancreas (less than 1%)
Other complications include:
* Hearing loss
* Heart problems
Before the mumps vaccine was made available in 1967, an estimated 212,000 cases occurred annually in the U.S. Mumps wasn’t a reportable disease until 1968 so these estimates are from the year 1964. After the introduction of the mumps vaccine, approximately 3,000 cases were reported annually in 1983-1985. In 2004, after two doses of the MMR vaccine were recommended for school-aged children, the number of reported mumps cases declined to 258. In 2009 though there was an outbreak of mumps with a total number of cases at 3,502 reported, primarily from New York. The outbreak was confined mostly to Orthodox Jewish communities with less than 3% occurring outside of said communities. Among those infected and whose status was reported, 90% received at least 1 dose of the mumps containing vaccine, and 76% received 2 doses.
In 2016, there were 6,369 reported cases of mumps in the U.S. At the time the U.S population was about 324.3 million. About 0.002 people contracted mumps in the U.S during 2016.
The efficacy of the mumps vaccine is estimated to be around 78% after one dose, and 88% after two doses.
The R0 number for mumps is 4-7.
Symptoms of rubella include:
* Low grade fever
* Mild pink eye
* General discomfort
* Swollen and enlarged lymph nodes
* Runny nose
Complications from rubella can include:
* Up to 70% women who contract rubella may experience arthritis
* The most serious complication from rubella is the harm it can cause a developing baby in a pregnant woman. If unvaccinated and infected a pregnant woman can miscarry, or her baby can die shortly after birth. She can also pass the infection to her baby causing serious birth defects such as:
* Heart problems
* Loss of hearing or sight
* Intellectual disability
* liver or spleen damage
Before the development of the rubella vaccine, from1964-65 12.5 million Americans were infected with rubella. This caused 2,000 deaths in babies, and 11,000 miscarriages. Rubella has a R0 number of 5-7. Since 2012 only 15 cases have been reported, thanks to the vaccine. In 2017 the U.S had a rubella vaccination rate of 91.5%.
One dose of the MMR vaccine is 97% effective against rubella. Two doses are higher than 97% effective.
Your chances of catching rubella are incredibly small.
Symptoms of tetanus include:
* Jaw cramping
* Sudden, involuntary muscle tightening
* Painful muscle stiffness all over the body
* Trouble swallowing
* Jerking or staring (seizures)
* Fever and sweating
* Changes in blood pressure and fast heart rate
Complications from tetanus include:
* Uncontrolled/involuntary tightening of the vocal cords
* Broken bones/fractures
* Infections gotten by a patient during hospital stay
* Blockage of the main artery of the lung or one of it’s branches by a blood clot (pulmonary embolism)
* Breathing difficulty leading to death
Basically, if you don’t die from tetanus, you will suffer immensely.
Even before the vaccine, tetanus was not that common to catch. Since it wasn’t a reportable illness until after the vaccine it’s difficult to figure the number of incidents, though the death toll was documented. In 1900, almost 2.5 people per 100,000 died from tetanus. When the vaccine became available in the 1940’s that number dropped down to less than 0.5 people per 100,000. In 2015, a total of 29 tetanus cases and 2 deaths were reported in the U.S. The vaccine, when up to date, is almost 100% effective.
Tetanus is not a communicable disease. You can not catch it from someone else nor can you spread it to other people. You can only catch tetanus when exposed to the spore forming bacterium “Clostridium tetani. These spores are normally found in soil contaminated with animal or human excreta.
PERTUSSIS (whooping cough)
Early signs and symptoms last about 1 to 2 weeks and they include:
* Runny nose
Later stage symptoms occur as the disease progresses and they include:
* Paroxysms (fits of rapid coughing)
These later symptoms can last for a while, sometimes up to months. The rapid coughing is especially known to last months, causing this disease to have been nicknamed the “100 day cough.”
Complications from pertussis can become serious and even deadly in babies and young children, especially in those unvaccinated or under vaccinated. About half of babies under the age of one who get pertussis end up needing to be hospitalized. The younger the child is, the more likely they’ll end up in the hospital. Of those babies who end up hospitalized:
* 1 out of 4 (23%) get pneumonia
* 1 out of 100 (1.1%) will have convulsions
* 3 out of 5 (61%) will have apnea
* 1 out of 300 (0.3%) will have encephalopathy
* 1 out of 100 (1%) will die
Complications can also occur in teens and adults, though they tend to be less severe. These complications include:
* Weight loss in 1 out of 3 (33%)
* Loss of bladder control in 1 out of 3 (28%)
* Passing out in 3 out of 50 (6%)
* Rib fractures from severe coughing in 1 out of 26 (4%)
Before the whooping cough vaccine in the 1940s, about 200,000 children contracted the infection each year in the US, and about 9,000 died due to the illness. Now we see about 10,000-40,000 cases each year, and sadly we still see up to 20 deaths.
In 1940, before the pertussis vaccine, the U.S population was about 132,200,000. According to the 1940 census, about 30.6% of the population were under the age of 18. That would mean approximately 40,453,200 people in the U.S were under the age of 18. Therefore, there was a 0.5% chance a child caught pertussis during this time, and about 0.022% of children died from pertussis.
Common symptoms of the flu include:
* Sore throat
* Rummy or stuffy nose
* Muscle or body aches
* Vomiting and or diarrhea
Most people with the flu will recover within days to 2 weeks. Some people can experience complications from the flu though. These complications usually include:
* Encephalitis, myositis, or rhabdomyolysis
* Multi-organ failure
* Respiratory failure
The benefits of the flu vaccine are immense. The efficacy of the flu shot does vary year to year but the data shoes the shot makes a difference. For example, during 2016 to 2017, the flu shot is estimated to have prevented about 5.3 million influenza illnesses, 2.6 million flu related medical visits, and about 85,000 flu associated hospitalizations.
The risk of serious reaction to the flu shot are incredibly low. It is estimated to be about 1-2 people per million vaccinated for the flu may develop an allergic reaction and/or Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS).
CHICKEN POX (Varicella)
Common symptoms of chicken pox, usually lasting 5 to 7 days, include:
* Loss of appetite
Serious complications from chicken pox include:
* Bacterial infections of the skin and soft tissues in children including Group A streptococcal infections
* Encephalitis or cerebellar ataxia
* Bleeding problems
* Blood stream infection (sepsis)
People most at risk of serious complications are infants, adolescents, adults, pregnant women, people with a weakened immune system (those with HIV/AIDS or cancer, patients who have had transplants, people on chemotherapy, immunosuppressive medications, or long term use of steroids.
Chicken pox is highly contagious. The R0 number is between 8 to 9. Before the vaccine, about 4 million people a year would get chicken pox. On average there were 10,500 to 13,000 hospitalized, and about 100 to 150 died per year.
The vaccine became available in 1995. Current data estimates that each year more than 3.5 million cases of chicken post, 9,000 hospitalizations, and 100 deaths are prevented from the vaccine. The CDC gives the usual “1 in a million” chance of serious risk with the vaccine, though does’t report to know of any.
Chicken pox is also used by the anti vaccination community to lower the parents’ risk of catching shingles. The people who claim they care most about their kids believe that when kids catch chicken pox, this creates a barrier between adults and shingles. They also claim that when kids are vaccinated for chicken pox, this barrier is somehow tainted or flawed and increases the risk of shingles in adults. Skeptical Raptor summed it up best, “Using children as a vehicle to immunize adults has got to be one of the most morally repugnant beliefs of the anti-vaccine crowd. Seriously, these anti-vaccine religion adherents feign their concern about children, yet to protect adults they are willing to let their children get a serious disease.” Even Modern Alternative Mama (MAM), aka Kate Tietje, is perfectly fine risking the health of her children and possibly watching them suffer with illness for this cause. In the post featured in the image above, she calls chicken pox a “mostly harmless (if annoying) rash and mild fever,” and claims that because of the vaccine administered to children we are now seeing younger adults getting shingles and says “it’s typically worse for them if they do.” I suppose we should just be grateful that it isn’t a broken arm she’s brushing off this time.
When you look at these figures for the diseases listed, as well as the risk of their respective vaccinations, it becomes easy to assume that some diseases are more of a risk than others. Before you assume this though, I’d like you to remember the data listed above is based on today’s herd immunity rates. Should more people opt out of vaccinations for themselves and their kids the herd immunity rates will continue to fall. This is why it becomes important to also consider the data for communicable VPD from pre-vaccination eras. Hopefully, disease risks and rates in the future will never match those of the past, but if people continue to refuse vaccinations, especially as the population increases, and climate change continues to displace thousands of people every year, achieving dangerously high incident rates is probable at worst, and highly possible at best.
The next time you are asked to vaccinate yourself or your kids, it is acceptable and understandable to think about the risks involved with choosing to vaccinate. But, you owe it to yourself and loved ones to especially consider and realize the risks involved with refusing the vaccine. For example, think about how refusing the MMR increases your chance of catching measles, and consider how your chances are further increased with every person who denies the MMR. And lastly, understand the increased risks of complications from measles compared to the risks of complications from the MMR. Denying yourself these such realizations because you wish they weren't true will not do you or your family and favors. It is time for all of us (by "us" I'm looking at you anti-vaccinationists) to end the denial, the false equivalences, and the confirmation biases. It is time to leave the echo chambers and learn real knowledge. It is time to grow the fuck up.