Where Do They Find These Scary Statistics?

Dr. Gerberding of the CDC

[Series Links: Part II, Part III]

Remember Hannah Poling? The head of the CDC, dressed in a very nice pink suit, appeared on TV and discussed Hannah’s case. In one of her appearances she said something like this: “Vaccines prevent 33,000 deaths a year in the United States.” Just to make sure I had the statement right, I searched for the phrase and found it again, from CNN, this time in print.

Today, through immunizations given in the first two years of life, we can protect children from 16 diseases, preventing 33,000 deaths and 14 million illnesses per year.

A few searches made it clear that this is a very popular statistic. A variety of news stories included the information that vaccines prevent 33,000 deaths a year in the United States. This is an interesting number to anyone who knows a bit about the history of infectious diseases. I decided to dig deeper.

My next find was this chart, which is on a the web-site of an organization called Every Child by Two. The chart provides morbidity (incidence) and mortality (deaths) for each disease. How in the world would someone be able to calculate (for example) the exact number of cases of diphtheria which would occur and the exact number of deaths which would follow? Amazing! There must be some truly extraordinary scientific research underlying these numbers, don’t you think? Read more

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