Vaccine Myths 3.1: The Scourge of Childhood

“…young parents of today do not remember…”

In 1974 the St. Petersburg Times wrote:

So many people are neglecting to get immunity shots that doctors fear the seven one-time scourges of childhood–polio, mumps, measles, rubella, diphtheria, lockjaw and whooping cough–may strike American communities again.

However, just six years earlier, in 1968, newspaper stories said things like this:

Although mumps is a relatively mild childhood disease, it can cause sterility when it strikes adult males.

At that time the recommendation was to give the recently developed shots to boys if they hadn’t had the mumps by the time they hit adolescence.

From 1968 to 1974, just 6 years, mumps went from being a “relatively mild childhood disease” to being one of the “scourges of childhood.”

What happened to make mumps so dangerous all of a sudden?

We need to look at a process that the CDC describes here:

1. When there is no vaccine for a disease, the number of people getting the disease is usually high. People are worried about the disease and its effects.
2. When an immunization program for a disease begins, the number of people being vaccinated rises.
3. At the same time, there will be some adverse reactions associated with the vaccine –almost always very few and very mild compared with illness and complications associated with the disease. (emphases added)

So what did a family doctor say about mumps before the vaccine came into use:

In the pre-teenager, mumps is a benign disease with rare complications, and it has been welcomed by generations of children as an excuse from household chores and school. Actually the disease should be handled as two separate maladies, the childhood form and the teenage or adult form.

Mumps in a child usually is only mildly incapacitating and moderately uncomfortable. As noted, many cases in children are so mild as to go unnoticed by parents.

This could only have been written by a doctor who had a wide range of experience of mumps throughout the community. From the same article:

Mumps is not excessively contagious and almost direct contact with the afflicted–such as drinking from the same cup or being sneezed at–is required to contract the disease.

In 1968 mumps is almost a laughing matter in children, but by 1974 it has become a major concern. Who is concerned? The 1974 article consists mostly of quotes from…you’ve probably already figured this out…the Centers for Disease Control.

One problem, according to Don Stenhouse, a public health advisor in the CDC’s immunology branch, is that young parents of today do not remember what terrors these diseases once were.

Did Don Stenhouse come from the rarified atmospheric world of “worst case scenario” case management?

Was his community medicine knowledge limited? Had he ever seen a normal case of mumps? Perhaps not. But still, he could have asked his mother, or a couple of family doctors for a bit of background on childhood mumps before talking about “terrors”.

I’m not sure it is the young parents of 1974 or the family doctors who were suffering from memory lapses. What do you think?

Comments

One Comment on Vaccine Myths 3.1: The Scourge of Childhood

  1. MinorityView on Sun, 28th Feb 2010 8:07 pm
  2. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/28/nyregion/28critic.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

    another outrageous story about mumps vaccine failures

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