Vaccine Myths Round Four
Vaccines saved us: just visit an old graveyard and look at all the markers for dead babies and children.
Click on the graph to enlarge it. For more graphs go here.
When the vaccine arguments are hot and furious, a frequent insult is: “You don’t understand the science!” The confusion in this case doesn’t arise from ignorance of science, but from ignorance of history. The people who think that vaccines saved millions of children from death see the story like this:
Childhood illnesses run uncontrolled through the population leaving dead bodies in every house. Parents are in despair. Brave doctor cooks up a vaccine, the disease stops dead, and all children come through to a healthy adulthood.
But the real story is a bit different. The first widely used measles vaccine began to be distributed in the U.S. in 1967.
No that isn’t a typo. It was 1967 when the measles vaccine began to be widely used in the U.S.
So what happened to children in the U.S. between, say, 1911 and 1967?
Mortality from measles dropped sharply.
The communicable diseases of childhood measles, scarlet fever, whooping cough and diphtheria declined remarkably in 1930. Not only did the combined mortality from these four diseases drop 26 percent in a single year, but each of the four registered a new low death rate. Comparison with the year 1911 shows a 79 percent decline in the combined mortality of the group, a decline of 81 percent for measles and for scarlet fever, of 73 percent for whooping cough, and of 79 percent for diphtheria.
The mortality rates decreased so far that one writer said this in 1935:
All of the old menaces like typhoid, smallpox, measles, scarlet fever, whooping cough, and diphtheria have become minor causes of death. The chance is very remote indeed that any of them will ever again assume sufficient importance in the mortality tables seriously to affect the general death rate.
To all those people who say: “Just go visit a graveyard, to see how bad things were before we had vaccines to save children from measles,” I’d like to know what time period they would like us to review. Are they thinking 1700? Or perhaps 1800? Some period between 1900 and 1930? Or perhaps they had in mind 1966, just before all of the children were finally saved from measles by the belated arrival of the vaccine.
Note: The article quoted above which provides specific drops in mortality for four childhood diseases, credits the diphtheria vaccine for saving lives, but doesn’t comment on the oddity that the three diseases for which no vaccine was available had more or less identical decreases in mortality over the same period of time. Could there be a common factor which was influencing childhood mortality rates for all of these diseases?
In 1951, Geoffrey Edsall wrote:
…generally agreed the relative susceptibility of adults to diphtheria is related to the steady decrease in the incidence of the disease, a decrease which in this country has proceeded almost without interruption for the past eighty years, and which has occurred in states with no extensive immunization programs as well as in those with long established programs. (emphases added)