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Antivaccination Deaths

How Random Babbling Becomes Corporate Policy

run the fuck away

Mad science gone horribly, horribly wrong(or right).

Antivaccination Deaths

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An infant died of whooping cough in Australia recently. She was too young to be immunized, but if the adults she came in contact with had been, she would have benefited from herd immunity, and would still be alive.

Out of curiosity, I ran some numbers on vaccinations.

Let's be very generous. Let's posit that this utterly unsubstantiated and implausible link between autism and vaccination exists.

What's the rate of incidence? There's 6 in 1,000 people that have some sort of autism spectrum disorder. 2 in 1,000 have true autism. We'll work with that number. Let's assume that every member of this 0.2% is properly diagnosed and the disease was caused by a vaccination.

I repeat: these assumptions are very generous. Even if vaccines did cause autism (they don't), we know that there are other causes as well. These are very generous assumptions to make.

Now, let's look an measles. In an vaccinated person in a developed country, 3 in 1,000 people die- 0.3% fatality rate. In underdeveloped nations, it's closer to 280 per thousand. In immunocompromised patients, like AIDS victims or cancer patients, it's in the same neighborhood- about 300 in 1,000.

And that's just measles. And that's just deaths- we're not counting complications like corneal scarring- yes, measles can blind you.

So, even if we grant the most generous possible claims made by the anti-vaxxers, their arguments don't stand up. Measles, alone, is a more credible threat than vaccine induced autism, even if every autism case was caused by a vaccine. Even if we take the absurd claims at face value, the argument doesn't hold up.

Oh, let's keep going. Whooping cough kills 600,000 people a year of the 10-90 million it infects. Why the big range? It occurs mostly in third world countries where it's hard to get good statistics. Let's pick in the middle- say, 60 million cases. That's a 1% fatality rate. Heck, even if we go out to 90 million, we're still looking at a 0.6% fatality rate- which is the same rate of autism spectrum disorder in the population.

Between measles and whooping cough, we're talking a 0.9% fatality rate. Wanna start adding diseases? Polio isn't extinct, you know.

Ignoring the non-existent autism link, there are real risks to vaccines. The CDC has some data, but it should be perfectly clear: vaccines are less dangerous than the disease they prevent.
  • AMEN!
    Just don't let Jenny McCarthy hear you say that.
  • Stop being logical, this is the Internet.
    • Wow. Watching that video...

      Some people are inconcievably stupid.

      That one woman did have a point though, about the ease of gathering information about the risks vs benefits. This is something that could perhaps be improved. The antivax crowd is doing all they can on this front, perhaps doctors should do more to counter the disinformation.
    • it's really hard to counter totally off the wall crazy. because the immediate reaction is just to blink and go "your fucking crazy man!" or "that can't possibly be true!"

      Like my boyfriend was relaying a conversation he had with some people who were trying to start up a commune. One of several sticking points they had with him was with medicine. Neither of us would join a commune that gives up modern medicine. When they said they were planning on doing that, he was like "you've gotta be crazy! I'm sorry, but no". When we were talking about it later, I said that if it came up again, he should ask who would bear the responsibility of killing the person who caught rabies before they killed anyone else. Because w/o modern medicine, you can either tie them up good and let them die slow, or you kill them right away. But they are going to die. Unfortunately, the topic never came up again, so we didn't get a chance to present the possible serious down sides of the decision (which we're pretty sure they made out of ignorance, since they grew up in developed nations and had health care through their childhood). On the plus side, the last we heard, no one was crazy enough to sign up with them yet. :)

    • I should add that I'm not generally a fan of modern occidental medicine as practiced in the US. I find it horribly unscientific, unnecessarily banal, and mismanaged to the point of making it both insanely expensive and actively bad for the public interest more than half the time.

      But I'm still not going to make a blanket statement that we should give all of it up. I'd rather *fix* the problems than start over (and from what, remaining tomes of poetry to Hestia and Apollo mixed with Chinese herbal texts and some Santeria?)

      But yeah, the problem is it's hard to make a webpage to counter totally crazy stuff. What would you say on it that wouldn't sound like you were as crazy as they are - or give them more credence by acknowledging them?
      • But yeah, the problem is it's hard to make a webpage to counter totally crazy stuff. What would you say on it that wouldn't sound like you were as crazy as they are - or give them more credence by acknowledging them?

        There are, fortunately, many good resources out there. JREF and Junk Science spring readily to mind. Snopes too, of course!

        One that might really hit home with people is What's The Harm? It documents cases where psuedoscience, superstition, and religion have led to harm (physical or financial) or death.
        • Snopes is generally a good source, and would be worth patterning a debunking site after.

          JREF didn't seem to have anything specific about debunking on it. Junk Science actually references the Cato Institute as a scientifically credible source, and blows what remaining credibility it was going to get from apparently attempting to teach the scientific method by spending so much time trashing statistics that it fails to teach you that it's *repeated pattern* of results pointing in a direction that leads researchers to conclude that a hypothesis is ready for acceptance. It's a big enough error in the basis of the scientific method that I would conclude the site doesn't actually promote science at all.

          What's the Harm's stated goal is to get people to think critically more often, which is good. But it's not a debunking site, and it includes a lot of confusingly labeled categories and instances of mistakes that don't indicate a problem with the actual idea (see entire section on expert witnesses - surely they don't mean to imply that there's no benefit in having them at all).

          But the idea of a snopes like site for debunking science based myths isn't a bad one.

  • Not that I disagree with the argument that the benefits of vaccinations outweigh any negative consequences, but your numbers are a bit off.

    In the whooping cough example, for instance, you directly compare the rate of fatality with the rate of autism, i.e. you are equating the rate of something that only affects a subsection of the population with something that would affect most of the population. E.g. if you vaccinate your entire population against a disease that only 10% of your population are likely to catch then using the figures you've estimated, you're actually generating ten autistic children per life saved.

    In the next paragraph, you then add the rate of whooping cough fatalities in infected patients to the fatality rate of measles in an [sic] vaccinated person. Or should that read "a non-vaccinated person in a developed country"?

    Sorry about being overly pedantic.
    • There's no way to compare, since so much of the world is vaccinated. I should track down better numbers. With measles, the disease is endemic- you will catch measles if it exists in your population.
  • Except, your target audience doesn't think.
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