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An unvaccinated child has died from a preventable disease

by Phil Plait, Jan 28 2009

This story is so sad, and what makes it worse is that it was preventable.

The Centers for Disease Control has put out an alert: in Minnesota in 2008, there were five confirmed cases of Haemophilus influenzae type b (or Hib) among children younger than five years old. Of these five cases, three of the children were unvaccinated, one had started the series of vaccines but did not complete the series due to shortages, and the fifth — who had been fully vaccinated — had an immune deficiency.

Five cases may not sound like a lot… until you learn that one of the unvaccinated children died. This was a baby, just a seven-month-old infant.

I can barely type that sentence out; my heart is aching so. I can only imagine what the parents are feeling. I literally have nightmares about such things.

There are several things to note about this incidence of Hib:

1) It’s the largest number of cases in one year since 1992 in Minnesota, when 10 cases were reported. In the intervening years, between 0 and 4 cases were reported per year (1994 saw four cases, the average is about 2). These are small number statistics, so 5 cases may just be a normal statistical fluctuation. But the stakes are very, very high here.

2) We do not know why three of the five children were unvaccinated. It may be due to the antivax crowd, or it may be due to any number of other factors; the report doesn’t say (however, see (5) below).

3) Out of three unvaccinated children, one died. The historical rate of death from Hib, once infected, is about 1 in 20, so this is something of a fluke. But 1 in 20 is still way, way too high… and of the ones who do survive the infection, 1 in 5 will suffer deafness, blindness, or severe, permanent brain damage.

Russian roulette has better odds than 1 in 5; do you want to play that with your baby? If that sounds harsh, good. We’re dealing with babies’ lives here. The best thing you can do is make sure they don’t get the disease in the first place.

4) Getting a vaccine does not guarantee not getting the disease. We don’t know how many babies were vaccinated, and how many weren’t that didn’t get the disease. But with 1 in 20 odds, I know which way I fall.

5) There is a shortage of Hib vaccines right now, and it’s expected to last for a few more months. However, according to the CDC report, there are adequate supplies to have infants inoculated and complete the primary three-dose infant series.

Data were reviewed for 25,699 children born between November 1, 2007 and March 31, 2008… Among children aged 7 months, 3-dose primary Hib series coverage was 46.5%, which is lower than the age-appropriate coverage for children who had received pneumococcal conjugate or diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis (DTaP) vaccination. In contrast, data from the 2007 National Immunization Survey, conducted prior to the shortage, showed that Hib vaccination coverage among children in Minnesota aged 19 months to 35 months was high and did not differ from the national average, suggesting that coverage has declined as a result of the shortage.

So there has been a decline in coverage due to the shortage, with roughly half the children in the survey being vaccinated.

Putting this all together is difficult, with so many unknowns. But to belabor the obvious, we do know one thing: of the three unvaccinated children who got Hib, one died. The doctors from the CDC add this editorial comment:

Before development of Hib conjugate vaccines, Hib was the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in children aged <5 years. Since implementation of the Hib conjugate vaccine immunization program in the United States in the early 1990s, the incidence of Hib disease has declined from a peak of 41 cases per 100,000 children aged <5 years in 1987 to approximately 0.11 cases per 100,000 in 2007.

In other words, the infection rate among infants dropped by a factor of nearly 400 after the Hib vaccination was developed. This recent increase may reflect a loss of herd immunity, meaning too many kids are not getting vaccinated.

Folks. Please. Vaccinate your children. The science is in, the tests have been done, the results are solid: vaccinations do not cause autism. What vaccines do is save the lives of thousands of children who would otherwise be suffering the effects of preventable diseases… and one of these effects can be death.

Save your kids’ lives. Take them to a doctor and get his or her advice on this. And if they recommend vaccinations, then do it.

My thanks to Dr. Joe Albietz for providing me with some of the numbers in this article.

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41 Responses to “An unvaccinated child has died from a preventable disease”

  1. SionH says:

    And remember that by getting your kids vaccinated, you increase the herd immunity. This lowers the risk for those kids who, due to a medical condition, are unable to take the vaccine and must rely on the herd immunity.

    You not only save your own childs life, but you may also save someone else’s.

  2. The Mother says:

    I see way too many young mothers terrified by all the hype involving vaccines and autism. Add in power lines and cell phones, and we have a trifecta. Maybe someday reason will win out over media hype and viral urban myths (sigh).

  3. Nate says:

    NPR’s “This American Life” did a great show on an outbreak of measles in San Diego, due to parents not wanting to vax their kids. The show is called “Ruining It For The Rest Of Us” and it’s definitely worth a listen.

  4. beckiwithani says:

    Lurker here, but finally had to comment. I appreciate your frequent posts on vaccination. As a science teacher and the mom of a 2-year-old, I am angered that the vaccine info easily accessible (i.e., on the Internet) is often easy to read if it’s anti-vaccine, while the real scientific evidence can be very hard for folks without a science education to decipher. You write clearly about vaccines, in lay terms, presenting the evidence clearly for anyone who chooses to read. Thank you!

  5. dude says:

    “Hib vaccine”, is that the same as the “flu vaccine” we’re encouraged to get each year? Or is it one of the standard suite of vaccines administered to children?

  6. Joe Chip says:

    This may be slightly off-topic: If you have a google account and search wiki is enabled for you, search for “vaccination autism” and vote the nonsense down, and the good stuff up. Same goes for the search term “homeopathy”.

  7. Mike says:

    The situation is a little more complex with Hib as the bacterium causes other (less serious) diseases of the respiratory tract such as ear infections and bronchitis. It is however particularly dangerous as a meningeal infection. In the UK, Hib vaccine rates have been high and it has never been a target for the anti vaccine crowd in the same way as MMR.

    Tragedy as the death is, the real killer still out there is meningococcus type b for which no routine vaccination yet exists though trials are starting.

  8. Chris says:

    dude asked “Hib vaccine”, is that the same as the “flu vaccine” we’re encouraged to get each year? Or is it one of the standard suite of vaccines administered to children?”

    No. Hib is this:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haemophilus_influenzae

    It is a bacterial infection that causes meningitis and epiglottitis (the latter is a swelling that causes suffocation). It is most dangerous for children under the age of five.

    The Hib vaccine is given as a series at 2 mo, 4 mo and 6 months. It is not given to older children or adults.

    The influenza vaccine that is encouraged each year is for a few viral diseases, which tend to change each year (so some years the guesses are better than others).

    Two completely different things. Though they are related in that the bacteria that caused Haemophilus influenzae was often found in victims of the 1918 influenza pandemic. It was thought to cause that very bad form of influenza. Hence the very confusing name (read Gina Kolata’s book on the 1918 flu pandemic, and then read John Barry’s book on the same pandemic — they have different approaches)

  9. BillDarryl says:

    If that sounds harsh, good. We’re dealing with babies’ lives here.

    If I have a “personal belief” that beating the crap out of my child is the right way to raise him, the law steps in (as it should). But if I have a “personal belief” not to vaccinate my child, this puts him/her in real danger of being permanently crippled or killed, yet the law sidesteps it. I don’t get that.

    We give far too much leeway for “personal choice” in this arena. I’m all for people being free to follow their own personal beliefs, no matter how unreasonable they are. But in this case, the believer does not bear the risk of their nutty choice – he/she passes the consequences to another who is helpless to choose. That should be seen as unacceptable.

    Why can we not consider withholding vaccinations similar to child abuse, and prosecute accordingly? If that sounds radical, good. We’re dealing with babies’ lives here.

  10. Max says:

    BillDarryl, I would ask where you draw the line, but let’s start with the one you already drew. If it’s child abuse to not inject healthy babies with drugs that lower an already small risk, then everything worse than that is also child abuse.

  11. Joe Chip: “This may be slightly off-topic: If you have a google account and search wiki is enabled for you, search for “vaccination autism” and vote the nonsense down, and the good stuff up. Same goes for the search term “homeopathy”.”

    In that so many people trust Wiki as if it had the reliablity of, say, an encyclopedia, this is an excellent idea. I’d further suggest that all those interested in correcting the misinformation out there on vax/autism hysteria repeat Joe Chip’s idea wherever you go on the internet and in surreal life.

  12. Frank Paulson says:

    Max, if we were talking about something that was affecting only the one individual I would agree. However we are talking about the overall herd immunity. Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, so to speak.

    To make an analogy I’d say the difference is like that involved in highway safety. Decisions that effect only one individual (wearing a seatbelt, wearing a helmet, etc.) can truly be argued to be personal choice, but when the health and safety of others is involved (excessive speed, drunk driving, etc.) the choice can be argued to be out of the hands of the individual and in the hands of society at large. Where that line falls depends a lot on personal belief, but there is most definitely a line.

    Peace, Frank

  13. Randi says:

    I received a letter once from the state saying I had not met thier requirements. I freaked out. I hadn’t updated my daughter’s shots with her school and they do the reporting.

    I have read that the corelation between vaccine and autism is because so many kids recieve vaccinations now. So if most kids get vaccinated, it makes sense that most kids with autism were vaccinated as well.

  14. gwen says:

    When I first graduated nursing school and began working in a PICU, Hi type B infections were our ‘bread and butter’ patients, we could always count on a few to keep our unit open. The results–even when the child/infant survived were often tragic, resulting in severe brain damage. Once the vaccine was introduced, the decline in cases was dramatic, and I haven’t seen one in about 15 years. The return of this disease is unnecessary and negligent.

  15. Fuller says:

    Joe Chip: “In that so many people trust Wiki as if it had the reliablity of, say, an encyclopedia, this is an excellent idea. ”

    It pretty much does have that reliability.

  16. I have a friend with Polio who came to Australia from a refugee camp. There isn’t a day that goes by where he didn’t wish he’d been vaccinated.

    I guess we’ll be seeing an influx of cases where preventable diseases cause death amongst the ignorant, anti-vaccine activists. Maybe then they can blame something else instead of accepting their lack of responsibility.

  17. Mastriani says:

    Why can we not consider withholding vaccinations similar to child abuse, and prosecute accordingly? If that sounds radical, good. We’re dealing with babies’ lives here.

    The more that self-perpetuating validation machines seek government intervention, the more opportunity is handed over for suppression of freedoms. “Tragedy” is part of the trial and error learning system we humans attempt to employ; it is not another excuse to give the government more liberties with the Constitutional freedoms.

    Freedoms which, consequently, include the right to be a deluded moron who believes that “vaccinosis” is an actual condition.

    It’s just fine though, the lessons of history are always ignored; hence, history is forever doomed to repeat, ad infinitum. All hail the glorious burning of Rome, yet again.

  18. Chris says:

    Jose the Paranormal Skeptic said “Maybe then they can blame something else instead of accepting their lack of responsibility”

    They already do. I have read on other blogs that certain “Mothering” forums are have speculations on whether the child was being fed organic food and other tripe in way to blame the victim.

  19. I agree with Mastriani – move over Rover, let Darwin take over.

  20. Mastriani says:

    I agree with Mastriani – move over Rover, let Darwin take over.

    Oh no, that simply won’t do. We need Big Daddy Government and his brother, Mr. Litigator, to hold our hands.

    Perhaps the next time there is a tragedy involving a child, we simply turn over our procreation rights and let BDG instate licensed only reproduction legislation. After which, we can simply turn the children over to the state for rearing.

    6.46 billion hominids and yet we are all still unique and special butterflies.

    Not withstanding, no one has brought up the fact that although there is nothing positive about the death of a child, especially by error of blatant stupidity; what were this child’s chances of a productive, learned, and successful existence with progenitors of this … “caliber”?

  21. I was being mostly facetious, of course. I do believe education is a fine thing, but I also believe there is a limit to how well we can legislate against ignorance and stupidity. As comedian Ron White’s tagline goes, “you can’t fix stupid.” One theory holds that if every pile of genes capable of reproducing is saved by legislation from the negative consequences of ignorance and/or outright stupidity, their numbers will grow to the point of overtaking the Earth’s population, thereby abrogating the ability to enact such legislation in the first place, we’ll be reduced to a world full of blithering idiots, and our doom will be guaranteed. Another theory holds this has already happened*.

    *Apologies to Douglas Adams. RIP.

  22. Mastriani says:

    Another theory holds this has already happened*.

    Not possible, we are still in the throes of social evolution!!!

    I would find this statement offensive, if I knew what being offended felt like … hmm, I might just be hungry.

  23. Well, eat a Cosmic Bran Muffin, INFIDEL!

  24. Mastriani says:

    Well, eat a Cosmic Bran Muffin, INFIDEL!

    LOL, I don’t even know how to respond to this, thanks DA. I’ve been silenced by humor.

  25. I am on a global mission to prove that skepticism and humor are not mutally exclusive.

  26. Mastriani says:

    I am on a global mission to prove that skepticism and humor are not mutually exclusive.

    Great, just what the world needs, another false prophet. I await the publishing of your manual on better living through homeopathy, vegan diets and alternative medicine.

    It’s clear you are suffering from vaccinosis, time to call the government.

  27. I apologize not one bit. After years of false profits, what could I do but become a false prophet? You’re just jealous because I’m making it work.

  28. Mastriani says:

    DA = Capitalist Mohammad?

    It’s obvious you can’t help yourself. I suggest remove yourself from this blog and immediately visit David Icke. He knows the truth, he can save you from yourself, just ask him.

  29. The Blind Watchmaker says:

    I am just old enough to remember seeing Hib meningitis and Hib epiglotitis patients at a Children’s Hospital intensive care unit. The ones that did not die were very, very sick. I was a medical student then, newly married and scared that one day, I would have to worry about this as a parent (and as a doctor to sick patients).

    Then the Hib vaccine was widely introduced. Hib meningitis and epiglotitis vanished. As a practicing doctor for the last 16 years, I have not seen any cases.

    I am saddened by the events in Minnesota. I hope that it is a wake-up call for parents who have fallen for the anti-vaccine propaganda.

  30. chickenfish says:

    I am not an advocate of vaccines or the companies that produce them but like this blog espouses, lets be skeptical.

    How safe are these vaccines really and who does the testing?

    What factors are involved with approving a vaccine?

    Where does the vaccine come from?

    What are the side affects?

    Whats the likelihood of contracting the disease being immunized?

  31. Chickenfish, are your questions rhetorical? If not, please understand that although you don’t know the answers to your questions, it doesn’t mean they aren’t known and haven’t been considered as part of the standard medical model risk/benefit calculations.

  32. chickenfish says:

    (32) I would ask similar questions before drinking water in Bolivia although I probably already know the answers. Its not for one to decide between fact and fiction, it is only to ask questions. The scientific process if you will.

    With regard to the medical model risk/benefit calculations, who calculates them? Quo bono, who gains from this? Now we can step back and start again considering the benefit of vaccines.

    As with coke, we know its bad for us, sure it will get rid of a headache, stave off heat stroke and clean the toilet but do we really want to resign to using it if we dont have too? The same with inoculants, we shop the company, consider its reputation and read the ingredients then make an informed decision. But there seems to be a communal assumption that if a pharma company produced it, it must be acceptable.

  33. Max says:

    If anything, the assumption is that if the government approved and recommended it, the AMA and your doctor recommended it, and your insurance covers 100% of the cost, it must be acceptable.

  34. Well, chickenfish, all I can say is…. Are your questions rhetorical? If not, please understand that although you don’t know the answers to your questions, it doesn’t mean they aren’t known and haven’t been considered as part of the standard medical model risk/benefit calculations.

    “But there seems to be a communal assumption that if a pharma company produced it, it must be acceptable.”

    What entire community or majority of what community assumes this? I know I don’t.

    Are you sure you aren’t assuming others know as little about vaccinations as you apparently do?

  35. chickenfish says:

    Heya Devil’s Advocate. My questions are not intended to be rhetorical, I welcome answers no matter how simple the question may seem. Its the simple things in plain sight that are most often overlooked, and this is where I usually find my own assumptions, so I always ask the simple questions as the first step in my critical thinking formula.

    Im particularly pleased that you take the time to have this discussion, thank you. Ill try to tackle your questions here.

    “What entire community or majority of what community assumes this? if a pharma company produced it, it must be acceptable.”

    I suggest any community within the US for an example. My support of this assertion is the tremendous growth and popularity of the pharma and associated industries. Certainly enough people within the community maintain the assumption to financially support what has become an institution.

    In support of my comments that suggest that vaccines may not be what they are claimed I refer again to the tremendous growth and popularity of the pharma and associated industries. Money, growth and power are the only motivators within a private corporation and make them highly suspect. We also know that pharma companies have what they call lobbyists who hand large sums of money over to politicians to protect their private interests. As long as this money changes hands the government monitors become suspect.

    Are you sure you aren’t assuming others know as little about vaccinations as you apparently do?

    I don’t pretend to know about vaccines or their effectiveness but I do know a few things about the operations which constitute their development. I also know that what there is available to educate ourselves on vaccines has been provided by companies directly profiting from their sales.

    Ill finish by stating that I do not necessarily advocate or not advocate vaccinations, I am merely skeptical of them.

  36. Max says:

    We also know that vaccines and drugs in general have nearly eradicated some diseases and increased life expectancy. As you said, “It’s the simple things in plain sight that are most often overlooked”.

  37. chickenfish says:

    How do we know this Max? Other than penicillin, which isnt a vaccine, what else is there?

  38. Max says:

    Smallpox was eradicated in December 1979. Polio was eradicated in America, Europe, China, and dozens of countries. It remains a problem in Nigeria, where people think the immunizations are a Western plot to make Muslims sterile.

    Phil Plait quoted the CDC, “Since implementation of the Hib conjugate vaccine immunization program in the United States in the early 1990s, the incidence of Hib disease has declined from a peak of 41 cases per 100,000 children aged <5 years in 1987 to approximately 0.11 cases per 100,000 in 2007.”

    The HPV vaccine may reduce the incidence of cervical cancer.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eradication_of_infectious_diseases

  39. Ed in Colorado says:

    For years the public has been told that the medical community findings are that there is no connection between autism and vaccines. The findings by the medical community were made statistically. There is one thing that I do not understand. There has never once been a statistical measurement done on requisite control group, that is, the unvaccinated children. About 2% of the population refuses to vaccinate their children. There are plenty of unvaccinated subjects from which the statistics can be gathered. But it has never been done. Without the statistics on the control group, I do not understand how the medical community can make the statistical conclusion that they make – there is no connection between autism and vaccines.

    There has only been one statistical measurement of the unvaccinated population. That occurred before the great vaccine push. At that time the autism rate was 1/2500 not 1/160 as it is now. That would say one of two things: The autism rate increased with the vaccine push; the autism rate increased with the real cause of the autism rate increase. Which of the two conclusions should be made can only be had with the statistical measurement of the control group, the unvaccinated children.

  40. MD says:

    Bravo Ed, you’ve hit the nail on the head,
    you can bet if the unvaccinated had more dead,
    the researchers would have said!
    Instead we can infer from the stat absence,
    that the unvaccinated kids probably have more sense,
    Of course it’ll never be proved,
    the big pharma and governments have too much to lose,
    but one day it’ll come and when all is done,
    two decades of fallen children will be recompensed.
    But by then the west will be bust,
    and regret a century of world rape most unjust,
    we must hope the great wave from the east falls on us softly,
    that they don’t just crush the weak like we have so blindly.