- Issues with Effectiveness
Generally, we assume that vaccinations are not only very safe, but very effective. Doctors and public health officials point to studies and statistics which they claim prove the effectiveness of vaccines. Real life situations, though, do not back up these claims. In 2002, vaccine proponent Arthur Allen wrote an article titled Bucking the Herd about the importance of vaccination to prevent the outbreak of disease. In his article, Mr. Allen stated that pertussis has become endemic in Boulder, Colorado and blames it on the high number of unvaccinated children there. He undermines his own argument, though, when he states “Although unvaccinated children are six times more likely as vaccinated children to get whooping cough during an outbreak, about half the cases in Colorado have involved vaccinated children...” (17) If half the children in Colorado with pertussis have been vaccinated, then obviously they are not six times less likely to contract the disease.
Colorado is not the only place where vaccinated individuals have contracted pertussis. The Intelligencer, Wheeling Ohio’s local newspaper, reported in September 2010 that three fully vaccinated elementary school children had contracted pertussis. (18) On the CDC’s website there is a dispatch describing cases of pertussis in fully vaccinated Israeli children which resulted in the death of one vaccinated infant. The report examined 46 fully vaccinated children, five of whom tested positive for pertussis, though, only two of those children met the World Health Organization’s diagnostic criteria for pertussis. The study concluded that even vaccinated, asymptomatic children can be carriers of pertussis. (19) In Lithuania 53 children tested positive for pertussis in 2001. 32 of the 53 were fully vaccinated. (20) The recent outbreak of pertussis in San Diego showed that many vaccinated individuals can still contract pertussis and pass it to babies too young to receive vaccines. Of the 1,000 adults and children who tested positive for pertussis in 2010, over half had been vaccinated. A survey of nine other counties in California showed that between 44 and 83 percent of individuals with pertussis had been immunized. Researchers from Amsterdam said they had found that the pertussis virus had mutated two decades ago. Currently, pertussis vaccines do not confer immunity against the mutated form. Vaccine makers said that testing for the mutation wasn’t necessary. (21)
The polio vaccine has garnered some press for its failure in Africa. The April 23, 2010 edition of the Wall Street Journal describes how Bill Gates is having to rethink his stance on battling polio in Africa with vaccines. Mr. Gates gave $700 million dollars for a mass polio vaccination campaign in Nigeria. Despite the campaign, which included door-to-door vaccinators, polio still persists in Nigeria and in fact, half of the 1,600 cases of polio reported in 2009 happened in vaccinated individuals. (22) Evidence points to fully vaccinated children transmitting polio during a 1988-1989 outbreak of the disease in Oman. (23) Even someone vaccinated for polio can still suffer from the same effects of polio if he or she contracts a non-polio enterovirus. The CDC says that these type of viruses are very common, second only to cold viruses as the most common infectious agents in humans, causing “summer colds” and aseptic meningitis. The symptoms of non-polio enteroviruses are identical to the ones caused by the poliovirus: flu-like illness with fever, muscle aches, and rash, some can even cause paralysis. There is no vaccine for these viruses and the CDC’s strongest recommendation for stopping the spread of non-polio enteroviruses is handwashing. (24) Perhaps this would be a useful strategy in Nigeria as well.
There are also incidents of the measles vaccine not working. A 1978 survey of 30 states in the US concluded that more than half of the children who contracted measles had been adequately vaccinated (Mendelsohn 238). The International Journal of Epidemiology records a case of measles vaccine failure in Hungary, where the majority of measles cases struck those who had been vaccinated. (25)
A case study from India documents a measles outbreak in a slum. Almost one-third of the children who contracted measles were vaccinated for the disease. This study also found that children who had vitamin A supplementation were less likely to contract measles. (26) These findings have been replicated in America as well. One study in the September/October 1996 volume of Pediatric Nursing found that 72% of hospitalized measles cases in America were in vitamin A deficient individuals. (27)
Those receiving the meningococcal disease vaccine should be aware that it will not protect them against the most prevalent strain of meningococcus. There are 13 strains of meningococcus, but the B strain most commonly causes meningococcal disease in developed countries. The vaccine however, only protects against the A, C, Y, and W-135 strains. (Miller 215). Owing to the fact that meningococcal disease is extremely rare and the vaccine does not protect against the most common strain, there seems to be little point in receiving it.
In light of this information, the concept of herd immunity (i.e. a majority of the population must be vaccinated in order to keep diseases at bay) seems illogical. Medical literature has proven that vaccinated individuals often contract and pass along the diseases they have been vaccinated for. Death rates from infectious diseases had already fallen drastically before many common vaccines were introduced. Furthermore, many diseases for which we do not vaccinate are rare. Scarlet fever, for example, used to be considered a serious childhood illness, but we do not vaccinate for it and now deaths are almost unheard of. The Mayo Clinic recommends good hygiene and covering the mouth and nose when sneezing as ways of preventing this disease. Cholera and typhoid are examples of diseases we do not routinely vaccinate for but which are now rare because of advances in sanitation.