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No deaths from measles, 100 deaths from vaccines

No deaths from measles, 100 deaths from vaccines

Posted 4/9/2015

No deaths in the US from measles or the vaccine for 10 yearsNo deaths in the US from measles or the vaccine for 10 years(Update: in mid-2015, a few months after this post was written, an immuno-compromised woman in the US died from measles, the first confirmed death for a decade. Thanks, anti-vaxxers!)

An Australin Green Party branch recently posted to their Facebook page the shocking revelation that "Not one person died of measles in the USA last year, but over 100 kids have died as a result of the vaccination".

Indeed, this "fact" has been doing the rounds a lot recently. I wanted to share it and explain why it is wrong.

To understand where this statistic comes from and why it is wrong, it needs breaking down piece by piece.

First "nobody has died from measles in the US"

"Zero deaths from measles in 10 years" is a true statement on the face of it. The last verifiable US death from acute measles appears to be from 2003. However, even in the relatively small outbreak in 2014-2015 there were many hospitalisations and reports of one patient suffering organ damage.

But one of the scariest features of measles is the long term health effects. Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) is an incurable condition caused by persistent measles infection. It's fortunately rare, and usually sets in around 7 years after the original measles infection. It causes brain inflammation leading to progessive deterioration in health and is usually fatal. There are around 2 deaths a year from SSPE in the US.

Measles does still kill people in the US, sometimes years after the initial infection. It is reassuring that the number of deaths is so low, but that's because so few people are infected with measles, and that's because vaccines work! Vaccines had eradicated measles from the US, and the UK was going in the right direction. But now it's coming back due in large part to falling vaccination rates.

The other factor in the return of measles is increased international travel to and from countries where measles is still a problem. I think it says everything you need to know about the outlook of the anti-vaccine lobby that this fact has been held up as a reason to stop immigration. I will make no further comment on that but will simply urge people to check recommended vaccines, including measles, if you're travelling abroad. Around the world, over 100,000 people die every year from measles.

As a result, it's sadly only a matter of time before someone in the US dies from measles, just as there was a recent death in Germany.

For the UK, here are the measles statistics which I've graphed out below together with a few relevant moments in history. The number of reported cases is clearly on the rise in recent years, although thankfully not even close to historic levels.

 

Measles notifications and deaths 1945-2013Measles notifications and deaths 1945-2013

The text at the bottom of the statistics page linked above tells the full story on measles deaths: nobody died from acute measles between 1992 and 2006. Since then, there have been a few deaths among people with serious pre-existing conditions or poor health. Apart from that, there has been around 1 death a year as a consequece of the long term effects of the disease (e.g. SSPE) in people who contracted it in the 80s.

During the 80s, before MMR helped increase vaccine uptake, around 10 people died from measles per year. Before there was any vaccine, it was around 100 people a year. And before the NHS, it was around 500 a year. Whether it was the NHs or generally improved health after WW2 that caused this decline, I wouldn't like to say. But, either way, improved health and nutrition alone were not enough to stop measles from being a killer disease.

So, the full truth is that thankfully very few people die from measles in the US or Europe these days, but measles is a serious illness in both the short and long term. The only reason the number of deaths is almost  (but not quite) zero is thanks to vaccines.

Second "100 people have died from vaccines"

This statistic comes from the US Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). This system enables anyone (doctors, parents, Internet trolls) to report a suspected adverse event following vaccination.

The raw data does not confirm any connection between the vaccination and the adverse event. Instead, the data is intended to be used to spot larger patterns and has indeed proven useful in identifying very rare or unusual complications from vaccines.

For example, VAERS helped spot a previously unknown but very rare side-effect from a rotavirus vaccine introduced in 1999. Following further study that vaccine is no longer used and an even safer vaccine has replaced it. VAERS is just one safety net out of many which makes sure vaccines are safe.

It is correct that, in the past decade, around 100 people have reported that someone has died "following" MMR vaccination. But, as already explained, this is not evidence of any connection between the two events and is not how the VAERS data can or should be used. Perhaps some of these people died "as a result" of the vaccination, but the VAERS data simply cannot be provided as evidence of this one way or the other.

For example, over 1000 people have reported autism as an adverse effect following vaccination. Yet it has been proven beyond any doubt by study after study that vaccines DO NOT cause autism.

So, how many deaths has the MMR vaccine caused? As far as anyone can tell, none. It does have side effects and these can very rarely be serious, but there is not one death which has been confirmed to be as a consequence of the MMR vaccine.

"No deaths from measles, 100 deaths from vaccines" is a highly quotable statistic which has spread through the Internet like, well, the plague. But it is wrong.

Worse, lies like this from ignorant or malicious fools in the anti-vaccine lobby make everyday people hesitant about vaccination, and this puts lives at risk.

Don't fall for their lies, get vaccinated.

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