By Vexen Crabtree 2017
|Best and Worst Vaccinators (2011-2015)1|
|Pos.||Higher is better|
|17||Antigua & Barbuda||98.0|
|29||St Vincent & Grenadines||97.2|
|183||Papua New Guinea||66.3|
|191||Central African Rep.||49.4|
Immunization to many diseases can be obtained through vaccination. By comparing international statistics on seven easily preventable diseases, it is easily seen that good policies on national health is not simply the preserve of the rich: the best countries at immunizing infants are Hungary, China, Uzbekistan, Niue, Mongolia and the Czech Republic. The seven diseases are: diphtheria, haemophilus influenza type b (hib), hepatitis B, measles pertussis (whooping cough), polio, tetanus (and neonatal tetanus) and tuberculosis (TB), and all of them are serious and can result in suffering, lasting harm, permanent disabilities, and often death, if not treated properly. Where mass immunizations are effected, incidences of these diseases can fall by up to 90%, and in many cases immunizations have completely eradicated national occurences of certain diseases.
Unfortunately, the Western world is suffering from an era of mass-media-led misinformation when it comes to some vaccines and immunizations2. UK sensationalist newspapers in the 1990s made claims about associations between some vaccines and autism (with no evidence to support it) leading to a rapid drop in acceptance of vaccines. Measles and mumps rates shot up by thousands of times. Epidemics between 2005 and 20133 saw total numbers approaching 10,000 cases, starting off with "prolonged outbreaks in travelling and religious communities, where vaccine uptake has been historically low"4. Similar trends in the Netherlands in 1999 meant 2,300 cases emerged in a specific community that is "philosophically opposed to vaccination", resulting in deaths5. Ireland saw a surge to 1500 cases in the year 2000 including three deaths6, and Italy suffered three deaths too5. For developed countries to see these preventable diseases' numbers rise in this way is embarrassing, and indicates a loss of cultural wisdom.
Vaccinations have saved millions of lives and prevented an uncountable number of long-term debilitating disabilities that result from disease. In the developed world and elsewhere many serious diseases have been eradicated (or almost eradicated) through vaccines.
“Only two generations ago we had schoolmates who limped or had withered arms due to the paralytic polio they were infected with. That disease is now extinct in the U.S. because of the universal use of polio vaccine. During my training, I cared for children made deaf from measles, infants blind and retarded from rubella, and those who died from bacteria like pneumococcus and meningococcus. With vaccination, those conditions no longer occur.”
Richard G. Judelsohn, Dr (2007)7
It all began with smallpox:
“In the 1790s, the country surgeon Edward Jenner took the sensible step of listening to local farmers and dairy-maids, who maintained that after people had recovered from cowpox, they rarely succumbed to smallpox. [... He] invented the smallpox vaccination.”
From the outset of inoculation and vaccination, fearmongers put many inaccurate and dramatic comments in newspapers warning people against the adoption of this new disease prevention technique.
“There was a strong anti-smallpox-vaccine movement in Leicester well into the 1930s, despite its demonstrable benefits, and in fact anti-inoculation sentiment goes right back to its origins: when James Jurin studied inoculation against smallpox (finding that it was associated with a lower death rate than the natural disease), his newfangled numbers and statistical ideas were treated with enormous suspicion. Indeed, smallpox inoculation remained illegal in France until 1769.”
One satirical cartoon of the 1790s/early-1800s reflects the more ridiculous fears of the time:
“A woman on the right is simultaneously vomiting and giving birth to cows, while several patients have grown cow-shaped excrescences. [...] Protests against vaccination continued right through the nineteenth century, long after its efficacy had been demonstrated. [...] Although vaccination did appear to work, powerful campaigners - including Florence Nightingale - protested that the state had no right to interfere in people's lives by making vaccination compulsory. This opposition to government control meant that smallpox epidemics continued to break out in Britain even in the twentieth century.”
Thankfully the benefits of immunisation were so dramatic and immediate that as their usage spread, opposition was washed away, excepting some "religious communities, where vaccine uptake has been historically low"4 and a few other minor, extremist or secluded communities. Hence, we arrived in the modern world with genuine hope that many horrible diseases could be wiped out globally, forever.
“Global coverage of two doses of the measles vaccine increased from 15 percent in 2000 to 53 percent in 2013, resulting in a 67 percent decline in the number of annual reported measles cases. An estimated 15.6 million lives were saved through measles vaccination between 2000 and 2013. These positive developments have led to a dramatic decline in preventable child deaths.”
The MMR jab is instrumental in preventing measles, mumps and rubella in over 100 countries that use it11. In the UK a 95% vaccination rate had meant widespread success in stopping the long-term damage due to many diseases. But uptake fell following media coverage in low-quality newspapers that MMR was linked to autism and Crohn's disease3. By 2003 and 2004, it had fallen to 80%3 and in some places to 60% and lower12. In 2007 the rate of measles surged to 971 cases "occurring mostly in children who had not been adequately vaccinated... mostly associated with prolonged outbreaks in travelling and religious communities, where vaccine uptake has been historically low"13. Wider outbreaks in England and Wales in 2012-2013 affected the first wave of children who went unvaccinated as infants3. Likewise, a mumps epidemic in 2005 saw 5,000 recorded instances, occurring thousands of times higher than over preceding years14. For a developed country to see these preventable diseases' numbers rise like that is embarrassing.
UK government investigations found the negative claims about the vaccine baseless and the cause of the outbreak was because of the reports seen in the mass media3. Extensive, very extensive tests have been done of the MMR jab around the world, and in all cases it has been found to cause neither autism nor Crohn's disease.
It all began with research that Dr Andrew Wakefield published in 1998, although his paper certainly did not contain the shocking and outrageous claims that the media later made15. His small study was later overturned and found to be wrong6, and, ten of the contributors withdrew their name from the paper. A "conflict of interest" was revealed that shed light on the bias behind his research: "at the time of its publication he was conducting research for a group of parents of autistic children seeking to sue for damages from MMR vaccine producers. Wakefield has applied for patents for an MMR vaccine substitute and [other related treatments]. So, not only was he allegedly paid by lawyers to cast doubt on the MMR vaccine, but he stood to gain personally from the outcome of his research"2.
Unfortunately, the cheaper and most popular news outlets in the UK are very happy to publish scare stories (because they sell well amongst those who buy those papers), but, are very reluctant to announce that the scares were misguided2. Many people remain deluded and are only slowly convinced to come back to sensible reality.
“The responsibility for the MMR scare cannot be laid at the door of a single man, however much the media may now be trying to argue that it should. The blame lies instead with the hundreds of journalists, columnists, editors and executives who drove this story cynically, irrationally, and wilfully onto the front pages for nine solid years. As we will see, they overextrapolated from one study into absurdity, while studiously ignoring all reassuring data, and all subsequent refutations. [...] I find it ... spectacularly distasteful that the media are now revving up to hold [Andrew Wakefield] singly responsible for their own crimes. [...]
[Some media outlets now say] things like 'The research has since been debunked'. Wrong. The research never justified the media's ludicrous over-interpretation. If they had paid attention, the scare would never have even started.”
“We now know that Wakefield was paid more than £400,000 by lawyers trying to prove that the vaccine was unsafe. The payments were part of £3.4 million distributed from a legal-aid fund to doctors and scientists who had been recruited to support a now-failed lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers. [...] In May 2010, Wakefield and Walker-Smith were found guilty and had their medical licenses revoked.”
"Unnatural Acts: Critical Thinking, Skepticism, and Science Exposed!" by Robert Todd Carroll (2011)6
The international statistics on immunizations used on this page are derived from seven data series produced by the World Health Organisation, who say that vaccination coverage estimates are a good indicator of overall health system performance1.
I have taken each year's data for each series for the years 2011 to 2015 (the latest for which data is available), and, averaged out each countries performance for each series. The final single figure for each country is arrived at by averaging each of the series averages.
Links to the data series used:
All of them accessed 2017 May 23.
All #tags used on this page - click for more:
Skeptical Inquirer. Magazine. Published by Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, NY, USA. Pro-science magazine published bimonthly.
Carroll, Robert Todd. (1945-2016). Taught philosophy at Sacramento City College from 1977 until retirement in 2007. Created The Skeptic's Dictionary in 1994.
(2011) Unnatural Acts: Critical Thinking, Skepticism, and Science Exposed!. E-book. Amazon Kindle digital edition. Published by the James Randi Educational Foundation.
(2009) Science: A Four Thousand Year History. Hardback book. Published by Oxford University Press. Fara has a PhD in History of Science from London University.