Dana McCaffery

By Phil Plait | February 4, 2010 7:07 pm

Today would have been Dana McCaffery‘s first birthday.

It is in her memory that we must all stand up to unreason. It is in her memory that we must never tire, and never fail.


[Updated to add: By coincidence, there is an outbreak of pertussis in British Columbia right now; 19 confirmed cases in an area with low vaccination rates, well below what’s needed for herd immunity. Wakefield may be disgraced, and Dorey gone, but this fight will continue.]

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Alt-Med, Antiscience
MORE ABOUT: Dana McCaffery

Comments (72)

  1. I wanted to keep this post short, so I didn’t add that Dana was born in Australia, where it is already February 5th.

    Her parents, David and Toni, are personal heroes of mine. They stood up and fought when I would have wanted to crawl into a hole and never come out. Some people define “hero” as an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances behaving in extraordinary ways. That is the very definition of the McCafferys.

  2. Jason R. Gill

    And on a related note, it’s not getting better. I just read this today from the CBC about a pertussis outbreak amongst a badly non-immunized community in BC, where there is almost no good reason the children shouldn’t have been vaccinated (the vaccine is free).


  3. David McCaffery

    And you Phil are our hero, especially Dana’s!

    Keep up the fight for all children.

    Thank you for your devotion to reason, science and most importantly, the community.

  4. David and Toni,
    I am so sorry for your loss. I never realized before that Dana was born just two days before my own daughter. I cannot imagine how painful it must have been to lose her, and I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for having the courage to share your story with the world. I have absolutely no doubt that your strength has helped to preserve the lives of many more children. Thank you so much.

  5. Katharine

    There’s a bunch of antivaxxer idiots in the article thread on discoverymagazine.com, might want to show them this.

  6. Karen

    I’ve just had my daily battle to get my one year old daughter to take a nap and this is the first thing I read when I get on the net. This certainly gives me some perspective. Heroes indeed. I live in the same state in Australia as the McCaffreys and we now have free pertussis vaccines for people that care for babies as well as the normal vaccine schedule for the babies. The story of the McCaffrey’s was a topic of discussion with my mother’s group. So many people are much more aware thanks to the McCaffrey’s courage.

  7. And someone once asked why I bother with Facts, not Fantasy

  8. Colin J

    Thanks Phil. And thanks to the McCaffery’s. We’ll never know your loss.

  9. reasonablehank

    Why we do what we do…

  10. Chris

    This makes me so sad. My son ended up in the hospital several times before he turned three years old. One time was due to seizures caused by a now vaccine preventable disease, and he is now a permanently disabled adult.

    Yes, there is sadness there… but it does not cut as deep as actually having to bury your own child.

    I don’t know if this is piling on, but I found a blog of a woman who recently lost her son to pertussis. He was also too young to be vaccinated. There is a religious theme in her posts, but she does need support (I noticed that on one post some anti-vaxers did show up):

    I now have real tears blurring my view of the screen.

  11. Dianne

    Thinking about Toni and David. No other words really.

  12. Maggie

    Seeing little Dana’s photo brought tears. To the McCaffrey Family, all I can say is that we here in the Blue Mts of NSW we’re spreading evidence based factual information relating to vaccines. Because of Dana’s legacy we’re determined to try and stop this ever happening again.

  13. PJE

    Change the facial features just a little bit and he looks like my 5 month old, Quinn.

    6 months ago, I would have felt sad, but wouldn’t understand. Now I have tears in my eyes, thinking how I would react if it were my son..


  14. quasidog

    Hi @Maggie, I live on the Gold Coast and I am worried also about this issue. I personally know friends of friends that have that useless hippy mentality and don’t vaccinate either. I have talked to other friends about this, who all have children and are vaccinated vs most stuff. I was wondering by what means you are spreading this information and if its working. I would love this issue to make the News more often here, and on those useless current affair shows. I really don’t think this issue is going anywhere until it makes the news on a grand scale. Some how that has to happen and it has to be as common a topic as climate change, or war. … better yet Sars or Bird Flu :/

  15. This brings tears to my eyes and makes be angry. How many children will die before these antivaccers will stop telling people not to get their children vaccinated? Are they so afraid of being wrong that they will never accept the evidence no matter how many children die?

  16. I’ll have to link back to this post tonight when I get home from work. She is such a beautiful baby and her loss is terribly cruel, Thank you Mc Caffrey’s for standing up for all the other children at risk. Is this issue going to be discussed at TAM Australia later this year?

  17. PeteC

    I have two two month old twin girls (adjusted – three months but five weeks premature). Like PJE, I find that picture cutting me to the bone. The McCaffreys have my deep sympathy, for who they are and what they have endured; and they have my great respect for what they have done when hurt so badly.

    And yes, my little girls had their first vaccinations last Wednesday.

  18. quasidog

    I got my whopping cough vaccination 2 weeks ago due to my sister having a new baby, when now I think about it should have got it anyway. However it cost $40. Maybe thats why some people don’t get it ? Some people are pretty poor hey? Should be free.

  19. Agree quasidog – free vaccinations are a great way to reduce barriers to better health care.

  20. andyo
  21. 7.   Larian LeQuella Says:

    February 4th, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    And someone once asked why I bother with Facts, not Fantasy

  22. You have an “Anonymous” comment on your site, in the “Evolution for Kids” thread (didn’t wanna post it in the McCaffery one). Just in case, it’s me. I didn’t wanna go through the process of signing and logging in just for a quick comment.

  23. John Paradox

    Over in another tab on my browser, I had opened SALON, and found an article about anti-vaxxers (by a pediatrician) and how they continue to ignore sense and science. Then I came here to find this post.
    Link: http://www.salon.com/life/feature/2010/02/04/autism_debunked/index.html


  24. Maggie

    @quasidog. You can find out how you can be active in your area combating these AVN nutters by contacting The Australian Skeptics QLD… linky here.

  25. Stanley H. Tweedle

    More of the anti-vaccination stuff? I despise needles!

  26. Occam

    To David and Toni – I don’t know where you found the strength. You have my utmost admiration and heartfelt sympathy. Thanks to your courage, and the support of those such as Phil, a victory has been won this week. The fight will go on, I know, but it’s so good to see reason and critical thinking win out over these amoral purveyors of lies who prey upon the innocent via ignorance and fear.

  27. Hoe long does Pertussis vaccine last? I friend of mine had a scare where someone in her parent’s generation, who was vaccinated as a kid, came down with the disease after handling the kid. I’ve hear as little as 3 years by word of mouth, but I have no idea if that’s right.

  28. Phil, do you realise that you will lose your credibility if you don’t start using your clout to push for MANDATORY vaccinations? It would be really sad if you let libertarianism get in the way of reason.

  29. fred edison

    Seeing Dana’s picture and knowing what happened, you can’t help but be touched by it if you have any kind of empathy in you. She was a shining star in their lives for the too short time she was with them. I’m sure that David & Toni will continue to speak out to honor her cherished memory, and to teach and help people to understand that their correct choice about being immunized is critically important in the larger scheme of life. I also trust that they are an inspiration to other parents who have dealt with similar tragic circumstances. Courage and integrity belongs to them.

  30. Gib

    I agree that you’re heroes David and Toni. Thankyou for fighting.

    I’m an Aussie living in London.
    My first baby is going to be born in a couple of months. Here in the UK I’m having trouble finding anywhere to get a pertussis booster for myself. My doctor’s clinic doesn’t seem to know.

    I’ll pay (like I did for the swine flu vax when visiting Australia last year). Anyone know where I can get my booster around London ?

  31. Mark Hansen

    Quasar H. Trolldle (#22)
    1) Posting using a heavy font to draw attention is bad manners.
    2) Trolling in a thread like this is extremely bad manners.
    3) Grow up.

  32. My first nephew is going to be born today, in a scheduled c-section, so he will share Dana’s birthday. My sister-in-law is a vet, so she knows all about the importance of vaccinations. But of course, the little guy is going to have to rely on herd immunity until he’s old enough to get the shot.

  33. Daniel J. Andrews

    Every time there’s a post on the McCaffreys, it breaks my heart and blurs my eyes. I consider them heroes too, and it inspires me to be more of an advocate for vaccinations in my own community. I’m so sorry for their loss.

  34. Amenhotepstein

    I’ve also had difficulty (in the US) in finding adult vaccines, and in getting those vaccinations covered by insurance. Maybe promoting adult vaccination is another approach that can be tried to boost herd immunity. And the anti-vaxxers can’t complain about getting those – who’s going to develop autism at 40?

  35. @Lab Lemming

    Well, immunity to pertussis from natural infection can wear off in as little as seven years. Immunity may last longer than that, however. The vaccine, I believe, offers similar immunity.

  36. One has to be aware of the fact that, in the case of pertussis, the primary reason for vaccinating children is to protect those children. Herd immunity doesn’t seem to work well for pertussis, since a) the immunity wears off after a time and b) people can become infected without developing symptoms (whether or not they have been vaccinated and whether or not they had pertussis themselves) and, not knowing they are infected, spread the disease to others, young children being especially vulnerable.

    Maybe an expert here can explain why there is no vaccination for pertussis alone, but rather it exists only in combination with other vaccines.

  37. If you have trouble finding an adult pertussis vaccine try your local travel vaccine clinic. I got mine a couple of years ago as part of routine vaccines for travel to parts of Africa. The pertussis shot is often combined with tetanus and diphtheria (vaccines, not the diseases).

  38. Katharine

    I was under the impression that sometimes vaccines are combined simply because it takes care of three injections at once.

  39. Katharine

    Either way, let’s call the anti-vaxxers what they are: murderers.

  40. Cathy A

    Pertussis resistance definitely wears off over time. I caught a case of it at the age of 24 because my immunity had worn off, and they had done construction on our 150 year old office building, stirring up ancient dust and microbes and goodness knows what else. I was sick for two months.

    Since then I’ve been a lot more diligent about keeping my shots up to date.

  41. Michel

    As much as such a death hurts me, I don´t/can´t give a damn about her parents.

  42. Lawrence

    Michel – you’re an ASS!

  43. Justin

    What the hell, Michael?

  44. Dave

    My heart goes out to the Mcaffreys. We had a neighbor down the road who lost their child due to a deffective crib. It’s a horrible thing regardless of circumstances….

    Whether or not it helps, I personally believe we all go on in some form or another. I don’t need proof to see, especially in children, something special and unexplainable. Believe me when I say Dana lives on.

    For those of you who would call people who don’t get their kids vaccinated murderers, what do you think about abortion? Just asking.

  45. Charlie Young

    An awful tragedy, to be sure. It pains many that this has to happen when the cure is so simple. Imagine 50 years ago when this was commonplace. There were no vaccines to prevent this horrible disease. When the vaccines were developed just over 40 years ago, people would voluntarily line up and have their kids vaccinated so their they wouldn’t have to suffer as previous generations had to. Amazing that since the virtual eradication of many of these diseases, how short our memory is. It seems some can’t learn from the past.

  46. Lawrence

    Dave – I won’t go into all of the HUGE differences in these two issues, but in this case:

    It was the decision of another parent not to vaccinate that caused the death of Dana McCaffrey – it had nothing to do with her own parents.

  47. andyo

    Today a pretty good op-ed about Wakefield and the anti-vaccine movement was published on the LA Times. Good that this is getting more mainstream media attention, especially in a city like Los Angeles. Even Larry King and 20/20 are criticized for giving credibility to McCarthy.

  48. Lawrence

    Andyo – Good find, great Op-Ed piece.

  49. Doug Little

    Whether or not it helps, I personally believe we all go on in some form or another. I don’t need proof to see, especially in children, something special and unexplainable. Believe me when I say Dana lives on.

    Ahh, no it doesn’t help and no I don’t believe you. The only way someone “lives on” is in the memories of the living.

  50. Michel


    probably, but hang on


    I´ll explain.

    I´m from a 800 year old lineage. Bloody old blood. All of them nice chrstians (Calvinist since the 1600´s). And as these kinda families do, they meddled in politics, clergy, military and medicine (for those who wanted to good in some far away colony).
    The medical bunch who wanted to do good vaxed the hell out of Africa. But never vaxed their own kids. And the rest og the family ofcourse didn´t either. So in my lifetime I saw nieces and nephews ending up sick, crippled or dead.
    I can´t have kids since I never was vaxed against Mumps.
    Some nasty thing you end up with when you get it later in life.
    Maybe I´m just pissed, bitter or whatever, living a life without real purpose.

  51. Lawrence

    Michel – you realize that Dana’s parents aren’t at fault here, right? She died because someone else didn’t vaccinate their own kids.

    My condolences on your situation though – people suck.

  52. Michel

    blame it on a red haze.

    Do you knwo what they thought of vaxing? The natural way. If one of us got something they all brought their kids so they got it too, or not. And if one of them didn´t get it it was said that he/she had the resistance.
    Oh oh what a great resistance I´ve got.
    I think from now on I skip these kinda topics here. Makes me hopping mad and angry.

  53. Dave

    Ah, I see. I din’t really mean to direct that towards this situation. But I was just referring to #40 Katharine who seems to consider people who choose not to vaccinate their children, who then die from it, murderers. Isn’t that similar to aborting a child? Many people don’t call that murder. I just thought “murderers” was a little extreme. And yes there’s differences, but, it’s the decision of the parents in both situations that brings the same end.

    A little thing about science. Science, although I’m a strong supporter, is in a sense naive. Science calls those who don’t follow its logic “naive”, however, the reason science is naive is becuase of that logic. Our logic is based on what we know, and as new discoveries pop up all the time we find how very little we truly know. So, basing our logic on what we know, thus, proves that our logic can be flawed. What we may consider by logic to be impossible today, may be very possible tommorrow. So there’s a possibilty that in some way, ANY way, we do go on. That’s what “some form or another” means. That includes memory if that’s your choice. I don’t actually see the reason to even post an attack against a comment meant to be benevolent, that doesn’t do any harm. I’m not sorry I said it.

    In time this whole “anti-vax” scare will hopefully end.

  54. Michel

    Not vaxing is at least the same as beating your kid up. Prolonged. Since a disease usual takes a while.
    If the kid dies it is than at least man slaughter.

  55. Mchl

    @Dave continuing from Michel: And you put other people’s kids at risk, not only your own.

  56. Michel

    don´t you have a name of your own?

  57. dcsohl

    Michel, Dana was too young to be vaccinated. Her parents would’ve vaccinated her when she got to the appropriate age (six months, if I recall correctly). She died, as somebody said upstream, because somebody else didn’t vaccinate.

    This isn’t one of those cases where an erstwhile anti-vaxxer paid the price and then saw the error of their ways. This is a case where a pro-vaxxer paid the price for the anti-vaxxers’ stupidity.

  58. Dave

    I’m for vaxing guys. The science is solid. Maybe I should have said I want the “anti-vaxers” to stop being scared of vaccinating their kids. Sorry. But I don’t know, some people genuinly believe vaccinating there kids is doing more harm than good. People who consciously, intentionaly, hurt their kids you can call killers all you want, I’ll support you, but some people don’t seriously know better. Some parents do what they think is best only to find out they are wrong.
    Most parents who beat, not spank or reprimand, but beat there kids realize they are hurting the child. I guess sometimes it’s hard to draw a line. If I have kids they will be vaccinated. As of now I have a niece and nephew, who, both have been vaccinated.

    We just need to make those who don’t believe in vaccinating, to start believing in it. Pronto.

  59. Kt

    Adult vaccines cost a little bit more because there is the added cost of the doctors consultation. As far as I know, the swine flu vaccine is free (just the cost of seeing the doc), and I was under the impression whooping cough was free too but maybe I’m mistaken.

    It is expensive when you factor in how much doctors consultations cost, but when you consider how much the death of a baby costs, or how much it costs (emotionally and financially) when you have to hospitalise children for extended periods of time – the doctors consult doesn’t seem so bad.

    However nobody can use finances as an excuse for not vaccinating their kids. At my work we offer free vaccine clinics for 2mth – 4 years, every second Monday. Free vaccinations, free consultation … check with your local community health centre, most of them would have these clinics.

    @Michel you are a good example of why it is important to vaccinate against measles, mumps, etc. The anti vaxxers claim that these childhood diseases aren’t very bad and that their children/they have all had them without consequence. The complications down the track can be devastating, as you’ve shown.

  60. Zucchi
  61. Karen

    Michel, Dana wasn’t yet vaxed because she was too little. Dana’s older siblings were vaxed as I understand it. The vaccination schedule for babies in the state where the McCaffrey’s and I live is for the pertussis vaccine (as part of the DTP) at 2, 4 and 6 months. Dana caught whooping cough and died before she could receive her first vaccination. There was (still is? I’m not sure) a lot of people catching whooping cough, especially in the region of NSW that the McCaffrey’s live in because herd immunity was so low.

    Also the whooping cough vaccination definitely wears off because I had a blood test to check my immunity before I received the whooping cough vax as an adult because I’d had a recent tetanus shot and wasn’t sure if it had been part of DTP or not. I wasn’t immune and in the end my GP decided to go ahead with the DTP as the risk from catching whooping cough and passing it to my baby was higher than the risk of receiving two tetanus shots within a couple of years.

  62. Chris


    Michel, Dana was too young to be vaccinated. Her parents would’ve vaccinated her when she got to the appropriate age (six months, if I recall correctly).

    The first DTaP is given at two months, and then there are few more to complete the series. The child is still vulnerable until they have completed the series, when they are just over a year old.

    Unfortunately, the vaccine is not 100% effective. It is somewhere between 80% to 95% effective (depending on which population is part of the study, there are only a bit over 500 hits on PubMed). It also does not last forever, so boosters are required (those looking for the adult version, just call and ask where you can get a tetanus booster and then ask if it is the Tdap, or ask for the Tdap!).

    Michel, look at the dates under Dana’s photo. She lived for a month and one day. What you have said is very cruel, and heartless. You could have saved yourself more grief if you had just looked at those dates.

  63. As a parent, I sympathize with David and Toni: your loss is tragic and sad, and as many people have said, it is very hard to lose a child and you are a example of strength, courage and love.

    As someone that DOES believe in vaccination: Dana’s testimony is the clear example about why we should continue our fight! My children have been all vaccinated and will continue receiving their shots as time comes.

    Dr. Plait: thanks for keeping us up to date with all of this. I’ve posted a reference to your article in my Blog.

  64. David McCaffery


    We believe in vaccination. My whole family are all vaccinated for pertussis, and everything else. And Dana would have been too, if she’d been given the opportunity. Did you read Phil’s comments (@ 1) at the top of this post?

    Babies don’t receive their first dose of pertussis vaccination until 2 months of age. Dana was 2 weeks old when she contracted whooping cough. Too young to be vaccinated. She died 2 weeks later, terribly.

    My wife & I went public to raise awareness of the deadly pertussis epidemic in our country, especially in our local area and the need for vaccination.

    Read this @ http://www.danamccaffery.com/

    Your lack of respect (or awareness) has really hurt my family, especially on the day that would have been Dana’s 1st birthday.


  65. Party Cactus

    And people wonder why there are those who go on and on and on against irrationality, denialism, magical thinking, ect. When you close your eyes to the real world, literally or metaphorically, whether you’re walking toward a cliff with your eyes closed or promoting preventable disease by replacing vaccines with woo, bad stuff happens, and not necessarily to you. Maybe, if people see this, and realize that anti-vaccine is pro-disease, and work to prevent this sort of thing from happening ever again, maybe we can make a needless and senseless death just a little less pointless.

  66. PJE

    That was one seriously adorable looking child and that picture is actually really, really nice. Just thought I’d share


  67. Jeff Keogh

    Warning, Will Robinson, warning!

    As was probably to be expected, the foul Dorey person has gone bleating to the buffoons at Age of Autism. See http://www.ageofautism.com/2010/02/australian-vaccination-network-asks-for-your-support.html

    There it is requesting financial aid to prevent the AVN from folding. (My use of the third person impersonal pronoun is not an error). Does anyone know if AoA has enough of a following to be able to scrape together some funding for the AVN?


    PS. If there were are particularly bad flu season in Australia one year of a strain that had been included in that season’s flu shot, would it therefore be correct to refer to that flu as the ‘AVN flu’? (Baboom-tish)

  68. Ryan Gerber

    I’m a paramedic in the West Kootenays, and I’m allergic to the pertussis vaccine, so I’m really not happy about this news. It wouldn’t kill me, but it wouldn’t be much fun.

  69. cuz chris

    cuz it aint fair,
    we lost twins to the 1919 pandemic and then family to other issues then dana to a disease that can be avoided

    this sucks

    cuzin chris

  70. Just got a TDAP last week because of my two-week-old daughter at home. My wife’s getting her jab in a few weeks, before she goes back to work as a schoolteacher…


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