[Note: Although I think it's clear in the text below, I changed the title of this post to reflect the fact that it's the Victorian government doing this, not the Federal Australian government.]
In Australia, pertussis — whooping cough — is at epidemic levels. There were over 38,000 cases last year, and it’s killed eight babies since 2008. Despite this, the Health Minister of Victoria wants to cut a program that provides free pertussis vaccines for caregivers and parents of babies. He claims (under advice of a panel of experts) that it isn’t providing sufficient clinical results, but many doctors are concerned what this will do to the already too-high rates of infection.
Even if the results aren’t as good as hoped, it would make sense to fund this program until infection rates are down, at least to where they were before the epidemic.
Toni McCaffery — the mother of Dana McCaffery, one of those eight infants killed by pertussis — has created a petition to continue the program. If you live in Australia, I urge you to read it and sign it if you choose.
And please, please talk to your board-certified doctor and see if you need a shot or a booster.
As long as antivaxxers spread their thin gruel of nonsense, as long as people think it’s OK to get a religious exemption from a life-saving vaccination, as long as people aren’t even aware that as adults they need to keep up with their TDAP booster shots (as I wasn’t), then I will continue to write about this.
As long as babies are dying, I’ll continue to write about this. Let’s hope I can stop very, very soon.
Medical officials are saying that there have been 37 cases of pertussis — whooping cough — reported in my hometown of Boulder so far this year.
We’re not even 100 days into 2012 yet. [Note: Washington State is in the midst of an actual epidemic of pertussis.]
How serious is this? 30 of those Boulder cases are in children under the age of 18… and it almost took the life of six week old Natalie Schultz. The local news reported on this:
[You may need to refresh this page to see the video.]
This outbreak might shock you, especially considering Boulder is one of the most educated cities in the United States. But in fact, I’ve been wondering if and when something like this might happen here. Denial of the benefits of vaccination is strong in educated areas, like Boulder or Marin county, California — being educated doesn’t mean you get things right, and in fact can make people believe in their own knowledge even more strongly. They go online and find antivax literature which magnifies their own beliefs.
Also, these tend to be more left-leaning areas, and the antivax movement does better there. The result? A little baby, not even two months old, is recovering from a nearly-fatal event that was totally preventable if enough people were vaccinated. Herd immunity would have prevented this whole thing. Natalie is too young to get a pertussis vaccine herself, so babies like her rely on adults — us — to be immunized against these diseases.
Adults should have a pertussis booster every ten years. I got my TDaP booster a couple of years ago. Just two months earlier, unbeknownst to me at the time, a little girl in Belgium named Lore Darch died from pertussis at the age of 83 days. Her father, Danny, wrote a diary for her as a memorial. Read it if you can. I did, and my heart aches so hard it’s a physical pain.
If you haven’t had your booster, you should talk to your board-certified doctor and see if you need one as well.
As Danica, Natalie’s mother put it:
"I almost lost my daughter at almost six weeks old… that could have been prevented if everyone was vaccinated."
She’s right. Antivaxxers are wrong. DON’T believe them about vaccine ingredients. DON’T believe them when they say they just want to educate people. DON’T believe them when they say vaccines cause autism. DON’T believe them when they say vaccines don’t work.
Vaccinations save lives. It’s that simple. Go talk to your doctor. NOW.
My thanks to The Vaccine Times on Twitter for alerting me to this.
As I write this, I just got back from hearing author Seth Mnookin give a talk here in Boulder about his book, The Panic Virus (the talk was sponsored by my friends at the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition — I love those folks). It’s an excellent book about the rise and power of the antivax movement. I recommend reading it. That is, if your stomach doesn’t get upset over the events it describes. Mine did.
The talk was quite good, with him going over the basics of the people who fight against vaccinations. The most interesting part was during the Q&A, when a woman sitting right behind me starting soapboxing about how vaccines weren’t tested enough, and there weren’t enough studies showing their safety, and so on. It was clear after she said just a few words that she was from some antivax organization, and I found out afterward she was from Safeminds — a group that tried to get really awful ads placed in movie theaters but which was fought tooth and nail by Skepchicks.
The woman’s tactics were pretty simple: sow doubt, and use bad logic to do so. First she misrepresented what Seth wrote in his book (saying he was one-sided, always supporting vaccines, when in fact he has a lot to say about the failings of how they are tested and discussed by some doctors to parents). Then she tried to imply a false dichotomy: if they aren’t tested well, they cannot be safe, and we shouldn’t use them. That’s obviously wrong, and also ignores the vast amount of good vaccines do. When was the last time you heard of someone contracting smallpox? Oh right: 1977.
Anyway, about Seth’s book, my friend and fellow science advocate Dr. Rachael Dunlop pointed me toward the new Australian edition of the book, which has a new preface as well. I’m happy to see that Mnookin directly takes on the situation in Australia, documenting the behavior of antivaxxer Meryl Dorey and relaying the story of the McCafferys, who lost their four week old daughter Dana due to pertussis and low vaccination rates. You can read the preface at that link above.
Again, I do recommend this book. Dorey’s organization may be on its way out, but the antivaxxers are still out there –obviously, as evidenced by the woman from Safeminds at the talk — and still spreading mistrust and fear. The Panic Virus will give you a lot of useful information about how this came to be, and what we can do about it.
[P.S. Before the usual brigade of antivaxxers swarm the comments below and accuse me of being a Big Pharma shill, please read this essay by skeptic Rebecca Watson about the pharmaceutical industry. I agree with her.]
Geez, a ton of vaccination related news came in the past few days:
Dr. Wakefield has been shown to have used absolutely fraudulent data. He had a financial interest in some lawsuits, he created a fake paper, the journal allowed it to run. All the other studies were done, showed no connection whatsoever again and again and again. So it’s an absolute lie that has killed thousands of kids. Because the mothers who heard that lie, many of them didn’t have their kids take either pertussis or measles vaccine, and their children are dead today. And so the people who go and engage in those anti-vaccine efforts — you know, they, they kill children. It’s a very sad thing, because these vaccines are important.
This is a very delicate situation, with parents making heart-wrenching decisions about their kids — and as a parent, I know how tough those decisions can be. But a huge number of people against vaccinations out there believe in it for the wrong reasons, thinking there are toxins in the vaccines, or they cause neurological disorders, or a host of other provably wrong ideas. As we’ve seen with most alt-med related topics, this is not really an intellectual issue, it’s an emotional one. And ironically, people like Jenny McCarthy, Barbara Loe Fischer, and Andrew Wakefield can talk about evil conspiracies trying to hurt your kids, but when we on the side of reality point out that low vaccination rates results in children dying, we are the ones castigated as uncaring and unfeeling.
Baloney. Last Friday would have been Dana McCaffery’s second birthday. Read that, click the links, and tell me how uncaring we are.
Bill Gates is right. Low vaccination rates result in children dying. If you’re the parent of an infant, talk to your doctor and get the facts.
2) One vaccine fear that’s been around a while is that they can cause a nervous disorder called Guillain-Barré syndrome. A new study has been released which shows no connection between the two, at least for the seasonal flu shot.
3) Wherever I go shopping I see those bottles of vitaminwater for sale. They claim to have all sorts of vitamins and also claim your body needs them, which may or may not be true, but when they claim you can drink this stuff instead of getting a flu shot, they’ve crossed the line. I know the ads are supposed to be humorous, but with the huge push for alt-med nonsense in the media and health claim benefits from products that are clearly outrageous, this is simply too far.
4) More health organizations are speaking up against the antivaxxers, and I love it when they target specific promulgators of nonsense as a health columnist for Canoe.ca did. Jenny McCarthy’s claims are dangerous, pure and simple.
Tip o’ the syringe to Joe Abietz, Robert Tapp, and Robert Estes
Meryl Dorey, head of the flailing Australian Vaccination Network — an organization dedicated to twisting the truth about vaccines and saying anything at all to scare people into an antivax stance — has once again put fingers to keyboard, and as usual the truth eludes her.
She wrote a lengthy essay about her dealings with Toni and David McCaffery, who lost their four week old infant Dana to pertussis two years ago.
I hardly need to point out that her interpretation of reality doesn’t come within a glancing blow of it; you can read what Dorey wrote, and then compare it to Toni McCaffery’s response detailing what really happened, and why Dorey is so wrong.
According to a statement just released by the California Department of Public Health, pertussis — whooping cough — is now officially an epidemic in California.
That’s right: an almost completely preventable disease is coming back with a roar in California. There have been well over 900 cases of pertussis in that state this year, over four times as many as this time last year (and 600 more suspected cases are being investigated). If this keeps up, California may see more cases in 2010 than it has in 50 years.
If that doesn’t anger and sicken you enough, then this most assuredly will: there have been five deaths this year from pertussis as well, all babies under three months of age.
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.]
I am not all that big on celebrity endorsements, but I do understand that they can be very beneficial in getting the word out on important topics ot people who might not otherwise hear it.
So I’m pleased to see that Jennifer Lopez did a short video about the benefits of vaccination against pertussis for a website called Sounds of Pertussis (created by the vaccine division of the pharmaceutical company Sanofi Aventis). The video calmly and rationally explains why it’s important to vaccinate for pertussis, also known as whooping cough.
Regular readers know my stance on this: pertussis can kill, as parents David and Toni McCaffery found out when their four-week-old daughter Dana died from it in 2009 — she was infected because not enough people had vaccinated their children, and the herd immunity in that area of Australia was too low. It’s important to talk to your physician about this and find out if you should vaccinate yourself and your loved ones.
The antivaxxers are loud about this issue, of course. Meryl Dorey and her Australian Vaccination Network have spread misinformation far and wide on this issue, even saying that pertussis doesn’t kill anyone… a statement that is so clearly false that it’s difficult to believe someone could honestly utter it. No doubt the antivaxxers will ooze out of the woodwork in the comments below — they always do — and make all sorts of similar false claims. And also no doubt we’ll see the attempts to poison the well by saying the JLo video was produced by a — gasp — pharmaceutical company!
Like Ben Goldacre, I am not a huge fan of a lot of the tactics used by those companies to sell drugs. But that doesn’t mean everything they do is wrong. Vaccinations, as I feel I must point out over and again, have saved hundreds of millions of lives, a number so huge it’s awe-inspiring. But so many antivaxxers seem to want to see us return to the days when children died of measles, when kids were confined to iron lungs when they couldn’t breathe due to polio, and people died by the millions from smallpox and other preventable diseases.
Continuing with Australian Skeptics awards, they are giving out a new award in honor of Fred Thornett, a skeptic who died earlier this year. The first recipients of The Fred, given to outstanding promoters of reason, are David and Toni McCaffery.
The McCafferys are heroes of mine. Earlier this year, their four week old infant daughter lost a battle with pertussis. Yes, whooping cough. She was too young to be vaccinated, and because the antivaccination movement is strong in their area, vaccination rates were low, and the herd immunity was in turn too low to help little Dana.
When this grieving couple was shrilly and mercilessly attacked by Meryl Dorey and the AVN, the McCafferys fought back. They went on TV, they gave interviews, and they told the truth: their daughter died from an easily preventable disease, and that people like Dorey and the AVN are a public health menace.
Mind you, this was mere weeks after their daughter had died. If I had been in that situation (and every parent, including me, has nightmares about it), I probably would have curled into a little ball and shut the world out. But not Toni and David. They spoke up. They also created a website in honor of Dana, to make sure her story gets told. They have been astonishing examples of what humans can achieve, even when dealing with something that must have been too heartbreaking to bear.
The Australian Skeptics have a video of the award ceremony. Richard Saunders tells me there was not a dry eye in the house, and just watching it — just writing about it now — chokes me up.
To Toni and David: I am so, so sorry you were eligible for this award, but I am very, very glad you two have done what you’ve done. Congratulations. And may your story save more lives than the AVN and its ilk can endanger.