Measles: the actual risks

Since there is so much ridiculous ignorance being blathered about, particularly on the pro-vaccine side, I thought it would make sense to remind everyone of the actual facts of the matter. First of all, vaccines have had even less impact with regards to measles than I’d shown yesterday, because 1912-1916 was not the peak of the pre-vaccination era. From the CDC:

1900-1909:   8377 deaths per year (average) associated with measles.
1920-1929:   6659 deaths per year (average) associated with measles.
1953-1962:    444 deaths per year (average) associated with measles.
1959-1962:    404 deaths per year (average) associated with measles.

To be more precise, lets look at the actual annual deaths recorded in the years leading up to the introduction of the vaccine. Remember that the measles vaccine was introduced in 1963.

1950: 468
1951: 683  
1952: 618  
1953: 462  
1954: 518  
1955: 345 
1956: 530  
1957: 389  
1958: 552  
1959: 385  
1960: 380  
1961: 434  
1962: 408

Obviously, the reduction of deaths from 8,377 to 408 is even better than the decline from 5,300 to 450 cited in the Oxford Journals study yesterday. That means that  95.1 percent of the decline in measles mortality had NOTHING to do with vaccination. It could not have. The vaccine had not yet been introduced.

However, even this astonishing reduction in measles mortality doesn’t fully account for the reduction in risk, because the population of the USA was much larger in 1962 than in 1909. 186,537,737 in 1962 versus 92,228,496 in 1909, to be precise. So, the risk of measles mortality was 1 in 11,010 in 1909 versus 1 in 457,200 in 1962.

In other words, 97.6 percent of the population-corrected decline in measles mortality took place prior to the introduction of measles vaccination. And this was despite the fact that 90 percent of the population was infected with measles at one point or another.

It might be tempting to conclude that with a 2014 population of 318,881,992, the worst case scenario for the USA is 697 measles deaths per year. (Just to put it in perspective, this is very close to the 677 annual bicycle deaths per year.) However, this assumes medical care circa 1962, which is obviously incorrect. So, we need a proxy to provide us with an estimate how the improvement in medical technology over the last 53 years would likely affect the rate of measles mortality.

Age-adjusted death rates per 100,000 persons (standardized to the 1940 U.S. population) for diseases of the heart (i.e., coronary heart disease, hypertensive heart disease, and rheumatic heart disease) have decreased from a peak of 307.4 in 1950 to 134.6 in 1996, an overall decline of 56%

As of 2011, the age-adjusted death rate had further declined to 109.2, indicating a probable 64.5 percent reduction of measles mortality. So, the reasonable worst case scenario for a completely unvaccinated US population is 248 measles deaths per year.

And so I would ask the pro-vaccine advocate, precisely how much human liberty are you willing to sacrifice for a mere 248 deaths per year. If you’re convinced that is a sufficient justification, how can you possibly justify permitting your child to be a passenger in a car, ride a bike, or even take a bath if you believe that the use of government force and the elimination of parent right to medical consent is justified in order to eliminate the 1 in 1,287,026 risk that so frightens you.

NB: “Each year approximately 800 school-aged children are killed in motor vehicle crashes during normal school travel hours.” If you genuinely want to save children’s lives, don’t stop unvaccinated children from going to school, stop ALL children, vaccinated or unvaccinated, from going to school.