Tag Archives: vaccines

Deaths That Don’t Have to Happen: The Relationship Between Knowledge and Health

Editor’s note: As part of  a writing class I took this summer, I had to do a group project addressing a social issue within our society.

Part of that assignment was writing an essay that promotes activism to address the issue.The research inspired me, so I decided to share that essay with you. Hope you enjoy! 


Knowledge, and the desire to use it to better our own lives, as well as the lives of everyone else. This is what has made our species so great.

Fire, the wheel, internal plumbing, electricity, refrigeration. All of these creations were the result of intelligent people with an insatiable drive to solve major problems that affected everyone within their communities.

As the world progressed into the modern era, more and more of these advancements came from the realm of medicine. For thousands of years, smallpox was a scourge that regularly plagued populations all over the world.

A close-up of the smallpox virus. Click to enlarge. Magnification: x28,500

In the 19th century, the disease was killing 400,000 Europeans every year. In the 20th century, it accounted for an estimated 300 million deaths worldwide.

Now, consider this: the vaccine for smallpox was discovered, by a man named William Jenner, in 1796. However, it took more than 160 years for the World Health Assembly to pass a worldwide resolution to eradicate the disease in 1959, and another 20 years for the disease to be completely eradicated.

There hasn’t been a single documented death from smallpox since 1980, but it took nearly 200 years to make that happen.

Click to enlarge

Our modern world is no different. Every year, 3 million people die from vaccine-preventable diseases, half of that being children 5 years old or younger.

Other preventable diseases, like diarrhea and pneumonia, claim the lives of another 2 million children who are simply too poor to afford things like clean water and basic treatment.

If you’re keeping track, that’s 3.5 million children dying every year from basic problems that we solved ages ago. Another way to think of it: imagine every kid enrolled in public school in New York City, Los Angeles and Houston dying this year. Imagine, just for a second, all the human potential that we are losing along with these children.

I know you may be thinking that it’s somewhat inevitable that developing countries lag behind the rest of the world when it comes to new vaccines, treatments or procedures, so chew on this for a second: out of a list of 18 developed countries, the United States was at the very bottom when it came to deaths from preventable causes.

For people under the age of 75, these preventable causes account for 23% of total deaths for men and 32% of total deaths for women.

Preventable disease per 100,000 citizens. Click to enlarge

How many more people are we going to let die simply because they lack access to resources that are so plentiful that they are taken for granted by the rest of us?

We have to always remember that the position of privilege we find ourselves in only exists because someone at some point in history fought for our right to good healthcare.

So now, it is our responsibility, our duty, to use this position of privilege to extend this same basic human right to health to the countless people still living without it, not only in our country but across the globe.

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Is Forcing Parents to Vaccinate Their Children A Good Thing or A Government Overstep? (Poll)

Earlier this week, Croatia became the first country to mandate that all children be vaccinated for for measles, hepatitis, pertussis, diphtheria and a number of other diseases. After carefully weighing the pros and cons, the Croatian government decided that,

“The child’s right to health is more than the rights of parents to the (wrong) choice.”

Back in late January, The Higher Learning reported on how the anti-vaccination movement has led to a resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases in recent years, with measles and pertussis being at the top of that list. The movement has also aided the comeback of polio, which was almost completely eradicated just a decade ago.

Child being given a dose of the oral polio vaccine (Photo: CNN)

I understand that many parents are suspicious of the government as well as the health industry, and a parent is totally justified in being very cautious when it comes to injecting their children with various chemicals and substances that the parents tend to have little knowledge on.

But I also understand that this suspicion is often unfounded or taken to the extreme, resulting in children contracting serious, often life-threatening diseases that are easily preventable with a vaccine.

So what’s your take?

How a Small Medical Myth Became A HUGE Global Emergency (Graphic)

The Council on Foreign Relations recently published a map that shows outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in the last 6 years. If you click on the map below, it will take you to the interactive graphic on the CFR’s official website.

There, you will see a key showing which disease each color represents. The larger the circle, the more reported cases of the disease (put your cursor over a circle to see the type of disease and exact number of cases).

If you start in 2008 and move forward (you can drag the slider on the timeline above the map), you will see a drastic increase in the spread, size and number of these circles.

The anti-vaccination movement has been gaining traction across the globe in recent years. There are a number of reasons for this.

In 1999, British physician Andrew Wakefield published his first of two papers which “proved” that the MMR virus led to autism. Although his work was quickly discredited (here’s a good analysis of the critical flaws in the two studies), many people had already bought in.

Actress, TV talk show personality and former Playboy model Jenny McCarthy championed the anti-vaccination cause in America, helping to ignite a myth that would continue to spread long after Wakefield’s work was discredited.

As recently as last December, Katie Couric gave the movement a platform by interviewing a woman convinced her daughter died from a vaccination against HPV, although the scientific evidence is questionable at best.

Back in November, The Higher Learning reported on how extremist Islamic sects are spreading anti-vaccination propaganda, saying among other things that Western vaccination teams were, “un-Islamic…purveyors of poison meant to sterilize Muslim women.”

The effect of these unfounded fears is clearly evidenced in the map. Read more from the Los Angeles Times here.

Extremist Islamic Superstitions Fueling a Resurgence of Polio

Once thought to be on the brink of eradication worldwide, Polio, a crippling disease which targets children and can lead to partial or full paralysis, is now making a comeback in Muslim-majority countries, due to war, social unrest and religious superstition.

In recent months, outbreaks have been growing in Somalia, Afghanistan, Nigeria and a number of other developing Muslim-majority countries where access to polio vaccines is very limited. To make matters worse, extremist groups such as the Taliban have denounced the Western polio-vaccine teams as, “un-Islamic or Western purveyors of poison meant to sterilize Muslim women.”

Earlier this week, 11 members of a vaccination team were kidnapped by militants in northwest Pakistan. According to a report from The Express Tribune, a cleric from the Punjab province in Pakistan warned that, “jihad would be launched against polio vaccination teams, whose mission he labeled a Western conspiracy.”

Extremism isn’t the only obstacle, however. In Somalia, teams have had trouble getting to children because of the complications of a civil war in which many militant leaders block deliveries of food and medicine to the villages of their enemies. In Nigeria, there have been reports of parents refusing to let their children be vaccinated unless the vaccination teams give more benefits.

This Year’s Polio Cases from the Center for Disease Control (click to enlarge)

The resurgence of this deadly disease is prompting some polio-free countries to demand that visitors from high-risk countries get vaccinated upon arrival at the airport if they’re unable to prove they’ve been previously vaccinated.

According to the Center for Disease Control, there have already been 347 documented cases of polio this year, compared to just 223 last year. But the much more frightening figure: 224 of this year’s cases have been in non-endemic countries (ie. countries that have had extremely low numbers of polio cases in recent years), compared to only 6 last year.

To read the full article from USA Today, click this link.

For more information on polio, check out the CDC’s polio page.