Myth #2: Vaccines Saved Lives

Public Health Myth #2: Vaccines Saved Lives

The Myth: Vaccines were responsible for a decline in both occurrences (morbidity) and deaths (mortality) from diseases that had plagued previous generations.

The Truth: The real public health miracle that saved so many lives and prevented so much disease occurred prior to the introduction of vaccines in the 1950s and 60s. Public reaction by the entire town of Leicester England to the small pox (a vaccine introduced in the late 1700s), proved that cleanliness and good nutrition mattered more than vaccination.

Elimination of the deadly nature of disease is more correctly attributed to four important changes that spanned the late 19th and early 20th centuries:

  1. Regulations to promote public works projects to build sewer systems that disposed of human and animal wastes (which had been on the streets and in open gutters) and sanitation service to remove garbage; these measures effectively cleaned living quarters and city streets so that people were no longer in regular contact with feces and rotting garbage.
  2. Public works projects that delivered clean, safe drinking water, a measure that was especially important in overcrowded tenements urban areas. Clean drinking water is essential for preventing deaths from diarrhea—which was then, as it is still, one of the leading causes of death in children worldwide.
  3. Food safety regulations that prevented distribution of tainted meats and produce, especially to the poor who could only afford the lowest grade foods.
  4. Child labor laws to protect children from working in factories and mines. Add to this the rise of labor unions which fought for wages that lifted families out of poverty. More money earned by adults in a family ensured that children had better nutrition and a more developmentally appropriate environment. This reduced the stresses on their small bodies and added to their overall health improvement and resilience.

Improved living conditions, clean food and water, and the reduction of poverty, strengthened people’s overall health so much that the body’s natural immune system was able to handle infectious diseases. Diseases that had been deadly remained in the community in the 1900s but no longer posed the mortal threat they had in the 1800s.

It is easy to see the truth of this premise following natural or man-made disasters which disrupt a community’s access to sanitation, good food, and clean water. People huddled and crowded into camps without these essentials soon fall prey to any number of infectious diseases. The filth associated with the conditions is only one issue; the trauma and stress experienced also depresses immune function leaving people more vulnerable to disease.

Disease thrives on filth, poverty, and trauma (emotional, psychological, and physical). Address them and health improves without vaccines. Here are a couple graphs, from Public Health Myth#1: We Need Vaccines, to illustrate the point:

G17.8-US-Measles-1930-1992-800pixels

From Dissolving Illusions – U.S. Measles Deaths 1930 – 1992

The same pattern is true for diphtheria, typhoid, scarlet fever and whooping cough (notice the spike in diphtheria after introduction of the vaccine).

G14.3-US-Deaths-1900-1965-800pixels

From Dissolving Illusions – U.S. Deaths 1900 – 1965

Public Health Table of Contents

The Problem With Mandatory Vaccination as Public Health Policy
Public Health Myth #1: We Need Vaccines

Public Health Myth #2: Vaccines Saved Lives
Public Health Myth #3: Vaccines Are Safe
Public Health Myth #4: Herd Immunity
Public Health Myth #5: Trust Your Government

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