Vaccination Consideration (1 of 9): Decline in Disease Not Due to Vaccines

This is the first of ninet reasons we’re going to explore for why we decided not to vaccinate our children. If you missed the intro to this series, please read it here. It contains groundwork critical for properly understanding my motivation for writing this series.

The Fear

Many parents are scared of diseases for which we now have vaccines, and often the fear is justified. Diseases like whooping cough, measles, and polio were responsible for many deaths.

***As a side note, many other diseases for which vaccinations now exist are not dangerous and do not cause deaths in the overwhelming majority of cases.  More on that in another post. ***

The following CDC quote is a great summary of what parents are told by most medical professionals:

If a child is not vaccinated and is exposed to a disease germ, the child’s body may not be strong enough to fight the disease. Before vaccines, many children died from diseases that vaccines now prevent, such as whooping cough, measles, and polio. Those same germs exist today, but babies are now protected by vaccines, so we do not see these diseases as often.

In light of this statement, we’d be downright negligent in our parental duties to skip over any vaccine that now exists, right?  No parent would ever want his or her child to die from something which they had to power to prevent with a simple shot!

But is it a Faulty Basic Premise?

The main premise behind vaccinations is that they are the primary reason for the decline of disease.  To repeat the CDC’s own words, “babies are now protected by vaccines, so we do not see these diseases as often.”

However, are we sure that this basic premise is true?  What if, upon examination, we found that diseases for which we now vaccinate were well on the decline before vaccines even showed up on the scene? Would that change our view of their necessity?

The Stats

The following chart was put together using data from

It shows that diseases were already on the decline without the introduction of vaccines. You’ll notice that two of the diseases, scarlet fever and typhoid fever, followed the same downward trend even though scarlet fever was not addressed with vaccines and  typhoid fever was never treated with widespread vaccination. (You can find a larger, clearer version of the chart here.)

In 1900 only 133 people per million died of measles.  By 1960, there were only 0.3 deaths per million. The measles vaccine didn’t turn up until 1963!

The same thing happened with diphtheria and pertussis.  Mortality rates dropped more than 90% in the early 20th century before vaccines for these diseases were introduced.

So what actually caused the decline of disease?

If vaccines weren’t the reason for the phasing out of disease, what was?

An editorial statement from the Journal of Pediatrics states that proper sanitation was largely responsible for the early large declines in infectious diseases (emphasis mine):

“… the largest historical decrease in morbidity and mortality caused by infectious disease was experienced not with the modern antibiotic and vaccine era, but after the introduction of clean water and effective sewer systems.”

“Zinc, diarrhea, and pneumonia (editorial)”, The Journal of Pediatrics, December 1999, Vol. 135, No. 6, p. 663

Velvl Greene, PhD agrees (emphasis mine):

“The conquest of infectious disease and the health revolution it initiated is arguably one of the greatest achievements of Western civilization.  Yet the phenomenon is largely unknown and rarely taught, even in history courses.  Conventional wisdom usually assumes that conquest of infectious disease can be credited to well-known lifesaving innovations in medicine such as vaccines, antibiotics, and surgical asepsis. These icons are truly essential ingredients of modern medicine, and their contribution to human life and health in this century can never be minimized.  However, except for the smallpox vaccination, which was introduced in 1798 and made compulsory in England in 1853, the overall contribution of medical innovations to the health revolution of the 1800s is difficult to validate.  Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccine arrived on the scene only after disease mortality rates already had been reduced significantly; measles, rubella, and polio vaccines did not become available until the middle of the 20th century, when most infant deaths were the result of other causes.”

Greene, Velvl W., PhD, MPH, “Personal hygiene and life expectancy improvements since 1850: Historic and epidemiologic associations”, American Journal of Infection Control (AJIC), August 2001, Vol. 29, No. 4, pp. 203-206

The World Health Organization, a proponent of mass vaccination, even concedes that the best way to avoid common infectious diseases like diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria and measles is with an adequate diet. [Media, Jun 17] Better Nutrition Could Save Millions of Kids-Study

In summary, these were the true causes for the decline in disease:

  • Better nutrition
  • Refrigeration of foods
  • Cleaner water
  • Improved sanitation (removing trash from streets, better sewage systems, etc.)

Video with More Details

Here is a video of other medical professionals talking about how vaccines are not the reason for decline in disease.  Interestingly, around 1 minute and 45 seconds in the video, the first speaker talks about the slight of hand that can easily be accomplished with the stats to make it seem that vaccines were responsible for the drastic reduction in deaths.

A Better Way to Avoid Disease

Erich and I like the approach of Dr. Howard Morningstar, graduate of Yale Medical School and former resident of Brown University who said in an interview with Mothering magazine (July-August 2009), “I would rather use the long-term, tried and true ways to prevent epidemics — sanitation, nutrition, hygiene, health awareness — and save the emergency measures, like mass vaccinations, for true emergencies…”

Read the next post in this series here.

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