1,500,000 people die from vaccine-preventable diseases every year, but anti-vaxxers might consider this more of a victory for their movement rather than a tragic, unnecessary loss of life. Once a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, how many more people will continue to die as a result of anti-vaxxers’ refusal to vaccinate?
Let’s start small, as in smallpox. This disease has been around since the 3rd century BCE, but a vaccine wasn’t developed until 1796. Before vaccines, smallpox killed 3 out of 10 people -- a 30% death rate. Edward Jenner, the father of this lifesaving vaccine, has saved countless lives thanks to his invention. A COVID-19 vaccine might be just around the corner, but it won’t protect us if anti-vaxxers refuse to get it.
70-90% of the population needs to be immunized against a disease to achieve herd immunity, which protects our most vulnerable members of society, like the elderly and immunocompromised people. 9% of people are anti-vaxx when it comes to measles, and that number jumps to 13% when including parents of minors, pushing us uncomfortably close to the herd immunity margin.
Speaking of measles, 140,000+ people worldwide died from this disease only two years ago, directly as a result of stagnating vaccination rates. Anti-vaxxers love to claim that vaccines aren’t needed for diseases like measles anymore because they’re long gone thanks to proper hygiene and sanitation, but clearly, that’s not the case. We’ve been collectively washing our hands longer and more often than ever before, and this hasn’t completely killed the coronavirus, although it has helped slow its transmission.
Finally, the flu. This disease killed ~675,000 Americans in 1918, and a vaccine wasn’t developed until almost 25 years later. Yes, you read that correctly, all those deaths happened in one year, totaling 1,800 people killed every day. Imagine two planes dropping from the sky, every day, for a year, and you’ll start to conceptualize the enormous loss of life in that one year alone. More recently, 30,000-60,000 Americans died from the flu between Oct 2019 and March 2020. The death rate for COVID-19 is unknown, but current data suggests it is 10x higher than the flu. It’s higher still among the vulnerable groups mentioned earlier, which are the exact people counting on herd immunity the most.
Sadly, it looks like we’ll let them down. As recently as January of this year, faith in vaccines fell 10 percentage points. In fact, just last month, 23% of people committed to not getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
As of this writing, 112,000+ Americans have already died from coronavirus, out of 1.98 million confirmed cases. That’s a 5.6% death rate. It might not be on par with the smallpox death rate before vaccines, but it’s certainly nothing to sneeze at. Or should I say cough at?
Some people claim the COVID-19 pandemic is blown out of proportion, so let’s pretend that the number of coronavirus cases is being widely over-reported. However, not everyone with the disease has been tested. Let’s pretend that of these 112,000 people who died, only half actually had COVID-19. Now you’ve cut the death rate to 2.5%. Is that a risk you’re willing to take, especially when the mortality rate is higher for those we love most, like our parents and grandparents?
Our children aren’t safe, either. Anti-vaxxers have killed their own children due to their refusal to vaccinate. One 4-year-old boy died from the flu this past February when his anti-vaxx mother refused to fill the doctor’s prescription for Tamiflu – the most common antiviral medication prescribed to treat the flu – and instead asked an anti-vaxx Facebook group about at-home cures.
Another unvaccinated child, only 6 years old, contracted tetanus while playing outside. He spent almost two months of his short life in a hospital recovering from the vaccine-preventable disease. Despite the fact that he spent 47 of those days in the ICU, isolated in a dark room, attached to a ventilator, his parents learned nothing from the experience: they refused to give him the vaccine series that could prevent a similar episode in the future.
Before children enter kindergarten, they’re required to be vaccinated against common diseases like measles, tetanus, and chickenpox. Anti-vaxxers might not want to protect their children from vaccine-preventable diseases, but the lives of our children, ourselves, and other people we love depend on it.