It's all about Perspective - Part II

Several people that I know have been posting and reposting images like the following, which cite the fatality current numbers from www.worldometers.info. More often than not, people are posting these images in an effort to downplay the fatality rate of COVID-19 by comparing it to other causes of death.

Worldwide-Deaths

First of all, I think it's foolish to compare diseases in this manner. I'm not sure why so many people are intentionally trying to deny that COVID-19 is a highly contagious disease that has a pretty decent chance of killing people.

Let me be clear, I fully admit that many people have overestimated the spread of this pandemic, and it seems that both the academic and scientific worlds are making up the numbers for their projections based on some sort of randomization algorithm. In addition, the press seems to have nothing better to do than to drag the country through thousands of hours of reporting, wherein the common denominator seems to be, "We have no idea what we're saying, but please listen to us anyway - because we desperately need the ratings."

However, there is another problem that I often see throughout the Western Hemisphere, which bothers me more than these numbers: we see everything from the perspective of what impacts us, so we tend to ignore things that affect the rest of the world. If you were to step outside the safety bubble of the Western Hemisphere, you would see that diseases like Measles, Polio, and Tuberculosis still run rampant.

In North America, we don't care about any of those diseases, because we haven't had to deal with them for several decades. As I have pointed out in other blogs, this has led to the unscientific Antivaxxer movement, and a completely illogical public distrust of our medical establishment, which is best health care available in the history of humanity.

With all of that in mind, I would say that the following lists illustrates what a lot of the people in this country are thinking when they see lists like those in the images:

COVID-19 "OMG!!! WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!" -or- "IT'S JUST A HOAX!!! WAKE UP, SHEEPLE!!!"
Seasonal Flu "Meh, those pro-vaxxer idiots get their flu shots, so I have herd immunity."
Malaria "Meh, not in America. We have screen doors and fly swatters."
Suicide "Meh, those people were unhappy. They just needed to cheer up."
Traffic Fatalities "Meh, those are acceptable losses. I gotta have my wheels, dude."
HIV/AIDS "Hey! That's a privacy issue! You can't ask me about that! So leave me alone! Or leave them alone! Or, whatever...!"
Alcohol "Meh, Prohibition was sooooooo bad for the country. Besides, I'm not an alcoholic. I can quit drinking anytime."
Cancer "Meh, not gonna happen to me. Got any cigarettes?"
Hunger "Meh, there's like a McDonald's or Starbucks on every corner. So what's the deal?"
Abortion "MY BODY!!! MY CHOICE!!!"

More often than not, people in the Western Hemisphere or North America ignore the lists in those images for two reasons: complacency and denial.

  • The cause of the complacency is: decades of successful vaccination programs and our excellent health care system, both of which are still the best medical services that the world has ever seen.
  • The cause of the denial is: selfishness. People want what they want, and they don't want anyone telling them that they can't have what they want, whether that is harmful to themselves or others or the environment. (We live in a free society, and one of the downsides to freedom is: it teaches people to be irresponsible.)

In short, many people living in the Western Hemisphere believe that they have the right to selectively care only about what they feel might impact them adversely, and to ignore everything else; whether that means the suffering of others, or their poor lifestyle choices.

Annoyed

Antivaxxers versus Bill Gates

Several years ago, Bill Gates delivered a great TED talk that he called "The next outbreak? We’re not ready." In his presentation, Gates described how the world would not be prepared for the next global pandemic, and you can watch the video his full, 8-minute talk below.

Of course, our planet is now gripped by a global pandemic, and we can now see how few people bothered to pay attention to what Gates was saying. As of today, more than 3 million people have been infected world wide, with around a quarter of a million deaths. (See https://www.bing.com/covid/ for details.)

Because of the relevance of Gates' TED talk to today's situation, there are many people who believe that Gates has the power to see the future. That is, of course, ludicrous; as Gates said in his presentation, a global pandemic was a statistical certain certainty. Then there are a lot of people who ignore Gates, because they believe that he is not an expert in the field; those people have no idea what they're talking about. Gates has spent the past couple decades spending billions of dollars of his personal wealth on a quest to rid the world of disease, and he has actually evolved into something of an expert the field. (Which I will discuss later.)

However, there have also been a great number of conspiracy theorists who believe that Gates is somehow behind all of this, and he is using this situation to either get richer, or to have everyone implanted with microchips. (e.g. People seem to think that Gates is the antichrist.) Even though such rumors have been debunked several times, there are people who still cling to the false belief that Bill Gates is evil and should be killed.

After another round of what seemed to be an endless stream of fools spewing hatred against Gates on various social media platforms, I grew tired of all the paranoia and stupidity, and I posted the following message:

Smallpox used to be one of the most devastating threats to humanity, taking the lives of untold millions of people over several millennia (see https://bit.ly/2SNANeD). Yet when a vaccine was invented that would prevent the spread of the disease, (thereby saving millions of lives), the uneducated and ignorant masses fought it for decades, until widespread adoption of vaccinations finally brought an end to that infestation in the 1980s.

Now we have Bill Gates, whom many people love to hate simply because his business acumen allowed him to amass a personal fortune. Rather than sitting back and keeping his money to himself (like Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs), Gates and his wife have poured billions of dollars into trying to rid the world of several devastating diseases: polio, measles, malaria, tuberculosis, etc. (see https://bit.ly/2VXIFMs).

I would have loved to think that our society had moved beyond the superstitious naysayers who preferred death by smallpox over its cure, but it seems that I was far too optimistic in my expectations. Every day I seem to see a never-ending stream of vitriol emanating from the uneducated and ignorant who seem to think that ridding the world of infectious disease has some sort of nefarious motivation.

Let me be blunt - if you hate Bill Gates because you think that Windows 8 was a clunker of an operating system, then so be it. If you hate Bill Gates because you hate rich people, then you're probably just jealous that your life never amounted to anything, and it's easier to blame others than to accept the fact that your current situation is the sum total of all your life's bad decisions. However, if you hate ANYONE who is giving away billions of dollars of their personal wealth to fight disease, promote education, and provide clean water for developing nations, etc., then I'm afraid that you're little more than a small-minded, superstitious Luddite.

Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism

The following study of 1,256,407 children conclusively shows that there is no link between vaccinations and autism:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0264410X14006367

There is no other way to put this mildly:

  • ...if you choose to ignore the overwhelming amount of scientific evidence that supports vaccines...
    - or -
  • ...if you choose to listen to some ignorant celebrity's rant against vaccines...
    - or -
  • ...if you choose to believe some dim-witted anti-vaxxer's blog...
    - or -
  • ...if you think that you somehow have more information than the thousands of disparate scientists and researchers from around the globe who have repeatedly shown that there is no link between vaccinations and autism...

...then you are an idiot.

Anti-Vaxxers are Still Idiots

Earlier today, an addlebrained anti-vaxxer posted a link to this bogus article on a social media website: FDA Announced That Vaccines Are Causing Autism. That article was, of course, immediately debunked by other people through a myriad of fact-check articles, such as Debunking False Vaccine Claim, Is Autism Now Disclosed as a DTaP Vaccine Side Effect?, etc. But even if that claim had been true for that single vaccine, that would still not apply to the hundreds of other vaccines for which there is incontrovertible proof that they do not cause autism.

The link between vaccines and autism has long been debunked, and people need to stop repeating this very harmful lie. Here is the scoop straight from the FDA: "Scientific evidence does not support a link between vaccination and autism or other developmental disorders." (See the CDC article Vaccines for Children - A Guide for Parents and Caregivers for more information.)

That being said, another gullible village idiot felt that it was necessary to ignore both scientific research and reasonable discussion and repost the following alarmist image as an attempted response:

31292696_1778890132133307_1979325692562636800_n

The numbers published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show that those affected by Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are less than 15 per 1,000, and any increase between current the numbers and the 1960s is attributed to heightened awareness of the disease, better diagnostic procedures, and the classifications of new ailments within ASD like Asperger Syndrome. (See the CDC pages like Prevalence and Characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder Among Children Aged 8 Years, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Research, etc.) What is more, research conducted by the National Institute of Health (NIH) has shown that autism begins in the womb, and is thereby unaffected by childhood vaccinations. (See Autism Spectrum Disorder: Progress Toward Earlier Diagnosis, Autism Risk Unrelated to Total Vaccine Exposure in Early Childhood, etc.)

That being said, the so-called link between autism and vaccines was based on a single research paper that was later unequivocally proved as a fraud, formally retracted from publication, and the doctor who published the paper lost his medical accreditation due to multiple conflicts of interest, unethical behavior, and manufacturing the data in his report. (Basically, this one doctor published a fraudulent study in order to make money. See MMR Doctor 'Planned to Make Millions,' Journal Claims, Antivaccine hero Andrew Wakefield: Scientific fraud?, and hundreds of other articles published about this scandal.)

In the wake of this controversy, the FDA, the CDC and the NIH have spent millions of USA taxpayer dollars on research that has categorically proven that there is no link between vaccines and autism. (See Vaccine Safety: Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism, Vaccine Safety & Availability: Thimerosal and Vaccines, and dozens of other pages on both the FDA, CDC, and NIH websites.)

However, this hoax refuses to die because people who are unaware of the actual research keep reposting bogus images and articles like those shown above, and dangerous diseases which we had almost eradicated from the planet are making a comeback. In the USA, this is especially prevalent due to the lack of daily suffering that is seen in underdeveloped countries; this false sense of security was paradoxically caused by the success of our vaccination programs. (See Vaccine Safety Questions and Answers.) As a result, more children in the USA are growing up with a greater risk of contracting an unnecessary disease than they are of autism.


NOTE: Another reliable and respected source of information is the Mayo Clinic, which states the following in its Autism Spectrum Disorder article:

No link between vaccines and autism spectrum disorder

One of the greatest controversies in autism spectrum disorder centers on whether a link exists between the disorder and childhood vaccines. Despite extensive research, no reliable study has shown a link between autism spectrum disorder and any vaccines. In fact, the original study that ignited the debate years ago has been retracted due to poor design and questionable research methods.

Avoiding childhood vaccinations can place your child and others in danger of catching and spreading serious diseases, including whooping cough (pertussis), measles or mumps.

In other words - if you are a parent, do not fall victim to the misguided anti-vaxxer paranoia that is infesting social media and other fake news outlets with disinformation; do the world a favor and vaccinate your children. Attempts to demonize our successful and scientifically-verified vaccination programs is ridiculously naïve, and future generations will look back on our present-day anti-vaxxer hysteria with the same level of contempt and disgust that we have for the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690s.

More Thoughts About Vaccines

Two years ago I wrote a post which was titled Anti-Vaxxers are Idiots, in which I explained in great detail how important it is for people to be vaccinated and to vaccinate their children. So it came as something of a depressing surprise for me to witness another needless debate fueled by ceaseless drivel from uninformed conspiracy theorists who still cling to the long-disproved belief that vaccines cause autism and other maladies. I am simply amazed at the level of denial from most of these people; it's like they belong to the "Flat Earth Society." Nevertheless, these fools are most-likely alive and healthy and able to voice their misguided opinions only because previous generations were vaccinated sufficiently enough to halt the spread of diseases which would otherwise have killed the parents or grandparents of these naïve nitwits.

Despite any protestations to the contrary, vaccines stop diseases. Period. If you deny that fact, then there is no other way for me to put this - you're just an idiot. I wish that I could put that nicer way, but that's just the way things are.

However, because someone was positing the theory that vaccines are ineffective since occasionally some people still get sick, I thought that I should point out another point of truth: sometimes a vaccine doesn't just lessen the chances of contracting a disease, sometimes it lessens the severity of the disease.

Here is a true story: during my time in the Army, all of the soldiers were forced to have flu vaccinations every year. This decision was passed down from the Pentagon because diseases run rampant throughout the military, which is due to the deplorable conditions in which we had to live in order to do our jobs. (See the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic for an example.) In any event, there were several years when I was vaccinated and I still got the flu, although I was over it after a day or two. So when I left the military, I decided to stop having my annual flu shot.

However, two years later I contracted the flu during another domestic outbreak. The illness wreaked havoc on my system for several weeks, and my life was spared only because medicine has continued to evolve over the past few decades since the last devastating pandemic. But make no mistake - 20 or 30 years ago I probably would have died from that strain of the flu.

I have learned my lesson, and now I make sure that I get my flu shot every year. Sometimes I still get sick, but never as sick as that year when I skipped my flu shot.

Anti-Vaxxers are Idiots

Warning: I will be a little more... um, blunt.. than usual in this blog. I make no apologies, because this is a very serious topic.

Someone I know posted the following article to Facebook with the caption, "When you don't vaccinate your kids, you contribute to this:"

Disneyland Measles Outbreak Hits 59 Cases And Counting

But what was the most-troubling about his post was an anti-vaxxer who responded to it; this anti-vaxxer was suggesting that: 1) measles isn't a deadly disease, 2) it can be treated by homeopathic herbs and essential oils, 3) contracting the disease will build natural immunities, and 4) we should be more concerned about the amount of sugar in our food than the measles. Unfortunately, this person was being serious. Adding insult to injury, when she was corrected with information from the World Health Organization (WHO) which pointed out that hundreds of thousands of people die each year from the measles, this anti-vaxxer changed her story and claimed that since only 145,700 people died from the measles in 2013, that's only 0.000024% of the world's 6 billion people, so measles isn't that big of a deal. This anti-vaxxer was completely blind to the fact that we were discussing 145,700 people who didn't need to die because the cause of their deaths was easily-preventable. In other words, what she really meant was - since the people who are dying from the measles aren't people that she knows personally, their lives obviously don't matter.

Before I continue, I need to state that I passionately agree with my friend's original statement: if you do not vaccinate your kids, you are contributing to potentially lethal outbreaks. Let me put this another way, and let me be very clear as to how I feel about vaccinations: if you are part of the current crowd of crazy people who oppose vaccinations for easily-preventable diseases - you are an idiot. Period. End-of-story. And if you are a parent who refuses to vaccinate your children, and your children contract an easily-preventable disease - you are a terrible, wicked, stupid, horrible, despicable person. Child Protective Services should take your children away from you because you are endangering your children, and you are obviously too inept to be a parent.

Let me dispel some of the anti-vaxxer's arguments with actual facts about the measles from the WHO at http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs286/en/, (note that the added emphasis is mine):

Key facts

  • Measles is one of the leading causes of death among young children even though a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available.
  • In 2013, there were 145,700 measles deaths globally – about 400 deaths every day or 16 deaths every hour.
  • Measles vaccination resulted in a 75% drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2013 worldwide.
  • In 2013, about 84% of the world's children received one dose of measles vaccine by their first birthday through routine health services – up from 73% in 2000.
  • During 2000-2013, measles vaccination prevented an estimated 15.6 million deaths making measles vaccine one of the best buys in public health.

Measles is a highly contagious, serious disease caused by a virus. In 1980, before widespread vaccination, measles caused an estimated 2.6 million deaths each year.

The disease remains one of the leading causes of death among young children globally, despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine. Approximately 145,700 people died from measles in 2013 – mostly children under the age of 5.

Measles is caused by a virus in the paramyxovirus family and it is normally passed through direct contact and through the air. The virus infects the mucous membranes, then spreads throughout the body. Measles is a human disease and is not known to occur in animals.

Accelerated immunization activities have had a major impact on reducing measles deaths. During 2000-2013, measles vaccination prevented an estimated 15.6 million deaths. Global measles deaths have decreased by 75% from an estimated 544 200 in 2000 to 145 700 in 2013.

Let me reiterate some of those facts: immunizations have reduced the number of deaths by 95% in just the past 35 years (from 2,600,000 fatalities to 145,700 fatalities). When we discuss childhood immunizations for diseases like the measles, we are not discussing whether your child will stay home from school for a couple of days with a temperature - we are talking about preventing your child's death. Your child could die because of your parental incompetence, and all it takes is a simple vaccine to remove the possibility.

This anti-vaxxer also suggested that natural medicine was sufficient for the measles, which is a ludicrous proposal; if natural medicine was sufficient, then we would not have had millions of people dying each year throughout the history of humanity. I have met several people in my life who have grown up under the mistaken premise that centuries of naturalistic alchemy was more effective than present-day medicine. I would love to point out that for the thousands of years that homo-sapiens have walked the face of the planet, the life-expectancy of the average human was ½ or ¼ of what it is now. During that time, thousands of pseudo-doctors prescribed any number of naturally-based remedies, yet the majority of people could still expect to die before the age of 30 or 40, and millions upon millions of children died before they left infancy due to disease. In contrast, modern medical science has introduced thousands of real cures based on real science which have produced real results in terms of preventing disease and improving the quality of life. Natural medicine may make your feel better about yourself in an isolated, narrow-minded, yuppie universe, but a host of readily-available facts tell a decidedly different story: science actually works, whereas visiting a modern-day witch doctor does not.

I grew up in a time where contracting a large number of easily-contractible diseases was still a frightening fact of life, when millions of lives were seriously impacted by global diseases like measles, polio, etc. In the decades that preceded my childhood, a plethora of deadly diseases ravaged our society; diseases like smallpox, cholera, diphtheria, typhoid, etc. Times are vastly different now; in today's United States we are blessed with a society where decades of successful vaccination programs have reduced these diseases to the point where apathy and complacency have set in, and as a result we are forced to endure the idiocy of anti-vaxxers who think that vaccines are no longer necessary.

However, vaccines are still just as necessary as they were in the past. An essential part of our country's life-blood is immigration; millions of new immigrants settle within our borders each year, and most of these people are coming from countries which have no regular vaccination program. If your unvaccinated children go to school with children who have inadvertently brought diseases to the United States - your child will likely become infected. And as our world becomes increasingly more global, your child's chances of travelling outside the United States increases, and immunizations are necessary to prevent overseas exposure to diseases that we no longer worry about domestically. For example, thanks to a successful vaccination program, the United States hasn't seen a case of polio since 1979; however, when I was in India a few years ago, I met someone whose brother was recently paralyzed by polio.

If there was no measles vaccine and people were still dying to the left and to the right, people like this anti-vaxxer and everyone like her would be clamoring for a measles vaccine. You might recall the recent Ebola panic; suddenly everyone was screaming for a vaccine. I am completely confident that science will eventually come up with a vaccine for Ebola, and I am just as certain that 100 years after its debut the world will have anti-vaxxers who think that they just need to apply a homeopathic salve until they build up their immunity to Ebola. (There should be a special category in the Darwin Awards for anti-vaxxers.) Just because we don't see a specific disease in our day-to-day lives, that doesn't mean that it isn't a threat to the rest of the world.

I understand that some parents were unnecessarily frightened by a popular myth that was floating around which suggested that the MMR (Measles/Mumps/Rubella) vaccine could cause autism. That theory has long-since been debunked, but a few ill-educated people are unwilling to let it go. However, even if the infinitesimally-small chance of autism was remotely true, the theoretical number of people actually affected by the risk of autism would still be staggeringly-less than the number of lives that are actually saved by vaccinations. Penn and Teller put together a presentation which beautifully illustrates this point (Warning: Foul Language):

I have wasted enough time and effort on this subject, so I will leave you with a final parting thought: vaccinations have a proven track record of saving lives. If you are an anti-vaxxer, I do not care which stupid theory you are adhering to - you are just wrong. If you believe that natural medicine is the cure for everything - you are just wrong. Or if you believe that vaccines were designed by evil pharmaceutical companies to get rich - you are just wrong. Or if you believe that the side-effects from vaccines are worse than the disease - you are just wrong.

The simple fact is - vaccines save millions of lives each year. If you are too foolish to be immunized, perhaps you are doing the world a favor if you die from an easily-preventable disease and your genes are removed from the global gene pool so humanity can evolve past your demonstrably-lower level of intelligence. However, if you are a parent and you refuse to immunize your children, I will state once more - for the record - that you are a terrible, wicked, stupid, horrible, despicable person.


Updates:

Since the time that I published this blog, several relevant articles have been published on this topic, so I have decided to periodically update this blog with pointers to articles that I think will add to this discussion.

And even though this subject isn't funny, there are a few humorous posts on the subject: