Paul Offit’s exaggerations in USA Today

Paul Offit is perhaps America’s fiercest advocate for mass vaccinations. In this inaugural edition of VaccineFactCheck, we will examine an article by Offit in yesterday’s USA Today that demonstrates much that is wrong in the vaccine controversy. Too often in their zeal to make their case, advocates rely on factual errors, unsubstantiated claims, exaggerations, distortions and scaremongering.

DSC03308-C2-BLU

Offit strays from the facts in Voices: Our children are at risk and here’s why, his March 5 oped, when he says “measles killed about 500 people a year before the vaccine was introduced in 1963.”

In the decade before 1963, measles deaths averaged 440 per year. If Offit is referring specifically to 1962 (the phrase “a year before” can be read that way) the number of deaths would be 408, according to the National Center for Health Statistics Mortality Report, as can be seen in this document from the Centers for Disease Control.

This exaggeration of the number of deaths, though, is the least of the problems with the Offit quote that I cited. The exaggeration is actually greater, closer to 100%, as I will now explain.

Offit’s statement that the measles vaccine was introduced in 1963 is true, or at least half true, but it is also misleading. The first measles vaccine was licensed in 1963 but the vaccine proved a failure, was not universally introduced, and was taken off the market several years later. Most American children weren’t inoculated in 1963. The major rollout of a measles vaccine didn’t begin until late 1966 and wasn’t completed until 1967. Offit’s quote would have been less of a stretch if he had used 1967 as the watershed year in which the vaccine changed everything, but by then measles deaths had dropped to 261. His quote, to be more accurate, would have then read “measles killed 261 people the year before the vaccine was introduced in 1967.” His 500 deaths exaggerate by 92% the actual 261.

The drop from 440 to 261 in the 1960s was not an anomaly but the rule prior to the introduction of the measles vaccine. Over the course of the 20th century, measles deaths in America were in free fall, as can be seen in this graph. Where in 1900 measles was a major killer, by 1963, the death rate had dropped by more than 98%. And, as had been occurring all century, it continued to fall. It is a wholly unwarranted leap to attribute the decline after 1963, or even after 1967, entirely to the vaccine.

Offit’s article contains other untoward or unsupportable statements. Normally in this space, we will focus on a single issue in a single article and then move on but because Offit is such a central figure in the vaccine debate, and because he did not limit himself to one error, we will take up this article again tomorrow. Please visit us again then.

Our rating

Offit’s article needs four band-aids, or demerits in our rating system, to patch up the boo-boos in his article. In fairness to him, his article primarily dealt with the difficulty physicians have in confronting parents who don’t wish to follow the prescribed schedule in vaccinating their children — an important area of inquiry. Possibly he didn’t know he was exaggerating — the 500 deaths a year figure has been repeated so often he could be forgiven for falling for it himself. Still, he is responsible for his comments and shouldn’t be hyping the risks, even if unknowingly. The case for vaccinations exists, as it does with any drug. Let’s make the case on the basis of facts.

vaccinesB03 vaccinesB03

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Your comments are welcome, using the form below. You might also consider commenting on the USA Today site,  via Twitter to @DrPaulOffit and/or @USATODAY.

Comments

  1. You say:
    “Where in 1900 measles was a major killer, by 1963, the death rate had dropped by more than 98%”
    This simply cannt be true. If your staring pint is say 260 a 98% drop would reduce this to 5.2 — which is clearly nonsense. And even if you start wo-ith 500 ths would drop to 10.
    Please correct

    Ted Swart . .
    ted.swart@shaw.ca :

    Like

    • Lawrence Solomon says:

      I don’t understand your math. The death rate was high in 1900, then dropped from that high level dramatically. By the 1960s, it had dropped by more than 98%. Is that clearer?

      Liked by 2 people

      • Wendy Dicker says:

        Why are you emphasizing death rate rather then infection rate and the related blindness, deafness and brain-injury rate?

        Like

      • Lawrence Solomon says:

        This site’s mandate is fact checking comments made in the major media. Offit raised the issue of deaths, as proponents of mass vaccination often do. I fact checked his point. Had he raised the infection rate, I would have fact checked what he said about infections.

        If you’re interested in my views on measles infections, you will find them on the Financial Post site, in an article entitled “The Untold Story of Measles.

        Liked by 3 people

      • Wendy Dicker says:

        Your link does not answer my question, and targets another discrepancy with the quote “But in recent years, the new vaccination regime, too, has been failing, with widespread outbreaks again occurring, including among those who have received the recommended dose and especially among infants too young to be vaccinated, and thus unprotected because their mothers had been vaccinated”

        Liked by 1 person

      • Lawrence Solomon says:

        What discrepancy are you referring to?

        Like

    • There’s a graph in the article to click on.

      Like

  2. johndstone says:

    Lawrence

    You make a very interesting point. Note also that even with 500 deaths, this is out of about 4m so only about 1 in 8,000: nothing like the figures of 1 in 1000 or 1 in 500 being elsewhere touted. This statement was made recently by a CDC official to Dr Meryl Nass:

    “Good Afternoon, Thank you for your inquiry regarding measles deaths. Measles data available to the public can be found in http://www.cdc.gov/measles, MMWR (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/), and other publications such as those listed on http://www.cdc.gov/measles/resources/ref-res.html. The last documented deaths in the US directly attributable to acute measles occurred in 2003. Before the measles vaccination program started in 1963, we estimate that 3-4 million people got measles each year in the US, and 400-500 of those died (http://www.cdc.gov/measles/about/faqs.html). Kind Regards, Division of Viral Diseases Centers for Disease Control and Prevention”

    http://anthraxvaccine.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/facts-only-25-of-recent-us-measles.html

    Obviously 500 deaths from measles is not alright but the agressive silencing of all reports of damage from the vaccine is not alright either.

    John Stone, UK Editor, http://www.ageofautism.com

    Liked by 3 people

    • Lawrence Solomon says:

      Thank you for your excellent comments, and for the statement from CDC to Dr. Meryl Nass, whose site you provide. I commend it to our readers. This is the kind of investigative work that an honest press should be doing.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Here is the data from the CDC Pink Book Appendix G;

    Disease: Measles in the USA
    Year__Cases____Deaths
    1950__319,124__468
    1951__530,118__683
    1952__683,077__618
    1953__449,146__462
    1954__682,720__518
    1955__555,156__345
    1956__611,936__530
    1957__486,799__389
    1958__763,094__552
    1959__406,162__385
    1960__441,703__380
    1961__423,919__434
    1962__481,530__408
    1963__385,156__364
    (^^ first vaccine licensed)
    1964__458,083__421
    1965__261,905__276
    1966__204,136__261
    1967___62,705___81
    1968___22,231___24
    1969___25,826___41
    1970___47,351___89
    1971___75,290___90
    (^^^ MMR licensed)
    1972___32,275___24
    1973___26,690___23
    1974___22,690___20
    1975___24,374___20

    Using Excel and the death statistics from 1950 through 1962:
    468
    683
    618
    462
    518
    345
    530
    389
    552
    385
    380
    434
    408

    The average is 474.9 deaths per year. It seems that one can change to whatever they want depending on the year they start with, and how they round up or down. By choosing to start at 1953, Mr. Solomon left out a pair of high years.

    Like

    • Lawrence Solomon says:

      Thank you for providing this data, which exactly makes my case. As you can see, the rate of measles deaths was steadily dropping prior to the vaccine’s introduction and it continued to drop after the vaccine came into use. Had you begun the series earlier than 1950, you would have arrived at a figure above 600 deaths and if you started earlier still, the number of deaths would have been higher still.

      This downward trend over time would surprise any reader who was relying on Dr. Offit’s characterization, which implied that deaths had been fairly constant at 500 a year prior to the widespread use of the vaccine.

      Liked by 1 person

      • “Thank you for providing this data, which exactly makes my case. As you can see, the rate of measles deaths was steadily dropping prior to the vaccine’s introduction…”

        Cool. Can you tell me what year? Because the rate of cases in 1964 was higher than 1963.

        Also, why is the rest of my comment missing? You seem to have deleted the discussion of the other effects (encephalitis, deafness, etc) and the costs of hospitalizations? Is there a reason for that?

        You write for a financial rag, so you must be able to come up with an economic analysis that can contradict this paper that I included in my first comment that providing two MMR doses saves billions of dollars in the USA as opposed to none:
        J Infect Dis. 2004 May 1;189 Suppl 1:S131-45.
        An economic analysis of the current universal 2-dose measles-mumps-rubella vaccination program in the United States.

        Oh, and a copy of this being saved this time. I will just share it elsewhere.

        Like

      • Lawrence Solomon says:

        Please refer to the top menu of this site, Commenting on this site, which explains why I edited out most of your comments. Briefly, the comments must stay focussed on the article at hand — the accuracy and fairness of the fact checking. The comment section should not be seen as an opportunity to open up an argument that is tangential or entirely unrelated.

        As for higher mortality rates prior to 1950, please refer to the link in my original article, which shows rates going back to 1900.

        Please also note the requirement to remain civil.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Public Health England have their cases/deaths online from 1940 to 2013, the death rate from measles declined around 91% from 1940 until 1966, the year BEFORE measles vaccine was first given. Death rates dropped over 99% if you look at the 100 year period leading up to vaccination. Offit tries to give credit to the vaccine for declining death rates without acknowledging that they were in decline long before vaccination began and showed no signs of stopping that decline, therefore giving credit to the vaccine is scientifically irresponsible…par for the course for Offit who rarely ever discloses his multi-million dollar conflict of interests before embarking on a pro-vaccine tirade/speaking engagement. This is where this site comes in, fact checking.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/maynard20150205

    The death rate from measles in a modern first world country appears to be 1 in 3000 to 1 in 10,000 depending on your health status

    Like

  5. Great article, thank you for all you do!

    Like

  6. It’s so ridiculous that the media has blown up 120 cases of measles in a population of 320 million to be an ‘outbreak’. That’s NOT even a drop in the bucket. The real outbreak is autism which is 1 in 50 children in this country. And of course of the alleged people who did get measles, we don’t know if it was wild or vaccine strain. Likely vaccine strain I’d imagine from some recently vaccinated children shedding from their vaccine.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Reblogged this on Polymumof8's Blog.

    Like

  8. Okay, this is on topic and short, and part of the comment you deleted. Measles cases and deaths were under reported. Only about one in ten cases of measles was reported, and often the death was marked as something else. Often if the death came from pneumonia, a common complication for measles, then the cause of death was marked as death. See:
    Am J Epidemiol. 1975 Oct;102(4):341-9.
    Measles mortality: a retrospective look at the vaccine era.

    Which says: “In addition, fewer than the true number of deaths attributable to measles are recorded as such. Measles may have only been considered to have contributed to death and the death not be directly attributed to measles in the line listings of recorded deaths.”

    Also there were communication issues prior to the Internet, well even when there was the rudimentary form of the “Web” during the 1989/91 measles epidemic. It made it difficult to get the real numbers, see:
    J Infect Dis. 2004 May 1;189 Suppl 1:S69-77.
    Acute measles mortality in the United States, 1987-2002.l

    Like

    • Lawrence Solomon says:

      You are misunderstanding the purpose of this site. It is not here to argue the science, pro or con, of vaccinations. This site’s mandate is simply to stop the rash of errors and distortions that appear in the mainstream media. Offit was misleading in various respects. I want to clean up the mess, so that when he next makes his case, he will be more careful.

      Liked by 2 people

      • “This site’s mandate is simply to stop the rash of errors and distortions that appear in the mainstream media.”

        But you seem to want to ignore your own errors. Is that correct?

        Did you not understand the words in the Barkin paper that explain that both measles morbidity and mortality statistics were under reported? Offit did not specify the date range of the deaths, no where did it say “ten years.” Perhaps because he is aware that the statistics were incomplete.

        And still, disease mortality is not the best criteria to judge the worth of a vaccine. The real variables should be incidence, relative risk and, this is very important, relative cost. The latest California Health Dept. report of the out break shows 19% of the cases required hospital care.

        You write articles on finances, perhaps you should write on how at 10% to 19% of measles cases require hospital care is economically sound.

        Like

      • This question is ridiculous. By your own words “only about one in ten cases of measles was reported,” which is probably quite close to the truth. If only 10% of cases were even REPORTED, while 90% didn’t even see a doctor, then there is no way that 10-19% of cases require hospital care. It may be that 10-19% of cases GO to a hospital right now for measles verification, but that doesn’t mean that they “require hospital care.” In addition, measles is known to be harder on the ADULT population. Our practice of vaccination has made the adult population MORE susceptible than the child population. There is no way that 10-19% of cases of childhood measles in a well-nourished population “requires hospital care.”

        Like

  9. You said: “As for higher mortality rates prior to 1950, please refer to the link in my original article, which shows rates going back to 1900.”

    Why do you think that is important? Are you ignoring advances in medical care? The level of mortality after the introduction of ventilation equipment and antibiotics is relatively stable. So what year after 1950 was measles mortality declining?

    Like

    • Lawrence Solomon says:

      I did not address the incidence of measles because Offit did not address the incidence of measles. He therefore made no error regarding incidence that was in need of being corrected.

      Mortality declined since 1900 in large part because of improvements in medical care and improvements in nutrition. I hope you will agree that those improvements did not cease once the measles vaccine came on the market. By this part of your logic, with which I agree, it stands to reason that the death rate would continue to fall after 1963 and 1967 as medical care and nutrition improved. Your have thus just argued against yourself.

      The graph since 1900 is also important in demonstrating that Offit’s figure of 500 was misleading, in that measles deaths hadn’t been stable at 500 deaths per year in the pre-vaccine era, as he had implied.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Really? Jeez. I personally know 14 people that had the measles, who did not need a doctor or hospital or antibiotics or anything that you are trying to argue about. Stop trying to argue for the sake of arguing.

      Like

  10. Reblogged this on No Compulsory Vaccination and commented:
    Paul Offit is perhaps America’s fiercest advocate for mass vaccinations. In this inaugural edition of VaccineFactCheck, we will examine an article by Offit in yesterday’s USA Today that demonstrates much that is wrong in the vaccine controversy. Too often in their zeal to make their case, advocates rely on factual errors, unsubstantiated claims, exaggerations, distortions and scaremongering.
    DSC03308-C2-BLU
    Offit strays from the facts in Voices: Our children are at risk and here’s why, his March 5 oped, when he says “measles killed about 500 people a year before the vaccine was introduced in 1963.”
    In the decade before 1963, measles deaths averaged 440 per year. If Offit is referring specifically to 1962 (the phrase “a year before” can be read that way) the number of deaths would be 408, according to the National Center for Health Statistics Mortality Report, as can be seen in this document from the Centers for Disease Control.
    This exaggeration of the number of deaths, though, is the least of the problems with the Offit quote that I cited. The exaggeration is actually greater, closer to 100%, as I will now explain.

    Like

  11. Reality022 says:

    The 1963 Edmonston-B strain of vaccine was 95% effective but had problematic side effects of fever and rash.

    Some history to counter the above implied fantasy that the vaccine didn’t effect mortality until 1967 –
    Immunity for the People: The Challenge of Achieving High Vaccine Coverage in American History
    Public Health Rep. 2007 Mar-Apr; 122(2): 248–257.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1820430/
    “The licensing in quick succession of vaccines against measles (1963), mumps (1967), and rubella (1969) further reinforced the belief that immunization was a cornerstone of medical science’s triumph over disease, while at the same time it stimulated political debate about the costs of medical care and concern about how the benefits of immunization would be available to all members of society. A dose of one of the two measles vaccines licensed in 1963 cost about $3; the cost to parents to have one child immunized against measles, including the doctor’s fee, a possible shot of gamma globulin that was given with the live vaccine, or three doses of the killed vaccine, averaged around $10 ($60 in 2006 dollars).
    As a result, few public clinics for the poor made the new vaccines available; middle- and upper-class families who could afford the services of a private pediatrician were the main beneficiaries of the new products. Only after federal funding to states became available through the Vaccination Assistance Act in 1965 did use of the measles vaccine become more routine and coverage rates increase.”
    “Against the backdrop of the activist social programs of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, immunization activities became more explicitly focused on efforts to bring vaccination to the poor. The enactment of Medicaid in 1965 and the creation two years later of the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment (EPSDT) program, a Medicaid benefit intended to ensure that poor children would receive preventive care, illustrated the extent to which the federal government was seen as having a key role to play in financing health care for those who could not afford it. An ambitious (though ultimately unsuccessful) campaign to eradicate measles launched in 1966 was of a piece with this broad political environment.”

    This would indicate that one could expect modest declines 1963-1964 then larger declines 1965+ as public health clinics came on line for the poor.
    What do we see?

    We see exactly that.

    How someone could look at that mortality chart and believe that the drop from 1964 (421) to 1965 (276) and 1966 (261) and then 1967 (81) is a continuation of the pre-1964 trend is unexplainable.

    Like

    • Lawrence Solomon says:

      Thank you for some interesting background on the period just before and just after the introduction of the measles vaccine. Thank you also for the graph, showing that period. Now let’s place your graph in context, by looking at this graph of measles deaths since 1900: https://vaccinefactcheck.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/fp0416_measle_rates_us_b_ab1.jpg

      It is incontrovertible that measles deaths were in steep decline prior to the introduction of the measles vaccines. You seem to think that by 1965 the great majority of children were vaccinated. That was not the case. Before the 1966-1967 rollout of the vaccine, the great majority of children were unvaccinated and hence the first vaccine could not possibly have accounted for all of the decline, although it could have contributed to part of the decline.

      A reminder: The Comment section is used to focus on the claims made in the article being fact checked, and the accuracy of the fact checking. This comment section is not a place to litigate the broad vaccine debate.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. What’s wrong ? Can’t handle actual facts?

    Like

    • You mean actual facts like these:
      1) Number of studies comparing overall health outcomes between fully vaccinated and never vaccinated individuals demonstrating the fully vaccinated are equally as healthy or healthier than the never vaccinated – ZERO.
      2) Number of studies comparing rates of autism between the same two groups – ZERO
      3) Number of dollars paid to parents whose children were permanently disabled by vaccinations – THREE BILLION.
      4) Percentage decline in measles deaths in the 50 years leading up to the first measles vaccine – 99%+
      5) Number of cases of measles in England/Wales in the last 20 years – 109,000+
      6) Number of deaths in the 0-9 year age group in England/Wales from measles in the last 20 years – ZERO.

      Like

  13. johndstone says:

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