Did the Smallpox Vaccine Kill the Real Marcella?

Note: Much of the information in this post about the illness and death of Marcella Gruelle is from  Chapter 10 of a very informative book about Johnny Gruelle titled “Johnny Gruelle, Creator of Raggedy Ann and Andy” by Patricia Hall. Other references will be otherwise noted.

Raggedy Ann was actually a symbol for the anti-vaccination movement in the early 20th century. Raggedy Ann’s creator Johnny Gruelle, created the character after the death of his daughter Marcella. Marcella was vaccinated for smallpox, but the school nurse said the vaccine didn’t “take” and gave Marcella a second vaccination without her parents’ consent. Over the next few months, Marcella became progressively sicker and finally died in 1915 at the age of 13. The loss was devastating to the Gruelle family.

Today, many people say that vaccination could not have killed Marcella. Most say it was an unfortunate occurrence, but hardly the result of vaccination. In fact the death certificate, states that the cause of death was valvular heart disease of several years’ duration with a secondary cause of edema lasting 90 days. One theory is that an infected needle gave Marcella an infection that took hold on her heart and that was the cause of death. (The medical name for this  condition is bacterial endocarditis.) I think it worth examining the information we do have about Marcella’s illness to see if another diagnosis could be possible.

One of the interesting things Patricia Hall’s book brings up is that ten days after Marcella’s second vaccination, she came home from school complaining of pains in her legs, one of the first symptoms of Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS). After that, the disease quickly became so bad that Marcella had to stop going to school. This fits with rapid weakness and paralysis that accompanies GBS. And while heart disease is listed on the death certificate as the cause of death, GBS is known to cause cardiac and respiratory problems, even death from these complications.

The medical community has been trying to distance GBS from vaccination lately, but the fact remains that a strong association has existed since the 1976 flu vaccine was found to cause more cases of GBS than normal. In fact, almost every vaccine package carries warnings about GBS. So while we don’t have a complete picture of Marcella’s symptoms and early twentieth century medicine was little aware of the possibility of severe reactions from vaccination, it is possible the Guillain-Barre Syndrome from a vaccination killed Marcella Gruelle.


Slaughtering the Sacred Cow Part Two: Smallpox Eradication

The eradication of smallpox has been heralded as one of the greatest scientific achievements in history. However, it is possible that the story we have been presented is not entirely accurate.

The eradication of smallpox seems to be based on how many people received the smallpox vaccine, and this of course, is based on the assumption that the smallpox vaccine is extremely effective. However, there are a number of problems with this idea, the first being that the smallpox vaccine has had a troubled history plagued by failures. (No pun intended…)

There were high hopes for smallpox vaccination and variolation and these led to mandatory vaccination laws in England in 1853. In fact, compulsory vaccination with penalties for not vaccinating was not able to stop another outbreak from occurring in 1877 and another 1881. (I find it ironic that this webpage condemns objectors to vaccination while acknowledging that outbreaks continued to despite smallpox vaccination laws and affirmations from the government and health board that vaccination was effective. They offer up comments of objectors stating that they were concerned about their children’s lives and health and the infringement of their liberties as some sort of proof that opposition to vaccination is dangerous. All it proves is that these people were concerned about their freedom and their children’s health. But I digress…)

Even in the 20th century, problems with smallpox persisted despite high rates of immunization for the eradication program instituted by the World Health Organization. A quote from a scholarly paper on the history of smallpox reads: “The concept of mass immunization, originally proposed to include 80% of the population in each country to achieve herd immunity proved ineffective as herd immunity did not cease and smallpox persisted in such immunized or ostensibly over-immunized populations.” (pg.491 of document.)  So while smallpox vaccination rates were high, the disease continued to persist. This does not constitute eradication.

Can a disease be eradicated? I think it worth questioning since despite all the money and pharmaceutical technology, no other diseases have been eradicated altogether. There are reports that certain diseases have been eradicated in certain areas of the world, but these have problems as well. I think polio is the perfect comparison.

Despite a massive campaign to eradicate polio, the disease has persisted. Even in countries where it has been declared eradicated, cases of Acute Flaccid Paralysis have remained high. For example, India has been declared polio-free but now has some of the highest rates of Acute Flaccid Paralysis in the world. So even if you get a disease doctors do not classify as polio, you can still suffer the same consequences. In fact, MD’s like Suzanne Humphries who have talked openly about the misconceptions surrounding vaccination point out that polio itself was merely a diagnosis for a number of different conditions that could result in paralysis. So it’s quite possible that instead of being “eradicated”, polio simply got a name change. Doctors can call a disease resulting in paralysis Acute Flaccid Paralysis and continue to laud the eradication of polio, even though the threat of death and paralysis is still there.

And India is hardly alone. Americans have had a brutal wake-up call as paralysis from so-called non-polio enteroviruses has gotten more attention. Isn’t it possible that smallpox could still be going around, but the diagnosis is just different now? We have never seen any other disease be eradicated. We are dealing with an occurrence that has not been replicated.

I think we also need to consider the historical and political context of the “eradication” of smallpox as well. At a time when vaccines seemed to be under great suspicion from lawsuits over Vaccine Acquired Paralytic Polio, deaths from the 1976 flu vaccine, and settlements for deaths from the DTP shot, the World Health Organization announced that vaccines had given mankind its greatest epidemiological achievement: defeat of a disease. In 1979, smallpox was declared eradicated from the planet. The medical and public health communities must have breathed a sigh of relief. The “eradication” of smallpox could not have happened at a more convenient time.

Update: This interview with Dr. Suzanne Humphries MD about vaccines and what really happened to polio and smallpox is excellent if you would like more information. It’s an hour and a half long, but it is well worth listening to.

Update: I have written a post about what disease eradication/elimination actually means and how it is “achieved”. It can be found here.

Anthrax- Or Drummers Beware!

Who is most likely to get anthrax? You might be thinking soldiers, people who work in high government positions, etc.

But you would be wrong. Try people who work with animal skins!

Anthrax is a bacterial infection that comes in three forms: skin infection (rarely fatal if treated), gastrointestinal (sometimes fatal, depending on how quickly treatment is started), and respiratory. Respiratory anthrax is the one that gets all the press and fear. This is the form that can be used as a bio-weapon. Historically, death rates were placed at 92% for respiratory anthrax, but the 2001 attacks in the US showed that with prompt treatment death rates can drop significantly.

The anthrax vaccine has had a less than stellar history and has been plagued by problems from its beginning. Louis Pasteur is credited with the first anthrax vaccine, but his first vaccine for the disease was not what he represented to the public and in fact, took the findings of another scientist and passed them off as his own. The vaccine developed in the last part of the twentieth century has been implicated in Gulf War Syndrome and opponents (including other scientists) have cited a lack of research and proof of efficacy. In fact, research from members of the armed forces shows that adverse reaction rates for the anthrax vaccine are as high as 85%, not the 30% the manufacturer claimed and that women have higher rates of adverse reactions than men.

Curiously, this is a vaccine that is now mandated for all members of the military on active deployment in places that are considered a bioterrorism risk. (The only exceptions are a few medical conditions such as pregnancy or a history of Bell’s Palsy or Guillain-Barre syndrome.) Why is this curious? Because more civilians have died from domestic anthrax attacks than members of the armed forces since the anthrax attacks of 2001 were actually perpetrated by an American scientist who had spent 20 years working on the anthrax vaccine. The last natural death from anthrax in the United States the case of a California weaver who had the misfortune to work with some infected wool from Pakistan. In 2008, a drum maker from the UK developed anthrax from working with infected animal skin and died. (Same article as previous reference.)

In 2009, there was a case of gastrointestinal anthrax from a young woman who participated in a drumming circle. She recovered completely after two months in the hospital, but this case actually raises some interesting questions about the transmission of anthrax. The CDC found that two of the drums used at the drumming circle tested positive for anthrax and 187 people were determined to have been exposed. Of the 187, only a single case of anthrax was reported. All participants were offered antibiotics and an anthrax vaccine. One person accepted the antibiotics and vaccine, 36 people accepted antibiotics, 26 declined both the antibiotics and vaccine, and 21 were lost to follow up. So while many were exposed and only person accepted vaccination, only one person actually got sick, which may indicate that certain conditions have to apply to develop the illness. Since several people accepted antibiotics, but no vaccine and did not get sick, is it possible that antibiotic prophylaxis could be started in the event of anthrax exposure rather than a mandatory vaccine?

Anthrax is not covered by the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, so if you are injured by it, you can’t receive compensation. There are however, 91 cases that have been filed against unqualified vaccines. How many of these may be related to anthrax we don’t know. What we do know is that the chance of catching anthrax is extremely low and little research seems to be going on for alternatives to a vaccine that has been criticized by other scientists.

Vaccination Episode of “Last Man Standing”

I have frequently admired the tact and willingness to look at different sides of difficult issues that the cast and crew of “Last Man Standing” have had. However, I must admit that when I sat down to watch the latest episode addressing vaccination, I had my doubts. It’s generally not considered appropriate to give any consideration to the idea that vaccinations may be less than 99.9% safe and effective. Because of this, people like me are condemned, slandered, shamed and ostracized in the name of “science”.

I was pleasantly surprised that this episode did not end wrapped up in a perfect bow with the parents vaccinating their son while cliches about the common good are repeated. I appreciated the willingness of this “Last Man Standing” to acknowledge, that, yes, death is a side effect! This is a complex issue with strong feelings on both sides. It’s a step in the right direction though when a TV show attempts to understand rather than demean parents who have different views. While no one wants to admit it, there is a great deal of prejudice against people who choose not to vaccinate. And it is prejudice because we are judged without a full discussion of the facts.

And while efforts are openly made to reduce prejudice against racial, cultural, sexual and religious differences, hatred of non-vaccinating individuals has the approval of the medical community and America at large. People say the most hate-filled venomous things about me and family. But my friends don’t even know that it’s me they are directing all that hatred at. They imagine that people who vaccinate are some ignorant fear-mongers they will never meet. The reality is that you probably know someone who doesn’t vaccinate and they probably seem like a perfectly reasonable person. This is why it is so important that we seek to understand each other.

We’re all after the truth here. But silencing those of us who oppose vaccination won’t get any of us closer to the truth. The more we can engage in civil dialogue about our concerns, the closer to the truth we’ll get. So thank you, “Last Man Standing” for taking a step in the right direction.

Meningitis and Encephalitis

Maybe you’ve heard that the best way to prevent infections like encephalitis is to get vaccinated because then the bacteria and viruses that cause the infection won’t take hold. But did you know that vaccines actually cause encephalitis too? But more on that in a minute…

Meningitis and encephalitis are infections of the central nervous system. Meningitis is an infection of the meninges, part of the spinal column. Encephalitis is an infection of the brain. They can both cause serious damage or even death very quickly. But vaccinations won’t necessarily provide you the protection that the CDC has said they will.

Meningitis can be caused by bacterial, viral or even fungal infections, but vaccines target three types: pneumococcal bacteria, meningococcal bacteria, and haemophilus influenza B bacteria. There is currently a vaccine called Ixiaro for Japanese encephalitis that is licensed in the United States. Let’s take a look at some of the data for each type.

Meningococcal meningitis: The CDC has stated that the meningococcal vaccine is responsible for dramatically reducing deaths from meningococcal meningitis. The first meningitis vaccine was introduced in 1978 and was designated as the MPSV4 vaccine. In 2005 MCV4 type vaccines were introduced and are commonly used today. But what about countries where vaccination for meningococcal meningitis isn’t typically part of the vaccination schedule? Poland has kept records on meningococcal meningitis occurrence and deaths for several decades, but does not include the meningococcal vaccine as part of its schedule of vaccines and does not offer it free like other vaccines on its schedule. From 1970 to 2007, meningococcal deaths have cycled between upswings and downturns in Poland while incidence of meningococcal meningitis has remained quite consistent. Statistics show that between 1983 and 1992 there was an increase in meningococcal deaths over the previous decade, after a vaccine existed. Then in 1992, the death rate and incidence of meningococcal meningitis began to decline. In 2002, the death rate from meningitis reached a thirty year low (before the new vaccines were introduced) while the incidence of meningococcal meningitis went back up to where it was during the 1970’s stayed there. So we can see that independent of mass vaccination programs or even the existence of a vaccine, disease rates and deaths will rise and fall over the years. Who is most at risk for death from meningitis? Well Polish statistics show that while young children are more likely to contract the disease, the elderly are by far the most likely to die from it. The case fatality percentage for Polish children ages 0-19 is consistently 0-2% across all age groups, while 15% of cases in individuals aged 50-64 die from the disease and 21% of cases in individuals aged 65+ die. Just as with the flu, the elderly are most at risk because they often have underlying health issues that make them more susceptible to complications.

The National Meningitis Association reports that approximately 800- 1,200 people contract meningococcal meningitis every year and that of those around 10%-15% die and of those who survive about 1 in 5  have permanent disabilities. So taking some averages (10% death rate and 20% disability rate of 1,000 meningococcal cases), we have approximately 300 deaths or serious injuries from meningococcal disease every year. How does this stack up to the safety of vaccination? In 2013, the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program compensated 375 cases of vaccine injury or death. So you are about as likely to receive a pay out from the government for dying or being seriously injured by a vaccine as you are to die or be disabled by meningitis.

Pneumococcal meningitis: How much do vaccines impact the decrease of pneumococcal meningitis? Let’s take a look at some statistics from Europe. In Iceland, pneumococcal vaccination has been routinely administered to children since 2011. But in 1999-2000, Iceland (population 281,000 in the year 2000) saw only a single case of pneumococcal meningitis. Other countries like the Republic of Ireland (population 4 million in the year 2000) had similarly low numbers like 8 cases and Slovenia (population 1.9 million in the year 2000) had only 4. This was all before the introduction of routine vaccination for pneumococcal meningitis and represents the total number of cases, not even deaths. Other countries had bigger numbers like Italy with 76 cases and a large population of 57 million in the year 2000, while the Netherlands had the more cases (164) despite having a smaller population than Italy (15 million in the year 2000). Since there were no vaccination programs for pneumococcal meningitis in place for these countries, other factors must be influencing the rates of pneumococcal disease.

And what about the demographics of pneumococcal meningitis since the vaccine hit US markets in 2000? The pneumococcal vaccine hasn’t really eliminated pneumococcal disease, it’s just changed the epidemiology of it. Instead of babies getting the disease as used to happen quite frequently, now toddlers and school age children are contracting it.

Haemophilus Influenzae B: Haemophilus Influenzae B (Hib) is a bacteria that causes meningitis and respiratory illness, especially in young children. Health authorities say that it can cause neurological damage very quickly, even when antibiotics are administered. There have been a number of vaccines for Hib over the years, with varying degrees of efficacy and varying quality of research. The first Hib vaccine (often called PRP for its use of a polysaccharide capsule substance) was developed in 1985 and was heralded as the major step forward in meningitis prevention. Unfortunately, the vaccine was less than effective and studies found that children who had received the PRP Hib shot were actually more likely to contract Hib. (Randall Neustaedter The Vaccine Guide pg. 188). New types of vaccines utilizing conjugate proteins were developed for Hib in the early 1990’s, though in fact rates of the disease had already been declining. One study of Hib in Los Angeles declared that Hib had been eliminated from the immunized population (which they defined as children enrolled in the Southern California Kaiser Health Plan) and even stated that decline of Hib in the year before the new conjugate Hib vaccine was licensed (1990) was due to the vaccine even though it hadn’t been released yet. (Randall Neustaedter The Vaccine Guide pg. 190, summary of the study can be found here.)

How about statistics from Europe? In 1999-2000, the Republic of Ireland and the Netherlands both had routine Hib vaccination programs. However, these countries had some of the higher incidence rates of Hib. The Netherlands had 20 cases of Hib for the population, resulting in a crude incidence rate of 0.13 and the Republic of Ireland had 2 cases of Hib for the entire population resulting in a crude incidence rate of 0.06. Some countries without a routine program for Hib vaccination (like Slovenia with 14 cases for population of 1.9 million in the year 2000) did have a relatively high crude incidence rate (0.70 for Slovenia). Others like Greece and Italy had crude incidence rates of 0.04 and 0.05 respectively. The country in this chart with the lowest crude incidence of Hib was Norway at 0.02, again with no routine Hib vaccination program in place at the time. So while the Hib vaccine has been credited with declining rates of the disease, the evidence shows that it is not the cut-and-dried solution we have been led to believe.

Japanese Encephalitis: There are a few curiosities particular to the usage of the Japanese encephalitis vaccine Ixiaro in the United States. For starters, if you go across the border to Canada, guidelines are very different. According to Canadian public health officials,” No efficacy or effectiveness data exist for the Vero cell culture-derived JE vaccine, Ixiaro.” Because of this, the Japanese encephalitis vaccine is not authorized for use in children and infants in Canada. A direct quote from the Public Health Agency of Canada states”… [the Japanese encephalitis] vaccine is not authorized for use in persons less than 18 years of age due to little safety and efficacy data in this population.” In fact, public health officials in Canada warn that the Japanese encephalitis vaccine is only one part of the strategy for the prevention of Japanese encephalitis. In contrast, the Center for Disease Control in America just licensed Ixiaro for usage in children ages 2 months to 16 years on June 19, 2013. The CDC sites two cases of Japanese encephalitis that occurred in children, one of which occurred in an American child who visited the Philippines and was fatal. The other case though, was a Burmese boy who was traveling from a refugee camp in Thailand to the United States and made a complete recovery. These represented only the fifth and sixth cases of Japanese encephalitis documented in America between 1992 and 2011. (The others were adults visiting family.) The number of children who have visited Asia prior to 2013 and returned home without any further incident must be taken into account when examining the CDC’s recommendations for vaccinating children. The CDC also notes in the editorial to this report that individuals with family abroad rarely seek counsel on vaccination before traveling, and are often unvaccinated for Japanese encephalitis. The number of people who have travelled to Asia visit family between 1992 and 2011 must also be taken into account when considering the six cases of Japanese encephalitis the CDC has on record. While it is not impossible for someone who is unvaccinated to contract the disease, it is extremely rare.

Proponents of the theory that vaccination prevents encephalitis should also understand that vaccines are known to cause autoimmune encephalitis, a disease which can quickly cause disability or death. The Merck Manual Home Edition states that autoimmune encephalitis can be caused by “A virus or vaccine triggers a reaction that makes the immune system attack brain tissue (an autoimmune reaction).”