For years now, I have seen antivaxers make the comment that 54% of American children are sick, therefore children are sicker than ever. For example, in his most recent letter to Health and Human Services, (HHS), Del Bigtree states:
The stated purpose of vaccination is to improve the overall quality of health of Americans and reduce mortality. Yet, the increase in HHS’s childhood vaccine schedule over the last 30 years from 8 vaccine injections to 50 vaccine injections (plus 2 injections during pregnancy) has occurred in lockstep with the increase in the rate of autoimmune, developmental and neurological disorders in children from 12.8% to 54%. HHS has no explanation for why U.S. children today are plagued with a chronic disease and disability epidemic.
People like Del believe all children’s health problems stem from vaccines and are vaccine injuries. Rising rates of autism, learning disabilities, special services, allergies, and you name it are all the fault of vaccines, to Del. This is irrational and there is no reason for HHS to take his complaints seriously.
I have long wondered where this comment originated and finally found it. This 54% claim comes from a study of referrals to insurance companies for services. This study was originally published on the Age of Autism blog in 2011 and has since become a huge part of the antivax rhetoric machine. You can read the full study here.
The aim of this study was to evaluate national and state prevalence of health problems and special health care needs in US children; to estimate health care quality related to adequacy and consistency of insurance coverage, access to specialist, mental health and preventive medical and dental care, developmental screening, and whether children meet criteria for having a medical home, including care coordination and family centeredness; and to assess differences in health and health care quality for children by insurance type, special health care needs status, race/ethnicity, and/or state of residence.
The gist is here in this figure.
Most of the children in the study who required special services are obese. 43.2% as of May 2011 when this study was published. That has nothing whatsoever to do with vaccines. Risk of developmental delay is likely linked to the number of premature babies surviving birth and the number of drug-addicted babies surviving birth, not vaccines. This study was conducted with children born before vaccines were recommended in pregnancy so there is no link there. Allergies and asthma have been shown not to be caused by vaccines. Peanut allergies are more likely resulting from the late introduction of solid foods. Pollution and lack of exposure to the microbiome are also thought to be causes of allergies and asthma.
When I was a child in the 1970s, there were definitely children who should have been treated for what we now call learning disabilities, ADD, ADHD, autism, anxiety, depression, Asperger’s, PDD, and Tourette but they were ignored. There was no special education so there was no need to diagnose their behavior. The first special education law was enacted in 1975 in USA and took decades and numerous lawsuits to get to where we are today. These things are not new. We are just only now defining, diagnosing, and treating them. High school graduation rate in USA has gone up from 41% in 1960 to 89% in 2017 which proves to me that the more we diagnose and treat and define and TEACH children, the better they fare.
I have also blogged about how there is no autism epidemic, how the rate in autism has risen because of shifting diagnosis. We used to diagnose 3% of American children mentally retarded but we no longer use that term. Those with low cognitive functioning are now diagnosed as intellectually disabled (ID) or some are on the autism spectrum (ASD). Of course, most people on the autism spectrum are not low cognitive functioning, so when we look at special education statistics today and see that 1% of those receiving services are ID and 1.5% are ASD, we know that there are far FEWER children today with what we once called mental retardation. One major reason is that vaccines prevent the diseases which used to be one cause of mental retardation. We used to have institutions with children who were injured by these diseases.
Infant mortality and SIDS rates are at all-time lows in USA. I blogged about that here and linked to the data. Child hospitalization rates are down. Child cancer rate has not changed much since 1970 but the cancer survival rate is higher than ever.
Why don’t antivaxers pay attention to these statistics? From the perspective of this mom, autism mom, special education teacher, and informed human, LIFE IS BETTER NOW THAN EVER.
But, again, antivaxers don’t pay attention to details and they never verify claims. They just want to blame everything on vaccines because that sounds easy. They passionately want to believe that humans would be perfectly healthy if we all had clean water, flush toilets, some CBD oil, Plexus Pink drink, a small fortune in supplements, weekly chiropractic adjustments, and some magic crystals. (I am not kidding, that is the impression I get from them)
As of this writing, I am nearing my 53rd birthday. I got my first real job at 17 and that was as a teaching assistant in a Montessori school. I got my teaching certificate and Master’s in Education at 27 and have been a teacher ever since. I recently got my special education degree and now teach high school special education. I have never seen vast numbers of unhealthy children around me at any time in my career. I have known one student, in all these years, who had a severe peanut allergy. Otherwise, I have never had any child in any of my classes with any severe allergies. I am not denying they exist. I am merely saying they are not common. I have students with asthma inhalers. It is routine, these days, to have at least one per class. I don’t see students missing school a lot because of chronic illness. I don’t see them coming down with chicken pox or gastro viruses en masse. I don’t see them coming down with respiratory infections en masse. I see attendance is high and children, at most, may have a minor cold during winter. We have occasional outbreaks of flu or norovirus, in schools, but otherwise, kids are healthy and in attendance. From my perspective as a mom and teacher, children are healthier than ever. We no longer see them getting every vaccine-preventable disease and missing weeks or months of school. This is a very good thing.
What troubles me the most about the claim that 54% of American children are sick is that this belief is ableist. By calling children with autism, learning disabilities, vision or hearing issues, developmental delays, speech issues, or behavior problems sick, antivaxers are denying the wide range of the human experience. They are assuming children would be like dolls, perfect in every way, without vaccines. This is deeply troubling to those of us who respect neurodiversity and value variety to the human experience. Instead of respecting the differences around us, antivaxers seem to despise their own children and those who do not meet their ideals of perfection. To many of us, this is deeply troubling and the worst aspect of the antivax movement.
Update to add that Science-Based Medicine has also addressed this 54% claim and nicely linked to this post. Thanks Dr. G!
Always verify claims,