Sunday, August 14, 2005

Pox parties

Tyler Cowen reports that it's becoming popular in New Zealand to take your kids to "pox parties," in order to infect them with measles, chickenpox, etc. so they don't need the supposedly "dangerous" vaccines. Needless to say, this is incredibly stupid:
[I]ntentional exposure to diseases through pox parties is risky. Measles can lead to pneumonia and, in one in 1000 cases, an inflammation that can lead to permanent brain damage. During a 1991 epidemic, seven unimmunised people died.

By comparison, there has never been a death associated with the measles vaccine, and the chance of brain damage is one in a million.

Even chickenpox is not benign. Between 1980 and 1993, nine New Zealanders – including six children - – died of the disease. Up to 200 chickenpox cases a year result in hospitalisation and one to two in long-term disability or death. [Note that New Zealand's population is about 4 million --ed.]
As far as we know, the MMR vaccine is perfectly safe. There's also a safe and pretty effective (85%) chickenpox vaccine. Just to supplement the measles statistics from the New Zealand article:
Risk of serious adverse event following chickenpox vaccination (not even necessarily caused by the vaccination): 1 in 50,000

Risk of hospitalization from chickenpox*: 1 in 500 for children, 1 in 125 for adults

Risk of pain and suffering from chickenpox: 100%

Risk of death from chickenpox vaccination: no one has ever died from chickenpox vaccination

Risk of death from chickenpox*: 1 in 100,000 for children, 1 in 4,000 for adults (most victims were immunologically normal and healthy)
*Source: Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

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A pox party is a party held by parents for the purpose of infecting their children with childhood diseases, most commonly chickenpox, thus acquiring some immunity to the disease.[1] According to the Washington Post, parents who expose their children to the virus in this manner believe that this method is "safer and more effective than using vaccines.
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