Publicly launched earlier this week, Project Tycho has assembled data on contagious disease rates in the United States since 1888. The non-profit effort is named after astronomer Tycho Brahe whose careful observations enabled Johannes Kepler to figure out the orbits of planets in our solar system. Based on the data, a new report in The New England Journal of Medicine estimates that over 100 million cases of serious childhood illnesses have been prevented in the U.S. since 1924 by vaccination programs against polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis A, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough).
The Washington Post reported:
What emerges is a detailed picture of how 56 infectious diseases have affected the American landscape since the late 19th century — and what interventions have proved most effective in stopping them. By comparing reported outbreaks of polio, smallpox and other diseases with the dates when vaccines for each came into use, researchers were able to document the life-saving role those drugs played.
"We saw these very abrupt declines of incidence rates across the country," said lead author Willem G. van Panhuis, assistant professor of epidemiology at the university's Graduate School of Public Health, known as Pitt Public Health. Ultimately, he and his co-authors estimated that the introduction of vaccines had helped prevent 100 million cases of serious childhood diseases, a figure they said is worth remembering during a time when critics have raised questions about the necessity of vaccines.
"We really hope this will ignite debate about the use of vaccinations, and that it will provide a new piece of evidence," van Panhuis said. "We hope this will give this whole discussion a new dimension."
Although the NEJM article did not estimate the number of deaths avoided through vaccination, the New York Times noted:
Dr. Donald S. Burke, the dean of Pittsburgh's graduate school of public health and an author of the medical journal article, said that a reasonable projection of prevented deaths based on known mortality rates in the disease categories would be three million to four million.
The scientists said their research should help inform the debate on the risks and benefits of vaccinating American children.
Pointing to the research results, Dr. Burke said, "If you're anti-vaccine, that's the price you pay."
For more background on the relative safety of vaccines see my post, "For Pete's Sake, Go Get Your Kids Vaccinated Already!" And until you can control your own infectious disease vectors so that they don't harm anyone else, don't bother asserting that it's your "right" to endanger others. See also, Harm Principle.