Re: Vaccine efficacy (was Re: SOC/LAW: Chimp Rights)

From: Robin Hanson (
Date: Mon Feb 07 2000 - 09:33:28 MST

Curt Adams wrote:
> >1) How much have vaccines contributed to health?
> >The answer to the first question seems to be: suprisingly low.
>Goodness, no. Vaccination remains the only effective treatment
>for smallpox, even today. Given that smallpox is transmitted
>through the air human-to-human, and that it's mortality is ~30%
>in populations adapted to it, and that virtually everybody used
>to get it, about 2 billion owe their lives to that one.

Jenner's famous small pox inoculation was devised ~1800, though
a similar treatment was common before. Unfortunately, this is
before we have good mortality cause data. The first good data
in England are from ~1850, when only ~1% of deaths were from
smallpox. So it is hard to say how much smallpox medicine reduced
mortality before 1850, but it clearly couldn't contribute more than
~1% after. (Also, a source I found said that smallpox was ~10% of
mortality across Europe in ~1700s.)

>Some others I can think of are whooping cough,

When the Whooping Cough vaccine was introduced to the US ~ 1930,
that disease only accounted for ~1/200 of deaths. And death
rates from it seemed to be falling as fast before the vaccine
as after.

Robin Hanson
Asst. Prof. Economics, George Mason University
MSN 1D3, Carow Hall, Fairfax VA 22030
703-993-2326 FAX: 703-993-2323

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