Another one of the things that anti-vaccine and alternative medicine (which is not medicine, by the way) use to justify their corrupted way of thinking is the fact that the United States is not at the bottom of the list when it comes to infant mortality rates. If you look at the headlines, the US has the highest infant mortality rate in the industrialized world. Maybe. To the anti-vaccine activists, it’s because the US has a robust vaccination program. To the alt med crowd, it’s because we rely so heavily on medicine to, you know, get cured from disease. I’m almost willing to bet that it’s because we drive too many cars to the environmental activists and because we have too many Mexicans to the anti-immigration bigots. That’s how bias works. You see something and attribute it to the thing you hate.
But why did I write “maybe” up there?
I wrote “maybe” because you need to know how infant mortality is assessed in the United States compared to the rest of the world. In the United States, most children are born in healthcare facilities that are properly staffed. The laws are comprehensive when it comes to reporting deaths, especially infantile deaths. There is a lot of money — comparable to the entire budgets of smaller countries — to tallying up all these data. Health departments have large and well-trained staff members to look at death certificates coming in and classify the numbers correctly. Other countries don’t.
Other countries don’t have all of their children being born in hospitals or clinics. Page 57 of this report by Save The Children puts the US at the top of the list among industrialized nations. But look at the other countries, and look at what is being compared. It’s not “infant mortality” per se, it’s first day deaths. Infant mortality is death at any time before one year of age. Neonatal death is death before 28 days of birth. Compare the US to, say, Latvia (on the list of industrialized nations), and the US is doing better with 4.3 deaths per 1,000 neonates compared to 5.1 deaths per 1,000 neonates in Latvia, according to the world bank. Does the United States need to do more? Absolutely, but we cannot compare ourselves to countries with different surveillance systems.
But forget all this. Forget how numbers are collected and counted. Let’s look at the plausibility that vaccines, or medicine in general, keep infant mortality high in the United States. There are less deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States than ever. There are also less deaths from complicated births because those births are happening at hospitals and other healthcare facilities with trained staff. Furthermore, the countries with a really bad — and I do mean bad — infant mortality rate lack hospitals and robust vaccine services like those we have here. You try and control pestilence with homeopathy.
Go ahead, try it.
As you read these headlines about how horrible the infant mortality rate in the US, keep in mind that there is surveillance bias at work there. We do surveillance for these things better than other countries. And keep in mind that we also have a robust, albeit cumbersome, healthcare system in the US. Keep all these things in mind when looking at data, and think critically about what you’re being told.
Now, how many times did I write “robust”?