Nov 22, 2009

on the dubious 98.5% statistic

At a tournament this weekend, judging LD rounds on the immunization resolution, I heard one number over and over and over again: 98.5%.

A number of Negative cases argued that volunteerism is sufficient to reach herd immunity, even at high thresholds. Why? Because, in a "TV Washington survey," "98.5 percent of people said they were willing to be / have their children vaccinated."

Remarkably, out of the 6-7 times I heard this dubious statistic mentioned, at all three levels of LD, only one Affirmative challenged it: the eventual Novice champion.

Here's what I wanted Affs to do in CX.
Aff: Let's talk about that 98.5% statistic. What's the source?
Neg: TV Washington.
Aff: And how was the question worded, exactly?
Neg: Uh... I don't know.
Aff: The 98.5%... what sort of people were surveyed? Parents? College students? Middle schoolers? Hard-core gamers?
Neg: Uh... I don't know.
Aff: And what about the CDC's report that only 76% of American infants currently receive the full recommended series of life-saving vaccinations?
Neg: Uh...
Aff: That's what I thought.
As the old saying goes, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh sometimes recoils at the thought of being jabbed by a needle bearing a vaccine." Actions always speak louder than surveys.

Even if 98.5% of people really are willing to vaccinate their children, a substantial portion don't. Some ultimately refuse, some can't find the time, some forget. And some can't afford it:
Coverage for most vaccines remained lower for children living below poverty than children living at or above poverty.
Regardless of the reasons, actual vaccination rates don't reach 98.5%; most are in the 90s, but the DTaP rate comes in at 84.6%. (The overall rate is so low because different individuals miss out on different vaccinations.) Which leads the CDC to argue:
Sustaining high coverage levels and finding effective methods of reducing disparities across states/local areas and income groups remains a priority to fully protect children and limit the incidence of vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States.
And about those 90%+ coverage rates: the American experience, if not outright compulsory, is hardly purely voluntary. Parents know that their children can't attend public school without the proper vaccinations and boosters. If they forgo private school or homeschooling and take an exemption--which requires filling out government paperwork--their child can be forced to stay home in the event of an outbreak. (Some states, like Washington, are working to make this process more stringent, requiring philosophically-based objectors to have a conversation with a health care practitioner to be informed of the risks of refusing immunization.)

In fact, as Donya Khalili and Arthur Kaplan write in "Off the Grid: Vaccinations Among Homeschooled Children," found in The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, Fall 2007:
In states where immunization is obligatory officially but unmonitored, vaccinations could be required through enforcing child neglect, delinquency, and child labor statutes, as suggested by the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Bioethics. While health care professionals do not advocate its usage outside of emergency situations, they can contact state child protective services agencies if concerned about medical neglect.
So let's stop claiming that volunteerism works by relying on an obviously dubious statistic and a blithely simplistic view of American vaccination policy.

3 comments:

Anjali said...

I find it totally funny that a Novice found a way to get around this statistic. With my negative case, I'm having trouble upholding my criterion of Deliberation without the use of this statistics. Do you have any other stats or evidence that I could use to uphold it?

Jim Anderson said...

In the United Kingdom, vaccines cannot be administered without consent. As the Department of Health's "Green Book" states, "Consent must be given voluntarily and freely. The individual must be informed about the process, benefits and risks of immunisation and be able to communicate their decision. Information given should be relevant to the individual patient, properly explained and questions should be answered fully. "

Here are the U.K.'s statistics, from a reputable source: the World Health Organization.

Anonymous said...

Was this at the Tahoma tournament? I heard something like that happening.