Writing

Writings on the art and science of the covert manipulation of beliefs and behavior, and its impact on humanity.

When “1 in a Million” Really Means “1 in 100” and Other Vaccine Chicanery

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A fictional introduction:

“I…I have some concerns about vaccine safety, doctor,” said Mrs. Jones softly, lowering her angry eyes, voice quivering.  

“The risk is one-in-a-million!” Dr. Borski replied impatiently, with a condescending smirk. He was readying a row of 3 vaccines for little Tommy, happily playing with a stuffed Minions doll.   

Dr. Borski spoke with supreme confidence, having just completed the recommended training for dealing with ‘vaccine hesitant’ parents like Mrs. Jones. She didn’t stand a chance against the masters of manipulation who designed it for her own good. She’d crumble after his lecture on her gullibility for believing the Internet.  

“But is it really a 1 in a million risk, doctor?” Mrs. Jones asked, with a sudden confidence that shook Dr. Borski. Opening her purse, Mrs. Jones handed him a paper, carefully folded in thirds.

“This paper shows that, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration’s own findings, Tommy’s risk of serious injury from vaccination is probably closer to 1 in 1800, and could be as high as 1 in a 100! That’s a lot more than 1 in a million.”   

“Where did you find this rubbish--the Internet?” sneered Dr. Borski. 

“Yes, as a matter of fact—the same place I found your ‘1 in a million’ claim. I’ll reschedule to give you time to read it. It shouldn’t take you more than a few minutes.”

“But Tommy is already overdue for his shots! Do you want him to die?!” Dr. Borski put on his best horrified face, and raised his voice a notch to emphasize the dire situation.

“I’ll risk it,” said Mrs. Jones with a roll of her eyes, as she gathered up Tommy and headed out the door. Dr. Borski tossed the paper in the trash bin, where it was later properly disposed of by the cleaning crew. This is what Dr. Borski didn’t bother to read…

***

It’s a familiar refrain by vaccine proponents: The risk of vaccine injury is “1 in a million.” Where did this claim come from, and what does it really mean?

The source is apparently the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA):

“According to the CDC, from 2006 to 2016 over 3.1 billion doses of covered vaccines were distributed in the U.S. For petitions filed in this time period, 5,531 petitions were adjudicated by the Court, and of those 3,749 were compensated. This means for every one million doses of vaccine that were distributed, one individual was compensated.” https://www.hrsa.gov/vaccine-compensation/data/

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In short, there is a 1 in a million risk of a compensated vaccine injury for each vaccine dose distributed, according to the HRSA’s findings.

It sounds so reassuring…but is it? Let’s parse it out and take a closer look.

First, the 1 in a million risk is per dose of vaccine.

Currently, the CDC recommends a minimum of 50-60 doses of vaccine for every child age 0-17.[i] That means at least 50, 1 in a million chances of an injury compensation award for a fully vaccinated child—a 50 in a million (1 in 20,000) risk.

There are many vaccines recommended for adults, but even if they only get the yearly flu vaccine and live another 50 years, their risk of a vaccine injury compensation award jumps to 100 in a million (1 in 10,000).

Again, each dose of vaccine carries a 1 in a million risk of a vaccine injury award, according to the HRSA’s findings. It’s not a lifetime risk, it’s a per-dose risk.

Second, the 1 in a million risk applies to compensation awards, not vaccine injuries.

For a vaccine injury compensation award to occur, a claim has to be filed in the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP). That starts in motion what often involves years of litigation, until the claim is decided, dismissed or settled.

It’s certain that at least some viable claims for serious vaccine injury (i.e., claims likely to win an award) are never filed, but how many?

The injury first has to be connected to the vaccine by one of the people involved.  Many lay people and medical professionals alike are unaware of the long list of vaccine injuries that have previously been compensated in the VICP, or for which there is otherwise scientific evidence of a connection to vaccination. Doctors and nurses receive virtually no training in the identification of vaccine injuries in college or medical school; and even if they become aware of possible connections, they have an interest in keeping it quiet.

No government agency publishes a list of specific compensated injuries to the best of my knowledge, other than the “Table Injuries”—a handful of injuries that all agree will be awarded compensation if proven to have occurred within a certain time frame of vaccination. However, the list of compensated injuries is much more extensive. Law firms may track and publish the injuries associated with awards, and I’ve included a list gathered from those sources as an endnote.[ii]

If the potential connection between the injury and vaccination isn’t discovered within 3 years, no claim can be filed in the VICP because it’s barred by the statute of limitations.

Finally, even if someone knows they have a good claim for vaccine injury, they may choose not to file it. The years of stress and the expenses (such as lost work, travel, etc.) needed to get an award may outweigh the rewards.

Even if fully half of all viable claims are filed and receive an award, it would still double the 1 in a million risk of serious vaccine injury to 1 in 500,000 per dose.

But likely far less than half are ever filed, and somewhere between 10% and 1% is a more reasonable estimate. If 10% of viable claims are filed in the VICP, the risk of serious vaccine injury per dose would be 10 times higher than the number of VICP awards: 10 in a million (1 in 100,00). If only 1% of viable claims are filed, the risk increases to 100 in a million (1 in 10,000) per dose. 

Third, all vaccine doses “distributed” were counted, even if they were never actually administered to anyone.

Obviously, a vaccine sitting the shelves of Walgreens or in a doctor’s office can’t cause a serious injury to anyone. Remember the news stories about all those flu shots sitting in storage because no one wanted to take them? Those were counted among the vaccine doses used to calculate the 1 in a million risk.

What if there is an average 10% overstock? If only 900,000 out of the million vaccine doses distributed were actually administered to anyone, that means the real vaccine risk would be 1 in 900,000, not 1 in a million. It’s a relatively small point compared to the others, but not necessarily. What if the overstock is closer to 50%? That would double the risk per vaccine dose to 1 in 500,000.

A worst-case (?) vaccine risk estimate:

Given:

a. 50% overstock (1 in 500,000 risk of a compensated claim per dose actually administered); and

b. 1% of viable claims filed (100 in 500,000 risk of serious injury per dose, or 1 in 5000); and

c. 50 doses per fully vaccinated child and 100 per adult…

The risk of serious vaccine injury for a fully vaccinated child would be 50 in 5000 (1 in 100); and the risk for adults 100 in 5000 (1 in 50).

A moderate vaccine risk estimate:

Given:

a. 10% overstock (1 in 900,000 risk of a compensated claim per dose actually administered); and

b. 10% of viable claims filed (10 in 900,000 risk of serious injury per dose, or 1 in 90,000); and

c. 50 doses per fully vaccinated child and 100 per adult…

The risk of serious vaccine injury for a fully vaccinated child would be 50 in 90,000 (1 in 1,800); and the risk for adults 100 in 90,000 (1 in 900).

And a best-case, every presumption in favor of vaccination estimate:

Given:

a. 0% overstock (1 in a million risk of a compensated claim per administered dose); and

b. 50% of viable claims filed (2 in a million risk of a serious injury, or 1 in 500,000); and

c. 50 doses per fully vaccinated child and 100 per adult…

The risk of serious vaccine injury for a fully vaccinated child would be 50 in 500,000 (1 in 10,000); and the risk for adults 100 in 500,000 (1 in 5,000).

Conclusion:

The HRSA’s “1 in a million” vaccine risk finding is being used deceptively to create a perception that vaccines are extraordinarily safe, when in fact, the finding actually indicates otherwise—that the level of vaccine risk is a cause for great concern.    

Whether you think 1 in 100, 1 in 1800 or 1 in 10,000 is a better estimate of the risk of serious injury for a fully vaccinated child, it’s still a long way from “1 in a million.” As usual, the devil is in the details.

***

[i] CDC minimum recommended vaccines age 0-17, as of 10/8/2018 (50-60 doses). Additional vaccines are recommended for some children but are not listed.

  1. Hep B -- 3 doses

  2. Rotavirus -- 2-3 doses

  3. DTaP -- 5 doses

  4. Hib -- 3-4 doses

  5. PCV13 -- 4 doses

  6. IPV -- 4 doses

  7. Influenza -- 18-25 doses

  8. MMR -- 2 doses

  9. Varicella -- 2 doses

  10. Hep A -- 2 doses

  11. Meningococcal -- 2 doses

  12. Tdap -- 1 dose

  13. HPV -- 2-3 doses

[ii] This is a list of injuries that have been compensated in the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. The list is not necessarily complete.

Acute Inflammatory Neurological Injury
Acute Demyelinating Encephalomyelitis (ADEM)
Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis
Acute Hemorrhagic Leukoencephalomyelitis (AHLE)
Anaphylaxis
Bell's Palsy
Brachial Neuritis
Brachial Plexopathy
Cardiac arrest
Cellulitis
Cerebral Palsy
Cognitive Delays
Connective Tissue Disease
Chronic arthritis
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
Death
Demyelinating Polyneuropathy
Disseminated varicella vaccine strain viral disease (Removed in 9/2017 from the Table)
Encephalopathy or encephalitis
Frozen Shoulder Syndrome

Guillain-Barré Syndrome
Hearing Loss
Inflammatory Tendinitis
Intussusception
Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis
Kleine-Levin Syndrome
Leukocytoclastic Vasculitis
Lumbosacral Raduculoplexus Neuropathy (LSRPN)
Lymphangitis
Miller Fisher Syndrome
Multiple Sclerosis
Multi-Organ Failure
Myelopathy
Myositis
Neuritis
Neuralgic Amyotrophy
Neurologic Injuries
Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO)
Optic Neuritis
Overactive Immune Response
Paralytic Polio
Paresthesias/Small Fiber Neuropathy
Parsonage Turner Syndrome
Peripheral Neuropathy
Polyneuropathy
Psoriasiform Dermatitis
Radial Nerve Injury

Shoulder Injury Related to Vaccine Administration (Removed in 9/2017 from the Table)
Spinal Cord Myelitis
Strep A infection
Systemic Inflammatory Response
Thrombocytopenic purpura
Tinnitus
Toxic Shock
Transverse Myelitis
Vasovagal syncope (Removed in 9/2017 from the Table)
Vaccine Strain Measles Viral Disease
Vaccine Strain Polio Viral Infection
Varicella vaccine strain viral reactivation (Removed in 9/2017 from the Table)
Ventricular Fibrillation
Vision Loss