Why politicians are idiots: An exercise in statistical futility

I’m currently trying to complete an assignment and having a HELL of a time with it.

We had to pick a current health issue in Australia, then use a Model of Health Behaviour to discuss how to improve the statistics for that particular behaviour. So I decided that I’d do vaccination and use the Health Belief Model.

Seems like a good idea, seeing as incidences of many diseases/illnesses that are vaccinated against are going up, and it has been purported to be because vaccination rates are going down. Also, the whole thing about “vaccines cause *insert random illness here*” (I swear, apparently vaccines cause more illnesses than they prevent if you listen to the ‘Mummy Bloggers’ who are against vaccination) has been getting a LOT of coverage lately. Maybe the fact that I see this so often is just because of the blogs I follow. (I follow a heap of medical/med student blogs, and this seems to be a question that comes up every few weeks on at least one of them).

ACCORDING TO THE STATISTICS, THIS ISN’T ACTUALLY THE CASE. We have been sitting comfortably at around 90% full vaccination in all age brackets up to 5 years old for about the last 10 years. SO WHY THE HELL ARE THE INCIDENCE OF DISEASES THAT ARE VACCINATED AGAINST APPARENTLY INCREASING!?!?!?!?

Politicians are saying that vaccination rates have reduced over the last 5 years or so – I’d dearly like to see their statistics, so that I can use them in my assignment. I’m thinking I might just use the approach that ‘Yes, 90% is a reasonable vaccination rate, but most major health organisations would encourage an increase to get the rate closer to 100%’. Which would essentially mean that only the people who COULD NOT be vaccinated (e.g. immunocompromised) would remain unvaccinated.

And the worst part is that I can’t even find any information about whether the statistics are referring to only ‘conventional’ vaccinations (i.e. stick with a needle) or whether they also include the alternative methods (e.g. homeopathic). I personally know a HEAP of people who have gone the homeopathic route with their kids, and I’m not sure whether this is a fluke or whether it’s actually representative of the population at large.

And all this is compounded by the fact that the government statistics aren’t using the word ‘vaccination’ to describe the statistics, they’re using the word ‘immunisation’. The FAQs do not really help either. They give the definition of both words, explain that they’re used interchangeably even though they don’t mean exactly the same thing, then go on to say that they will use the word ‘immunisation’ because it is what the public is accustomed to. SOOOOO… does that mean that they are using the word ‘immunisation’ and assigning it the definition that is actually for ‘vaccination’, or are they actually using it and meaning the proper definition?

I think they mean that they’re using ‘immunisation’ with the definition that actually applies to ‘vaccination’, because there is really no way of testing the ‘immunisation’ rates (by the proper definition) short of testing every kid for antibodies. Also, the rates couldn’t possibly be correct for some vaccinations (if they’re describing the actual immunisation rates), seeing as most have a less-than-100% success rate (e.g. only 85% of kids who get the pertussis vaccine will be completely immunised. The other 15% may still catch it, but it will be less severe than in an un-vaccinated person).

I’d better get back to trying to write this ridiculously stupid assignment then. That turned into a hell of a rant…

~K

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