I went to engineering school, and what I know best is electricity. The most dangerous form of electricity that I can think of is lightning. According to a paper written by Irene Cardoso, there are, worldwide, approximately 6000 people a year dying from lightning strikes. (Her paper reduces the previous estimate by a factor of 4.) I’m going to admit, that’s way more people than I could have possibly imagined. In the US, strikes are fatal in 9-10% of cases, meaning that somewhere around 60,000 people a year are struck by lightning.
That’s pretty amazing for something that used to be considered the Wrath of God (Kind of makes Thor less intimidating, doesn’t it?). Sharks kill double-digit numbers worldwide. It is so rare to be killed by a bear in North America, you’re mentioned by name on Wikipedia. My personal “danger threshold” number is 2500. That’s because that’s the number of people that are killed in toilet-related mishaps.
What else is dangerous — vaccines, right? They are victims of their own success; today we can imagine they are useless because they are so effective. There are potential complications because any medical procedure has complications. A common antibiotic will make me lose consciousness for a couple of days. I got a potentially-fatal case of oxygen toxicity from DCS treatment. (Long story.)
According to what appears to an anti-vaccine site, there are ten million vaccines given out every year. Ten million, although that seems a little on the low side to me. Nevertheless, let’s go with that as our base number. Another says that only 1-10% of vaccine complications are reported. According to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, a severe reaction to the MMR vaccine is literally a one-in-a-million chance. This means that out of the 10 million vaccines, only 10 people will have reactions. Assuming that only 10% of those are reported, that’s 100 people getting sick. If we then extrapolate the lightning-fatality odds and assume that that’s only 10% of cases presenting as severe allergic reactions, that’s 1,000 people getting sick from vaccines every year. (using the anti-vaccine numbers, which are neither peer-reviewed nor double-blind-studied.)
Back to electricity and those 60,000 lightning strikes. You’re at least 60 times more likely to be hit by lightning than you are to get sick from getting a vaccine.
(Image courtesy of Georgia Canoeing Association)
I’ve summarized this as a PDF in case you know someone that like to argue but doesn’t like to read: Risks of lightning strikes vs vaccines