Keep my herd immune!

One of the unfortunate controversies that has come up in recent years is vaccination safety. There is so much information on the internet from both sides of the controversy, and tons of statistics and case examples that make vaccines look like a dangerous risk to take with a child. I have read quite a bit of information about it, and looking at it from a skeptical viewpoint, it is unfortunately one of the situations where a person making their own health decisions can have an adverse effect on those around them.

Vaccines are wonderful, let me begin by saying that. Thanks to vaccines I have not suffered from polio, smallpox, whooping cough, and many other diseases that were common in the recent past. Smallpox is of course the best well known example of the success of vaccines. I know I haven’t been vaccinated, yet I still don’t have to worry about this disease. The reason being is that it was labeled as eradicated in 1979 with the last known natural occurring case happening in 1977. This is what widespread use of vaccines accomplished. The complete eradication of a disease that historically killed 80% of children who contracted it. This would not have happened if a percentage of the population didn’t get the vaccines and the disease was allowed to spread.

The tragedy happening now is that there is a growing part of the population that are denying vaccination to their children. It is starting to have consequences. We don’t have to worry about smallpox because the only place it survives today is in tightly controlled research labs, where the workers who handle it are still vaccinated. In the outside world, polio still exists, so do measles, hepatitis and many other diseases that can be vaccinated against.  One of the reasons vaccines do so well when everyone who is able to is vaccinated is herd immunity. By having as many people as possible in the population vaccinated against a disease, it ensures a much less likely chance that those who cannot be vaccinated are never exposed to the disease.  This is why I think those who are against vaccinations are acting quite selfishly. They are both taking advantage of the herd immunity of those around them, yet are contributing to weakening it.

A perfect example is the current rate of measles in the United States. The average rate of cases over the last few years is 60. 60 cases in the entire country in a year, and most of those cases are people travelling and bringing it back into the country. Last year it was 222, with over 50 of those cases coming from children whose parents opted out of vaccination. By opting out of vaccination, diseases that are still around but rarely seen are able to once again start infecting the population. I do not have a child, but I would be very upset if for whatever reason my child was not able to be vaccinated, and relied on this herd immunity to keep them safe against disease, only to have it fail because some parents are improperly educated on the true risks of vaccines.

Presently it doesn’t seem like a very dangerous thing to not vaccinated your child, 222 cases of measles in all of the US is a very low number, and most people who opt out of vaccinations have not had direct contact with any of the diseases they are no longer helping to prevent. Polio is one disease that is almost eradicated, but still has some cases reported, although the current rates are the lowest in ten years. However if the vaccine were to stop being administered so aggressively there could be an increase of cases and children could once again become crippled by this disease.

This post from one of my favourite blogs, Respectful Insolence, shows how pockets of the US population are already starting to lose the herd immunity, leading to potential outbreaks. At what point should the population allow opting out of vaccines if it going to threaten the health of more than those just opting out? I believe that vaccines are one of the greatest advances in modern medicine developed so far. Although we take it for granted now, it has saved millions of lives, and to allow that progress to be lost just because we don’t see the diseases anymore and its become “out of sight, out of mind” while we focus on imaginary problems that we think it causes is tragic.

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