Is My Fully Vaccinated Child at Risk from Your Unvaccinated Kids?

Parents who skip or delay their own child’s vaccines often seem surprised that the rest of us are so concerned about their decision.

If vaccines work, they say, why do we care if their kids aren’t vaccinated?

Vaccines are protecting our kids, so they shouldn’t be at risk, right?

“Think of camping as an analogy. If everyone at a campground properly stores their food, bears won’t be enticed to come around. If even one person leaves their food unprotected, it invites bears in to investigate all the campsites for opportunities to eat.”

How does choosing not to immunize affect the community?

Of course, the issue isn’t just the risk to our fully vaccinated kids, but also the risk to those who are too young to be vaccinated, too young to be fully vaccinated, and those who can’t be vaccinated because of true medical contraindications.

In addition to those who are intentionally unvaccinated, these others often get caught up in outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases.

Is My Fully Vaccinated Child at Risk from Your Unvaccinated Kids?

But there is also a risk to those who are fully vaccinated, and no, that doesn’t mean that vaccines don’t work.

It just means that they don’t work 100% of the time.

And most of us don’t think that your vaccine choice should put our kids at extra risk.

Anti-vaccine propaganda pushes some folks to make bad decisions about vaccines.
Anti-vaccine propaganda pushes some folks to make bad decisions about vaccines.

Did you hear about the one measles outbreak in 2011 that was started by someone who was fully vaccinated?

“She had documentation of receipt of MMR vaccination at 3 years and 4 years of age. There was no travel during the incubation period and no known sick contacts. However, the index patient worked at a theater frequented by tourists.”

Outbreak of Measles Among Persons With Prior Evidence of Immunity, New York City, 2011

The thing about that outbreak, is that of the 222 cases that year, she was the only one known to be vaccinated. So she was almost certainly exposed to measles by someone who wasn’t vaccinated.

As someone who was fully vaccinated, is it fair that she got caught up in those outbreaks?

It is especially unfair that our kids are at extra risk for vaccine-preventable diseases because some folks make a decision to leave their kids unvaccinated and unprotected because they believe anti-vaccine misinformation like:

  • you have nothing to worry about because your child is vaccinated – again, vaccines aren’t 100% effective, so there is still some risk until a disease is finally eradicated
  • someone who is vaccinated could also get your child sick – yes, but someone who is vaccinated would be less likely to get sick than someone who is unvaccinated
  • vaccinated kids are shedding virus, making everyone sick – no, they aren’t, not even during “shedding season
  • getting vaccinated doesn’t prevent disease, it just makes it so you have fewer symptoms, but you still get others sick – in most cases, vaccines keep you from getting sick altogether – they so prevent disease in most cases, but yes, if you still got sick, you will likely have milder symptoms than if you were completely unvaccinated
  • you can’t spread a disease you don’t have – that’s true, but if you are unvaccinated and unprotected, you are at much higher risk to get these diseases and then spread them to others
  • vaccines don’t prevent diseases from spreading anyway – if you don’t get a disease because you are vaccinated, you aren’t going to spread it
  • getting vaccinated just turns you into a carrier – this is about the study in baboons, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get vaccinated

What about the idea that you will just keep your unvaccinated kids home if they do catch something?

What are the chances that you could be exposed to measles during an outbreak?
What are the chances that you could be exposed to measles during an outbreak?

Looking at all of the places that the folks in the Clark County measles outbreak exposed others, it should be clear that waiting to quarantine your child if they get sick isn’t very effective.

What’s the problem?

An infant with measles during the 2014 outbreaks in the Philippines.
An infant with measles during the 2014 outbreaks in the Philippines. Photo by Jim Goodson, M.P.H.

With many diseases, you are contagious before you show symptoms. That is especially true with a disease like measles, when you may not even realize it is measles until you finally break out in a rash, after having 3 to 5 days of high fever.

That’s why it is important to vaccinate and protect your kids. When you skip or delay a vaccine, it is not just your own family that you are putting at risk.

More on Risks from Unvaccinated Kids

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