Tag: herd immunity

What Are the Benefits of Vaccines?

Vaccines are safe, effective, and necessary.

They are neither 100% safe nor 100% effective.

That doesn’t make them any less necessary though.

It’s easy to see why when you look at all of the benefits that vaccines have given us.

Perceptions of Risks vs Benefits of Vaccines

One of the reasons that some parents become vaccine-hesitant is that they forget about the many benefits of vaccine.

That’s not surprising, as the better vaccines work, the less obvious their benefits are to everyone. After all, few people remember what it was like in the pre-vaccine era.

A measles epidemic hit New York City in 1951, as this front page NYTimes article reports.
A measles epidemic hit New York City in 1951, as this New York Times article reports.

That makes it easy to for some people to downplay the benefits of vaccines.

Unfortunately, at the same time, some parents might over-estimate the risks of vaccines. And that makes it even easier for them to justify a decision to skip or delay their child’s vaccines.

What Are the Benefits of Vaccines?

For most of us, the greatest benefit of any vaccine is that it keeps us from worrying that our kids will get a vaccine-preventable disease. If they do get sick, we don’t worry that every fever is measles or that every cough is pertussis either.

“It is also much cheaper to prevent a disease than to treat it. In a 2005 study on the economic impact of routine childhood immunization in the United States, researchers estimated that for every dollar spent, the vaccination program saved more than $5 in direct costs and approximately $11 in additional costs to society.”

NIH: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Among the other benefits of available vaccines are that:

The benefits of vaccines become more obvious when folks stop vaccinating.

immunization-program-stages
As more people are vaccinated and diseases disappear, they forget how bad those diseases are, skip or delay getting their vaccines, and trigger outbreaks. Photo by WHO

What happens?

Invariably, we start to see outbreaks.

Then they quickly remember why vaccines are necessary, vaccines rates go up, and the outbreaks get under control.

And everyone understands that all of great benefits of vaccines far outweigh any of their small risks. They also begin to hopefully understand that not everyone can attempt to hide in the herd or follow an alternative immunization schedule. That too can simply lead to more outbreaks, as the number of unvaccinated folks increases, at least temporarily.

What to Know About the Benefits of Vaccines

The great benefits of vaccines, which include that they have saved millions of lives, far outweigh any small risks.

More About the Benefits of Vaccines

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Hiding in the Herd

The term herd immunity has been used for almost 100 years, since about 1923.

Other terms relating to herd immunity, like ‘hiding in the herd’ and ‘free-riding’ have come into use more recently.

Hiding in the Herd

Some people can get away with hiding in the herd.

Actually, they depend on it.

“Herd immunity is present in a community when such a high percentage of its members have been immunized from a particular disease that the disease cannot gain a foothold in the community. Thus, achieving and maintaining herd immunity protects not only those who have been vaccinated, but also those with compromised or weak immune systems, such as the elderly, babies, and those afflicted with HIV.”

Anthony Ciolli on Mandatory School Vaccinations: The Role of Tort Law

That’s because we don’t need 100% of people to be vaccinated and protected for herd immunity to work.

Many children with cancer and other medical conditions benefit from herd immunity.
Many children with cancer and other medical conditions benefit from herd immunity. (CC BY 2.0)

So people who are too young to be vaccinated or fully vaccinated, people who can’t be vaccinated because they were born with an immunodeficiency or get cancer and are on chemotherapy and other true medical exemptions, and even people who are vaccinated but their vaccine didn’t work, can still hope to be protected from vaccine preventable diseases because everyone around them is vaccinated.

These people still get the benefits of herd immunity. Even though they are unvaccinated and susceptible to getting a disease, they probably won’t, because most others in the herd are vaccinated and protected.

But it is not just those people with medical exemptions who try and hide in the herd.

“These numbers have led the National Vaccine Advisory Committee to conclude that religious and philosophical exemptions do not pose a threat to public health.”

T May on Free-riding, fairness and the rights of minority groups in exemption from mandatory childhood vaccination

And that was okay too for a while. It wasn’t that long ago that “free-riding” by those using philosophical or religious exemptions wasn’t a problem, because their numbers were small and herd immunity rates could still be maintained.

Can You Hide in the Herd?

Hiding in the herd can’t work for everyone though.

Surprisingly, Dr. Bob explains that well in his vaccine book that scares parents about toxins in vaccines, while reassuring them that it is okay to space out their child’s vaccines.

“I also warn them not to share their fears with their neighbors, because if too many people avoid the MMR, we’ll likely see the diseases increase significantly.”

Dr. Bob Sears in The Vaccine Book

Basically, if too many people are trying to hide in the herd and have skipped their vaccines, then we have a breakdown in herd immunity and we start to see the return of many vaccine-preventable diseases.

These aren’t people who can’t be vaccinated though.

They are people who refuse to be vaccinated and intentionally don’t vaccinate their kids.

“In other words, hide in the herd, but do not tell the herd you’re hiding; otherwise, outbreaks will ensue. Sears’ advice was prescient. Recent outbreaks of measles in 15 states, caused by an erosion of herd immunity in communities where parents had chosen not to vaccinate their children, were the largest in the United States since 1996.”

Dr. Paul Offit on The Problem With Dr Bob’s Alternative Vaccine Schedule

And that seems to be exactly what happened as more and more parents have walked into their pediatrician’s offices with a copy of Dr. Bob’s Alternative Vaccine Schedule.

While he predicted that it would “increase vaccination rates in our country,” as most others knew,  they went down instead, and we continue to see more and more clusters of unvaccinated children.

Of course, Dr. Bob didn’t create the modern antivaccine-movement, but the bandwagoning effect he and other “thought influencers in the anti-vaccine movement” have on parents isn’t hard to see. Parents get scared by their anti-vaccine talking points and they go on to scare other parents into not vaccinating and protecting their own kids.

Tragically, the consequences of all of this was predictable too.

“If more parents insist on Sears’ vaccine schedules, then fewer children will be protected, with the inevitable consequence of continued or worsening outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Dr. Paul Offit on The Problem With Dr Bob’s Alternative Vaccine Schedule

More outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases.

What to Know About Hiding in the Herd

When too many people try and hide in the herd, it makes it hard to maintain necessary levels of herd immunity, which puts everyone, including medically fragile children and adults, at higher risk for getting a vaccine-preventable disease.

More About Hiding in the Herd

Who Is Tetyana Obukhanych?

It isn’t very hard to figure out who Tetyana Obukhanych really is.

Who Is Tetyana Obukhanych?

Every anti-vaccine article you read that is either about her, or by her, goes out of their way to make sure that you know that she:

  • has a Ph.D. in Immunology: working in the lab of Dr. Michel Nussenzweig, she presented her thesis on Immunologic Memory to Polysaccharide Antigens to the faculty of The Rockefeller University in 2006, in which she proved that vaccines work
  • trained at Harvard: started her postdoctoral training at Harvard Medical School, which can lead to a tenure-track faculty position (it didn’t)
  • trained at Stanford: did some of her postdoctoral training in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Science at the Stanford University School of Medicine, which again, can lead to a tenure-track faculty position (it didn’t)
  • has 8 published peer-reviewed research articles: that she co-authored with many others and only one has her as the primary author, in which she concluded that “As the generation and regulation of immunologic memory is central to vaccination, our findings help explain the mode of action of the few existing polysaccharide vaccines and provide a rationale for a wider application of polysaccharide-based strategies in vaccination.”
  • wrote a book about vaccines: that she self-published for the Kindle
  • frequently lectures about vaccines: which are basically interviews and talks that push classic anti-vaccine misinformation, despite her having “studied immunology in some of the world’s most prestigious medical institutions”

Not surprisingly, the modern anti-vaccine movement loves her.

“All throughout my PhD training I was a faithful believer in vaccination. I believed for almost two decades that the reason I had contracted measles and whooping cough during my teenage years was because I wasn’t vaccinated against these diseases. Then, when I had to check my childhood vaccination records, I discovered that I was in fact fully vaccinated for both measles and whooping cough, and the resulting contradiction necessitated me to reexamine all my previous beliefs about the immunologic theory behind vaccination.”

Tetyana Obukhanych, Ph.D.

While getting a vaccine-preventable disease after being vaccinated might make some folks question the whole “immunologic theory behind vaccination,” for most others, they would simply question other factors that might have led to this possible vaccine failure.

Was she fully vaccinated according to the US immunization schedule (two doses of a measles containing vaccine and four doses of a pertussis containing vaccine, with a booster as a teenager)? Were the vaccines equivalent? Were there outbreaks going on?

Outbreaks?

Although it is not clear when she came to the United States to pursue her education, Tetyana Obukhanych was born in Ukraine and likely lived through the “massive epidemic” of diphtheria and other vaccine-preventable diseases in the Newly Independent States of the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

“This epidemic, primarily affecting adults in most Newly Independent States of the former Soviet Union, demonstrates that in a modern society diphtheria can still spread explosively and cause extensive illness and death.”

Diphtheria in the Former Soviet Union: Reemergence of a Pandemic Disease

In Ukraine alone, there were 17,387 cases of diphtheria and 646 deaths from 1992 to 1997. Also high, were cases of measles (over 23,000 cases in 1993) and pertussis (almost 7,000 cases in 1993).

Even if she had already left Ukraine, those outbreaks are great evidence that vaccines work and that vaccines are necessary.

Tetyana Obukhanych on Vaccines

Instead of discussing them, Tetyana Obukhanych operates using an appeal to authority to scare parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

As an immunologist, isn’t she really an authority though?

Consider that even though she might be a Harvard trained immunologist with a PhD, there are:

  • over 7,600 members of the American Association of Immunologists
  • just over 8,000 residents and postdoctoral fellows at Harvard
  • 1,279 postdocs at Standford School of Medicine

and few, if any, agree with anything she says about vaccines.

“Research has repeatedly confirmed that vaccinations are safe and highly effective for all healthy children and adults, and any suggestions to the contrary have been discredited. Ongoing vaccine research continually reaffirms its safety and efficacy, including the number of vaccines administered at any one time and the recommended vaccination schedule.”

The American Association of Immunologists Statement on Vaccines

Now if “more than 7,600 basic and clinical immunologists, strongly support the use of vaccines to prevent disease,” then why would you even think about listening to just one who doesn’t?

We actually know why.

It’s called confirmation bias.

“Many questions in science and medicine are confusing and frustrating, but fortunately, the question of vaccination need not be one of them. Because for vaccines, the verdict is already in: guilty of being safe, effective, powerful, and highly recommended.”

Vivian Chou is a Ph.D. student in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences Program at Harvard Medical School.

So what does Tetyana Obukhanych think about vaccines?

  • A pic of a cherry on the cover would have been more appropriate, as a lot of cherry picking of studies and references goes on in the book.
    A pic of a cherry on the cover would have been more appropriate, as a lot of cherry picking of studies and references goes on in her e-book.

    that experts overlooked that the smallpox vaccine didn’t provide life-long immunity, even though it was known by the end of the 19th century that boosters could be needed and that was well before any other vaccine was developed

  • that Immunology has no theoretical or evidence-based explanation for immunity – she should read the book Immunity by William E. Paul, MD – an internationally renowned immunologist
  • that instead of simply helping vaccines work better, adjuvants are necessary to help vaccines work at all, because “purified protein antigens do not have an ability to induce antibody production in humans or animals (the recipients) on their own.”
  • that adjuvants are necessary to develop allergies, including food allergies – because “without an adjuvant, there will be no immune response to a food protein or peptide, and it will not become an allergen.”
  • that vaccines are only monitored for two or three weeks to make sure they are safe
  • that titer tests or “a positive serological test is a proof of immunity only in the absence of vaccination. In vaccinated individuals, a serological test of immunity is biologically meaningless.”
  • that we have created a so-called vaccine paradox, in which “vaccines reduce the overall incidence of childhood diseases, yet make them infinitely more dangerous for the next generation of babies.”
  • that homepathy works
  • that “for most communicable viral diseases there is no herd immunity in post – elimination era.”

Being Harvard trained can certainly be a big deal. After all, John Enders, “The Father of Modern Vaccines,” who won the Nobel Prize for his work on the cultivation of the poliomyelitis viruses and who developed the first live measles vaccine, trained at Harvard.

“The apparent absence of major viral epidemics in the U.S. is now due to the absence of endemic viral exposure, not herd immunity.”

Tetyana Obukhanych, PhD on Vaccine Illusion

Some would wonder if Tetyana Obukhanych even knows who John Enders was…

Tragically, as Dr. Tetyana Obukhanych, the Harvard trained immunologist from Ukraine goes on and on about how vaccines don’t work, Ukraine is facing outbreaks of measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases due to parents not vaccinating their kids and limited supplies of vaccines.

Unfortunately, they aren’t lucky enough to have an “absence of endemic viral exposure,” or in other words, herd immunity.

What To Know About Tetyana Obukhanych

While she is a Harvard trained immunologist with a PhD, Tetyana Obukhanych pushes classic misinformation about vaccines that you would be hard pressed to get any other immunologist or Harvard grad to agree.

More on Tetyana Obukhanych

Immunization Posters and Slogans

Getting your kids vaccinated and protected is a good idea.

Vaccines are safe, necessary, and they work.

Why do we need posters and slogans to help educate people about their benefits?

A billboard in Minnesota educates parents about the benefits of the chicken pox vaccine.
A billboard in Minnesota educates parents about a benefit of  vaccines – protecting those who rely on herd immunity.

Maybe because as long as there have been vaccines, there have been anti-vaccine slogans scaring parents away from them.

Immunization posters are also a good way to raise awareness of new vaccines and new  recommendations for getting vaccinated.

Educating Parents About Vaccines

This slogan, during a whooping cough epidemic, reminded parents to get their kids vaccinated now.
This slogan, during a whooping cough epidemic, reminded parents to get their kids vaccinated now.

In the early 1980s, vaccine preventable diseases had come roaring back as folks in England and other countries got scared to vaccinate and protect their kids with the DTP vaccine.

It is reported that “public confidence in the pertussis vaccine collapsed in the early 1970s as a result of widely publicised concern about its safety and campaigns for compensation for children damaged by the vaccine.”

It got so bad that as vaccination rates fell to less than 30% in 1978, there were at least 154 deaths and 17 cases of brain damage in the UK because of pertussis infections, even though the concerns about the pertussis vaccine were widely unfounded.

“While You Make Up Your Mind About Whooping Cough Vaccination, Thousands Of Children Are Holding Their Breath” was an effective poster at this time. It highlighted the fact that you could sometimes wait too long to get your kids vaccinated, as pertussis cases and deaths grew during the outbreaks.

Vaccination rates eventually went up again, as parents made up their mind to vaccinate and protect their kids.

Immunization Posters and Slogans

Other immunization slogans and posters that have been used, including many historical posters, include:

Is your child vaccinated against smallpox? Diphtheria strikes unprotected children. Fight Polio Poster
Immunization Saves Lives Diphtheria is Deadly Be Well - get your polio vaccine
Let your child be a rubella hero Polio Vaccine - don't wait until it's too late. Stop Rubella
Whooping Cough is not a bird... Keep Measles a Memory poster. Be Wise - Immunize Your Child
MMR is a cheap shot that can millions. Parents of Earth, are your children fully immunized? MMR Shot - three way protection.
Are your kids fully immunized? Can you prove it?
Before it's too late. Vaccinate. Whooping cough is back! Which vaccines do kids need? All of Them. And on Time!
Shots might hurt for a moment, but they can protect for a lifetime.
Hepatitis B can be prevented. Stop measles with just one shot, well two... different-folks-posters
Dr. Seuss said Don't Wait: Vaccinate! Vaccines give all kids a chance A child's health is as precious as a work of art: immunize your child today
 HPV vaccines prevent cancer Know. Check. Protect. World Immunization Week 2014 She got her flu shot, not the flu.
Think Measles Don't Wait. Vaccinate. Psy helping get the word out that we are close to ending polio.
Jull got the Mumps. Meningitis B vaccination poster during an outbreak at Princeton. Mumps is not just for kids anymore

Although you hopefully already know all about all of the vaccines that your kids need, if you see a new immunization poster or slogan, ask your pediatrician for more information.

​Get Educated. Get Vaccinated.

What To Know About Immunization Posters

Although immunization posters won’t ever replace the information you get from your pediatrician, they can help you get educated and raise awareness about new vaccines and new recommendations.

More About Immunization Posters and Slogans

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Slogans of the Anti-Vaccine Movement

Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey went on a mission to Green Our Vaccines in 2008.
Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey went on a mission to Green Our Vaccines in 2008.

We know that there is no science to support the anti-vaccine movement.

History isn’t on their side either.

So what’s left?

How do they push misinformation and myths about vaccines to scare parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids?

Slogans of the Anti-Vaccine Movement

In addition to their celebrities and a relative handful of ‘experts,’ the modern antivaccine movement makes effective use of very catchy slogans to scare people away from getting educated about vaccines and vaccinating their kids.

If there is a RISK, there must be a CHOICE.

This is one of the more recent and also one of the more powerful slogans that we have seen. It implies that the choice over skipping or delaying vaccines is being taken away and that the only risk comes from the vaccines themselves.

But like most slogans used as propaganda tools, there is little behind it.

Parents nearly always have a choice on whether or not to vaccinate their kids, even if they live in a state without non-medical exceptions.

Vaccine mandates are laws that say you must be fully vaccinated to attend school. Instead of homeschooling their intentionally unvaccinated kids, some parents think that they must have even more choices though.

In addition to overestimating the risks from vaccines, these folks greatly underestimate the risks of getting a vaccine-preventable disease from skipping vaccines, both to their own kids and to the rest of us in the community.

They are simply increasing our risk and limiting our choices to keep our own kids safe and healthy.

You can always get Vaccinated, but you can never get Unvaccinated.

This slogan is likely a surprise to all of the folks who push (sell) regimens that claim to detox kids of their vaccines, or more specifically, all of the “toxins, poisons, and chemicals” that were supposedly in the vaccines they got.

It is also a sad reminder to all of those families who skipped or delayed a vaccine a little too long – long enough for their child to get a life-threatening vaccine-preventable disease.

This slogan really just highlights the fact that anti-vaccine do not really understand the risks of delaying or skipping vaccines. That’s despite the fact that studies have shown that following a non-standard, parent-selected, delayed protection vaccine schedule simply puts kids at risk for vaccine-preventable diseases, without any benefits of fewer side effects.

And for the record, you can get unvaccinated. It is one of the reasons that herd immunity is so important. Just ask the parents of any child who has had to have chemotherapy or a bone marrow transplant and is now immunosuppressed.

Green Our Vaccines.

Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey led the “Green Our Vaccines” rally back in 2008.

In 2008, Jenny McCarthy ran a full page ad in USA Today warning about toxins, autism, and the "whopping increase" in vaccines kids were getting.
In 2008, Jenny McCarthy ran a full page ad in USA Today warning about toxins, autism, and the “whopping increase” in vaccines kids were getting.

Although they always claimed they were not anti-vaccine, they helped pushed the idea that vaccines were full of toxins.

They aren’t.

Vaccine ingredients are safe.

Too many, Too soon.

Jenny McCarthy can likely also be credited with creating with idea that kids get too many vaccines at too early an age.

Our kids certainly do get more vaccines than they did in the 1970s and 80s, but that simply means more protection from vaccine-preventable diseases that used to be killers, like Haemophilus influenzae type b and Streptococcus pneumoniae.

Today’s vaccines have fewer antigens than ever too, even though kids get more vaccines than they used to. But certainly not more than they can easily and safely handle.

Vaccination is not Immunization.

This idea is pushed by a chiropractor, who also talks about “pure blood.”

If you believe that vaccination is not immunization, then how did vaccines help eradicate smallpox and how are they helping to eliminate and control other vaccine preventable diseases, like polio, measles, and rubella, etc.

And that’s the whole point. Many anti-vaccine folks don’t really believe that vaccines work. That helps them justify their decision to skip or delay vaccinating their kids.

Even if you thought that vaccines had too many side effects, if you also admitted that they worked to protect your kids, then your anti-vaccine views would likely produce a high level of cognitive dissonance. So instead you cling to these types of slogans. And if your kid does get a vaccine-preventable disease, you’ll still feel okay, because you will blame it on shedding from someone who just got vaccinated.

I’m not anti-vaccine, I’m pro-safe vaccine

The problem with this slogan, and in general, using it as an anti-vaccine argument, is that vaccines are safe. They are not 100% safe, but no one claims that they are.

Serious side effects from vaccines are very rare though.

People who rally against already safe vaccines, claiming that they say are full of ‘toxins’ and wanting even safer vaccines before they will vaccinate their kids, are not really pro-vaccine.

Neither are any of the folks who push these slogans, all of which are pure anti-vaccine propaganda.

What to Know About the Slogans of the Anti-Vaccine Movement

Catchy slogans are one of the ways that the anti-vaccine movement uses to push  misinformation about vaccines.

More About Slogans of the Anti-Vaccine Movement

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Challenging the Concept of Herd Immunity

Before we talked about clusters of unvaccinated children, experts warned about pockets of susceptibles.
Before we talked about clusters of unvaccinated children, experts warned about pockets of susceptibles.
The idea of herd immunity has been around since at least 1923 and became used to describe “the indirect protection afforded to individuals by the presence and  proximity of others who are immune.”

That’s not much different from how the CDC defines herd immunity today:

A situation in which a sufficient proportion of a population is immune to an infectious disease (through vaccination and/or prior illness) to make its spread from person to person unlikely. Even individuals not vaccinated (such as newborns and those with chronic illnesses) are offered some protection because the disease has little opportunity to spread within the community.

Also called community immunity, it is often misunderstood by folks in the anti-vaccine movement.

Challenging the Concept of Herd Immunity

That the idea of herd immunity is being challenged is not new.

“Along with the growth of interest in herd immunity,  there has been a  proliferation of views of what it means or even of whether it exists at all.”

Paul E. M. Fine Herd Immunity: History, Theory, Practice

If you get educated about vaccines and understand how herd immunity works, it is easy to refute these challenges, especially the idea that herd immunity isn’t real just because we still have outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases among highly vaccinated communities.

Why do we still have outbreaks then?

It is mostly because we live in open communities that don’t mix randomly.

Keep in mind that the best model for herd immunity is a randomly mixing closed community – “one in which the probability of contact within any time interval is the same for every choice of two individuals in the population.”

Again, that doesn’t mean herd immunity doesn’t work.

It just means we can expect to see some outbreaks when someone in a well vaccinated community visits another community with lower vaccination levels and more disease, gets sick, and returns.

“However,  within the population of a community,  there may be pockets of  susceptibles, either because prior epidemics have failed to spread into the group or because they have not accepted immunization.”

John P. Fox Herd Immunity

You must also consider the size of the community when thinking about herd immunity, for example, a family, school, neighborhood, or city, versus the entire state. So you can have herd immunity levels of protection at the state or city level because of high average vaccination levels, but pockets of susceptibles who live in the same neighborhood or go to the same school can mean that you don’t have herd immunity in those places, leading to outbreaks.

“Hib vaccine coverage of less than 70% in the Gambia was sufficient to eliminate Hib disease, with similar findings seen in Navajo populations.”

RA Adegbola Elimination of Hib disease from The Gambia after…

Lastly, there is not one herd immunity level for all diseases. It is a separate threshold for each and every disease, depending on how easily it spreads, how many people are already immune, how long immunity lasts, if there is a vaccine, and the effectiveness of the vaccine, etc. That means that a community can have herd immunity for Hib and polio, but not the flu, and for rubella and measles, but not pertussis.

What happened in The Gambia is a great example of herd immunity. After introducing a three dose primary Hib immunization schedule (no booster dose), rates of Hib meningitis quickly went from 200 per 100,000 to none. A few years later, there were 6 cases of Hib meningitis in mostly vaccinated children (no booster dose) and in the majority of cases, “close contacts had a history of frequent or recent travel to Senegal, a neighboring country with strong kinship links with The Gambia and where vaccination against Hib was not introduced” until the following year.

With a Hib meningitis rate of 3 per 100,000, they are still far below pre-vaccine levels of disease, and their situation doesn’t mean that herd immunity isn’t real, as you will understand once you review these myths about herd immunity.

Myths About Herd Immunity

What are some common myths about herd immunity?

  • that natural immunity is better than getting vaccinated. Not True. Natural immunity often comes with a price. Remember, many vaccine-preventable diseases are life-threatening, even in this age of modern medicine.
  • you can just hide in the herd. Not True. “Freeloaders” can gamble and hope that their intentionally unvaccinated kids won’t get a vaccine-preventable disease, but it won’t always work. There is a risk to “free-riding, in which individuals profit from the protection provided by a well-vaccinated society without contributing to herd immunity themselves.”
  • most adults aren’t immune because they haven’t been vaccinated or don’t get boosters, but since we aren’t seeing that many outbreaks, herd immunity itself must be a myth. Not True. Adults were either born in the pre-vaccine era and likely have natural immunity or were born in the vaccine era and are vaccinated and immune. But again, herd immunity is disease specific, so when we talk about herd immunity for measles, it doesn’t matter if they have immunity against hepatitis A or Hib. And adults get few boosters or catch-up vaccines. Also, some vaccines, like Hib and Prevnar, have indirect effects, protecting adults even though they aren’t vaccinated because vaccinated kids are less likely to become infectious.
  • most vaccines wear off too soon to provide long lasting protection for herd immunity to be real. Not True. While waning immunity is a problem for a few diseases, like pertussis and mumps, and you need boosters for others, like tetanus, vaccine induced immunity is typically long lasting and often life-long.
  • herd immunity wasn’t developed by observing immunized people, it was all about natural immunity. Not True. The first experiments about herd immunity by Topley and Wilson in 1923 involved vaccinated mice. Ok, they weren’t immunized people, but it wasn’t just about natural immunity! And much earlier, in 1840, it was noted that “smallpox would be disturbed, and sometimes arrested, by vaccination, which protected a part of the population.” That’s herd immunity he was talking about.
  • herd immunity is not a scientifically validated concept. Not True. It has been well studied for almost 100 years.
  • if herd immunity was real, diseases would be eradicated once you reached herd immunity levels. Not True. Reaching herd immunity levels simply starts a downward trend in disease incidence. A little more work has to be done at the final stages of eradication, like was done for smallpox and is being done for polio.
  • natural immunity causes much of the decrease in mortality from a disease in the developed world, even before a vaccine is introduced. Not True. While it is certainly true that there was a big drop in mortality in the first half of the 20th century for most conditions because of improvements in sanitation, nutrition, and medical science, it was not a consequence of natural herd immunity. And we continue to see significant levels of mortality and morbidity for many diseases in the modern era, especially for those that can’t yet be prevented by a vaccine, like RSV, West Nile Virus, and malaria, etc.
  • vaccines aren’t 100% effective, so herd immunity can’t really work. Not True. Part of the equation to figure out the herd immunity threshold for a disease takes into account the effectiveness of a particular vaccine.
  • folks with medical exemptions for vaccines put the herd at risk just the same as those who intentionally skip vaccines. Not True. Children and adults with medical exemptions, including immune system problems, those getting treatments for cancer, and other true medical exemptions don’t have a choice about getting vaccinated.

So, like other anti-vaccine myths, none of the herd immunity myths you may have heard are true.

That makes it hard to understand why Dr. Russel Blaylock goes so far as to say “that vaccine-induced herd immunity is mostly myth can be proven quite simply.” Does he just not understand herd immunity? That is certainly a possibility, because “although herd immunity is crucial for the elimination of infectious diseases, its complexity and explicit relationship to health politics cause it to remain under-explained and under-used in vaccine advocacy. ”

He is also really big into pushing the idea that adults have no or little immunity, because when he was in medical school, he was “taught that all of the childhood vaccines lasted a lifetime,” but it has now been discovered that “most of these vaccines lost their effectiveness 2 to 10 years after being given.”

The thing is, Blaylock graduated medical school in 1971, when the only vaccines that were routinely used were smallpox (routine use ended in 1972), DPT, OPV, and MMR (it had just become available as a combined vaccine in 1971). Of these, it was long known that smallpox, diphtheria, and tetanus didn’t “last a lifetime,” and the live vaccines OPV and MMR, except for the mumps component, actually do.

Blaylock, like most anti-vaccine folks who push myths about herd immunity, is plain wrong. And like most anti-vaccine myths, using herd immunity denialism to convince parents that it is okay to skip or delay vaccines puts us all at risk for disease.

What To Know About Herd Immunity Myths

Herd immunity is not junk science or a false theory. Herd immunity is real, it works, and explains how people in a community are protected from a disease when vaccination rates are above a certain threshold.

More About Herd Immunity Myths

Parents Who Regret Not Vaccinating Their Kids

My uncle got polio just before the vaccine was developed. He was hospitalized for six months, almost didn't survive, and lived with atrophied muscles in one of his legs.
My uncle got polio just before the vaccine was developed. He was hospitalized for six months, almost didn’t survive, and lived with atrophied muscles in one of his legs.

A rather strange anti-vaccine argument you might sometimes hear is that you can’t unvaccinate your kids (even though they push detox plans that say they do exactly that), so go ahead and wait to vaccinate them until you have “done your research” and are sure.

The problem with that argument, like most others that anti-vaccine folks use to justify their decisions to skip or delay vaccines, is that you can wait too long.

“In 1736 I lost one of my sons, a fine boy of four years old, by the smallpox taken in the common way. I long regretted bitterly and still regret that I had not given it to him by inoculation. This I mention for the sake of the parents who omit that operation, on the supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a child died under it; my example showing that the regret may be the same either way, and that, therefore, the safer should be chosen.”

Benjamin Franklin Autobiography

Tragically, Ben Franklin wasn’t the last parent to regret not vaccinating his child.

More Parents Who Regret Not Vaccinating Their Kids

Roald Dahl, who famously wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is less well known for having a daughter who died of measles. It was just before the measles vaccine came out, so he didn’t regret not vaccinating her, but in urging other parents to protect their children, he did seem to regret that a vaccine wasn’t yet available.

For many other parents, a vaccine was available that could have kept their kids from getting sick.

“In 1989, the Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine was relatively new and not yet routine. I was aware of the vaccine’s availability, but, busy mom that I was, I had not yet made the trip to the health department to get the immunization for my two-year-old daughter, Sarah. I will always regret that bit of procrastination and the anguish that it caused.”

Peggy Archer

Some of them have shared their personal stories, including the parents of:

  • Abby Peterson‘s “pediatrician steered her away from vaccinating her daughter” against chickenpox and her mother, Duffy Peterson, now says that “she wishes she had questioned the doctor’s recommendations more forcefully.” Abby died of a chicken pox infection.
  • Emily Lastinger who was unvaccinated and died of flu.
  • After all seven of her unvaccinated kids caught whooping cough, this parent regretted not having them vaccinated.
  • Claire Noelle Bakke who got pertussis when she was five weeks old
  • Scarlet Anne Taylor who died of the flu during the 2014-15 flu season
  • this unvaccinated three year old who spent six days in the hospital (part of it in a slight coma, during which they weren’t sure he would survive) with Haemophilus influenzae type b epiglottitis
  • Abigail who was unvaccinated and died of invasive pneumococcal disease
  • these two unvaccinated kids who developed severe dehydration from rotavirus infections
  • Sarah who was unvaccinated and developed a croupy cough when she was two-years-old and ended up on a ventilator with Haemophilus influenzae type b epiglottitis
  • Ashley who died from the flu and had never gotten a flu shot
  • Evan who died of a vaccine-preventable disease because his mom was not told about the vaccine that could have prevented it

There is another group of parents who have regrets about vaccines. Those parents whose kids can’t be vaccinated (too young to be vaccinated, have cancer, or have another medical exemption, etc.) are put at risk and exposed to vaccine-preventable diseases by intentionally unvaccinated kids. These parents typically regret that those around them don’t get vaccinated and protected.

Your decision to get educated and vaccinate your family shouldn’t be based on fear or concerns of regret if you delay or skip any vaccines, but these types of personal stories are important to review, especially if you also hear, watch, or read any stories about vaccine injuries.

What To Know About Regretting Not Vaccinating Your Kids

Delaying or skipping one or more vaccines isn’t safer or healthier, it just puts your child at increased of catching the vaccine-preventable diseases the vaccines protect you against and might lead to feelings of regret if you wait too long.

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