Tag: hiding in the herd

A Legislative Guide to Advocating for Stronger Vaccine Laws

Having to get vaccinated to attend school isn’t a new idea.

In 1827, Boston mandated that all children attending public school must receive the smallpox vaccine.

Believe it or not, it wasn’t until the 1980-81 school year that there were laws in all 50 states mandating that children receive vaccinations before starting school. The smallpox vaccine wasn’t one of them…

A Legislative Guide to Advocating for Stronger Vaccine Laws

Not surprisingly, as vaccines did their job and rates of vaccine-preventable diseases dropped, politicians were able to weaken our vaccine laws.

Over just a few years, from 1998 to 2000, 15 states added personal belief vaccine exemptions!

We are now paying the price, with increases of vaccine-preventable diseases among clusters of intentionally unvaccinated children whose parents claim non-medical vaccine exemptions.

And that’s why we are seeing more and more states work to strengthen their vaccine laws.

Legislators who want to combat vaccine exemption abuse should enact laws that make it clear that:

  • medical exemptions are based on ACIP guidelines, current accepted medical practice, and evidence-based medicine – not anecdotes
  • medical exemptions should be reviewed and approved by the State Epidemiologist, Deputy State Epidemiologist, or other designated professionals at the health department
  • religious exemptions, if included at all, should specifically exclude philosophical exemptions and must reflect a sincere religious belief
  • philosophical exemptions, if included at all, should require some degree of education against the myths and misinformation that scares parents away from vaccinating their kids
  • exempted students will be excluded from school during outbreaks
  • exemptions should include a signed affidavit that is notarized
  • exemptions should be recertified each year
  • most exemptions are temporary
  • a separate exemption application should be required for each vaccine
  • exemption rates should be tracked at the school level and should be posted on school websites

Getting an exemption shouldn’t be easier than getting vaccinated!

Become an advocate and help get more kids vaccinated. You can also help stop bad vaccine laws from being enacted in your state, including some that would make it even easier to get an exemption.

More on A Legislative Guide to Stronger Vaccine Laws

What is the Natural Immunity Model?

It’s becoming a little clearer why some folks think it is safe to not vaccinate their kids, leaving them at risk to get vaccine-preventable diseases.

Who's calling the measles outbreaks a national emergency?
Who’s calling the measles outbreaks a national emergency?

Their idea of a natural immunity model of getting disease simply involves hiding in the herd and any outbreaks they trigger magically stopping.

What is the Natural Immunity Model?

Bob Sears thinks he has exposed some big news, that not everyone who gets measles dies.

Fortunately, that’s very true and something folks have always known.

With a death rate of about 1 in 1000 cases, you wouldn’t expect to have had any deaths after just 50 or 60 cases. But you never know. It’s not like every 1000th case dies. It could be the second case, the 562nd, or the 3043rd.

The hospitalization rates work the same way. They are statistical averages of what typically happens when people get measles.

That’s why measles was once called a “harmless killer.” It is often harmless, if you call having a high fever and feeling miserable for a week harmless, but it is sometimes a killer.

So is what we are seeing in Washington “what an outbreak looks like with the natural immunity model,” when no one is vaccinated and protected?

Of course not!

In a natural immunity model, up to 90% of the people who are exposed to someone with measles get sick!

In the pre-vaccine era, everyone got measles. That's the natural immunity model.
In the pre-vaccine era, everyone got measles. That’s the natural immunity model.

In a natural immunity model, everyone gets measles.

Not everyone survives having measles though.

Remember, the last measles death in the United States was during a 2015 outbreak in Washington. A immunocompromised women got caught up in an outbreak of mostly unvaccinated people, got measles, and died.

That’s the natural immunity model.

This family didn't have a choice about their son getting sick - he was too young to be vaccinated when he was exposed to an unvaccinated child with measles.
This family didn’t have a choice about their son getting sick – he was too young to be vaccinated when he was exposed to an unvaccinated child with measles.

Not having a choice about getting measles.

That’s the natural immunity model.

Worry about your child with leukemia after an exposure to measles…

That’s the natural immunity model.

“Well, what does this mean? Much like the outbreak in 2014 in a large Amish community (around 400 cases), and the recent NY outbreak in an orthodox Jewish community (around 100 cases), these types of outbreaks are centralized and self-limiting—which means they don’t spread like wildfire. These cases are also almost exclusively in communities who are CHOOSING not to be vaccinated. In other words, they are not random people “victimized” by measles. #dontfeelsorryforthem”

Melissa Floyd

Do anti-vaccine folks really think that these outbreaks are self-limiting? That they just stop on their own?

Do they not understand that the only thing that keeps them from “spreading like wildfire” is the intensive work of the local and state health departments, efforts to get folks vaccinated, and quarantines?

The Disneyland measles outbreak, for example, was hardly centralized or self-limited. It spread to Arizona, Nebraska, Utah, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Mexico, and Canada.

And like many other large outbreaks, it cost millions of dollars to contain.

“Measles outbreaks can be very costly to communities, a new report suggests. For example, the 2013 measles outbreak in New York City cost the city’s health department nearly $395,000 and more than 10,000 personnel hours, according to a report in JAMA Pediatrics. And there were other non-monetary costs, including the loss of a pregnancy, researchers reported.”

Measles outbreaks come with serious consequences

That hardly sounds like something that is harmless or self-limited.

“Now, the ACIP is preparing to add a 3rd dose for all college-age students to try to stop adults from getting and spreading measles—THAT’S how common adults cases are. Yet in Washington, there were only three??”

Melissa Floyd

Not only is there no call for a third dose of MMR to help stop the spread of measles, the CDC actually says a third dose isn’t necessary.

“In the event that a HCP who has 2 documented doses of MMR vaccine is tested serologically and determined to have negative or equivocal measles titer results, it is not recommended that the person receive an additional dose of MMR vaccine. Such persons should be considered to have presumptive evidence of measles immunity.”

Immunization of Health-Care Personnel: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)

Any talk about a third dose of MMR has to do with outbreaks of mumps…

“Is this all a coincidence my friends? Is the panic generated because of motive rather than data? In other words, could the media actually be encouraged to shift public beliefs on an issue to help pass legislation with a vested interest? #HerdImmunityDoesntApplyToVaccines”

Melissa Floyd

It’s not a coincidence that we are seeing so much anti-vaccine measles panic and propaganda these days. Outbreaks always bring it out.

Why?

It becomes harder to justify your decision to leave your kids unvaccinated and unprotected when you actually start to see that intentionally unvaccinated kids are getting sick.

More on the Natural Immunity Model

Dr. Bob Puts the Nail in the Coffin of the Herd Immunity Argument

Dr. Bob Sears, who actually wrote a book about vaccines, seems to think that he and his podcasting sidekick have put the nail in the coffin “of trying to use the herd immunity argument to justify coerced vaccinated.”

Dr. Bob seems to think that herd immunity doesn't apply to vaccines.

The meme he shared even includes the hashtag stating that herd immunity doesn’t apply to vaccines.

Dr. Bob Puts the Nail in the Coffin of the Herd Immunity Argument

While arguing against the idea of herd immunity and for coerced vaccination are common among anti-vaccine folks, neither is true.

Herd immunity is real and no-one is going to force anyone to vaccinate their kids. Vaccine mandates do not mean forced vaccination.

What about the idea that “all vaccines wane within about 2-15 years, leaving vaccinated children & adults unprotected?”

If that were true, then wouldn’t everyone who got sick in latest outbreaks be vaccinated? Why are most folks unvaccinated?

So we are either getting a lot of outbreaks because of waning immunity or your titers are getting boosted because you are getting exposed to so much natural disease. Got it?

While waning immunity is an issue for some vaccines, like mumps and pertussis, the primary and secondary failure rates are still not as bad as Dr. Bob suggests, which is why, in an outbreak, the attack rate of disease is always higher among those who are unvaccinated and unprotected.

The numbers don't always add up correctly when anti-vax folks try to do math.
The numbers don’t always add up correctly when anti-vax folks try to do math.

Is herd immunity the main argument that’s made when experts suggest we need stronger vaccine laws? I always thought the main argument is that folks should just vaccinate and protect their kids, but maintaining herd immunity so that your intentionally unvaccinated kids don’t put everyone else at risk is a good reason too.

Does everyone see the problem with Melissa Floyd’s math? This probably won’t be on the SAT, but you still want to get this right…

Like many others are doing right now, she used state level data. Since many of the folks who don’t vaccinate their kids cluster together in the same communities and schools, the “2% of those filing for exemptions” end up making up 10, 20, or even 30% of some school’s student population.

“This means if you are a primary non-responder, you are walking around every day with a false sense of security, clinically unvaccinated for that particular disease.”

Melissa Floyd

This is the whole point of herd immunity!

Because vaccines aren’t 100% effective, we can walk around all day without actually thinking about it much, hoping that we can rely on the fact that most other people are also vaccinated and protected. That keeps disease out of our community or herd.

The system typically breaks down though, not because vaccines aren’t effective enough, but because too many folks don’t get vaccinated.

“A 2011 article in “Vaccines”, edited by Stanley Plotkin, says, “Much of the early theoretical work on herd immunity assumed that vaccines induced solid immunity against infection…” Theoretical… Assumed…”

Melissa Floyd

She should have read the whole article, or at least used the whole quote…

“Much of the early theoretical work on herd immunity assumed that vaccines induce solid immunity against infection and that populations mix at random, consistent with the simple herd immunity threshold for random vaccination of Vc = (1-1/R0), using the symbol Vc for the critical minimum proportion to be vaccinated (assuming 100% vaccine effectiveness). More recent research has addressed the complexities of imperfect immunity, heterogeneous populations, nonrandom vaccination, and freeloaders.”

Herd Immunity: A Rough Guide

It doesn’t say what she thinks it says…

“Indeed, one might argue that herd immunity, in the final analysis, is about protecting society itself.”

Herd Immunity: A Rough Guide

So why haven’t we eradicated measles like we said we would?

“What’s funny is after the measles vaccine was licensed in 1963, the medical community declared a goal of eradicating measles by 1967. But 1967 came and went and it still wasn’t gone, 1977, 1987, 2000… the dates kept getting pushed, and the result was always the same. Meanwhile they continued to increase the hypothesized “herd immunity threshold”, eventually winding up at the extremely high 95% you hear today. “

Melissa Floyd

That’s actually a good question.

What happened to the previous goals of eliminating measles?

“In 1966, the USA began an effort to eradicate the disease within its own borders. After a series of successes and setbacks, in 2000, 34 years after the initial goal was announced, measles was declared no longer to be endemic in the USA.”

Orenstein et al on Eradicating measles: a feasible goal?

Along the way, we have gone from an estimated 100 million cases and 5.8 million deaths in 1980 and an estimated 44 million cases and 1.1 deaths in 1995 to “just” 7 million cases and 89,780 deaths in 2016.

“Under the Global Vaccine Action Plan, measles and rubella are targeted for elimination in five WHO Regions by 2020.”

Measles

While there is doubt that we can truly eradicate measles with the current vaccine, we can certainly control and eliminate measles if folks stop listening to anti-vaccine propaganda and they get vaccinated and protected.

More on Dr. Bob and His Herd Immunity Arguments

Why Are We Worried About 60,000 Unvaccinated Kids?

In the recent New York Times OpEd, How to Inoculate Against Anti-Vaxxers, the editorial board mentioned the 60,000 children in Texas who “remain wholly unvaccinated thanks in part to an aggressive anti-vaccine lobby.”

“But there’s like 74 million children, so I think that’s a pretty small number. I don’t know why you guys are freaking out about 60,000 really healthy babies running around. Do you know?

Hillary Simpson

Hillary Simpson obviously doesn’t understand how herd immunity works.

Do you?

Why Are We Worried About 60,000 Unvaccinated Kids?

First things first, though.

Just how many unvaccinated kids are there in Texas? How about the United States?

It is actually hard to know exactly.

It's easy to forget, with so much talk about anti-vaxxers these days, but the great majority of parents vaccinate and protect their kids!
It’s easy to forget, with so much talk about anti-vaxxers these days, but the great majority of parents vaccinate and protect their kids!

In Texas, for instance, while only a small percentage of kids get non-medical vaccine exemptions, with about 7 million children in the state (yes, there are 74 million children in the United States, but that’s not how you measure herd immunity), that adds up to a lot of unvaccinated kids.

In addition to about 60,000 unvaccinated kids in school, there are homeschooled children who aren’t vaccinated.

“We’re probably looking at more than 100,000 kids in the state of Texas who are not getting their vaccines.”

Dr. Peter J. Hotez: “A Scary Anti-Science Movement Has Become Very Strong in Texas”

But still, should we be worried about 100,000 unvaccinated kids, when there are 7 million kids in Texas?

Don’t those immunization levels still keep us above herd immunity levels of protection?

Well, they likely would, and this would indeed be less concerning if the unvaccinated children were spread out randomly throughout the entire state. Of course, that’s not what happens and we instead get clusters of unvaccinated children (and adults) in very specific schools, neighborhoods, and even churches.

There are higher numbers of unvaccinated kids in very specific parts of the states, leading to pockets where it is more likely that an outbreak could happen.
There are higher numbers of unvaccinated kids in very specific parts of the states, leading to pockets where it is more likely that an outbreak could happen.

So while it can seem like we have herd immunity levels of protection at the state or city level because of high average vaccination levels, these pockets of susceptibles who are unvaccinated and live in the same neighborhood or go to the same school (where is the Waldorf school in Texas?) can mean that we don’t have herd immunity in those places, leading to outbreaks.

And that’s why we get concerned about 60 to 100,000 unvaccinated children who:

Still, remember that the great majority of parents understand the benefits of vaccines, are not scared by anti-vaccine propaganda, and vaccinate their kids.

In 2015, for example, only 1.3% of children in the United States had received no vaccines by age 24 months. And more than 90% of children completed their primary series of vaccines.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be concerned about those who don’t, but maybe you should be a little bit more concerned about your decision to not vaccinate your kids.

More on Clusters of Unvaccinated Kids

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

What Is the Morbidity/Mortality Rate of the Polio Vaccine vs the Wild Virus?

Some anti-vaccine folks still think that the risks of vaccines are far greater than the risks of the vaccine-preventable diseases they keep you from getting.

As more people are vaccinated and diseases disappear, they forget how bad those diseases are, skip or delay getting their vaccines, and trigger outbreaks.
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

They aren’t, but you can kind of understand why they might think that with a disease like polio, when they might never actually have known anyone to have the disease.

What Is the Morbidity/Mortality Rate of the Polio Vaccine vs the Wild Virus?

Still, even though polio is under good control and close to being eradicated, the risk/benefit ratio clearly favors getting vaccinated and protected.

That’s because the polio vaccines are very safe and if we stopped vaccinating, polio could come back.

In fact, morbidity/mortality from polio vaccines are decreasing, as we are using much less oral polio vaccine (OPV) in the transition (OPV cessation) to just using inactivated polio vaccine (IPV).

“Over the past ten years, more than 10 billion doses of OPV have been given to nearly three billion children worldwide. More than 16 million cases of polio have been prevented, and the disease has been reduced by more than 99%. It is the appropriate vaccine through which to achieve global polio eradication.”

OPV Cessation

And while most developed countries already use IPV, those that are still using OPV recently switched from a trivalent (tOPV) to a bivalent (bOPV) form of OPV. We could do this because type 2 poliovirus has already been eradicated (2015)!

Of course, the issue with the OPV vaccines is that they rarely cause vaccine-associated paralytic polio (VAPP) and circulating vaccine-derived polioviruses (cVDPV).

Fortunately, this is even less common with bOPV.

As this chart from the WHO shows, polio vaccines are very safe.
As this chart from the WHO shows, polio vaccines are very safe.

So morbidity (getting sick)/mortality (dying) from polio vaccines is low.

There were only 31 cases of wild polio in 2018, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and an additional 102 cases of cVDPV in 7 countries.

What about morbidity/mortality from polio?

“As recently as 30 years ago, wild poliovirus paralysed more than 350 000 children in more than 125 countries every year. In 2018 there were fewer than 30 reported cases in just two countries – Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

“Zero polio transmission and health for all”, WHO Director-General gives new year’s wish to the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan

With a 99.9% drop in polio cases since 1998, your risk of getting polio in most parts of the world is very low, but you still have to consider both the morbidity/mortality of polio in the pre-vaccine era and the risk of polio returning if we stop vaccinating before it is eradicated.

What about the idea that you don’t have to worry about polio because only 1% of kids with polio developed paralysis?

“The mortality rate for acute paralytic polio ranges from 5–15%.”

Disease factsheet about poliomyelitis

Well, when everyone gets polio, even 1% is a lot.

With such a safe vaccine, why put your kids at risk of getting polio?

Do you even understand what the risks are?

No, it isn’t just the risk of wild polio in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Since the oral polio vaccines shed, if you are unvaccinated, in addition to the risk of wild polio, there is a small risk of getting circulating vaccine-derived polioviruses (cVDPV) if you are not vaccinated and protected. No, it is not a big risk, as there were only 102 cases of cVDPV in 7 countries in 2018, but it isn’t zero either.

And the other big risk is that if enough folks stop getting vaccinated, taking their chances hiding in the herd, polio will come back and our chance to eradicate another vaccine-preventable disease will fail.

More on the Morbidity and Mortality Rates of Polio

People with Cancer Are at Risk from Unvaccinated Kids

We know that kids with cancer aren’t at risk from shedding if someone has recently been vaccinated.

Johns Hopkins Medicine, which includes the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System went out of their way to correct this anti-vaccine misinformation.
Johns Hopkins Medicine, which includes the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System went out of their way to correct this anti-vaccine misinformation.

The real risk comes from those who are unvaccinated.

People with Cancer Are at Risk from Unvaccinated Kids

Confused on how that works?

Kids with cancer typically have a compromised immune system, so are at greater risk for getting sick and catching infectious diseases. This includes a risk from vaccine-preventable diseases because they often can’t be vaccinated and any vaccines they had in the past might no longer provide protection.

Don’t believe me?

Want some examples?

  • a 6-year-old girl who was in remission for ALL and had just received her final dose of chemotherapy was admitted with fever and neutropenia, found to have measles, and died after 28 days of intense therapy (1989)
  • an 8-year-old being treated for leukemia developed chicken pox and died two weeks later (1998)
  • a partially vaccinated 4-year-old girl who was being treated for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) was exposed to a cousin with chicken pox and later developed multi-organ failure and died (2012)
  • a 26-year-old man who was being treated for chronic lymphocytic leukemia died in Switzerland after he became infected with measles (2017)
  • a 6-year-old boy with leukemia died in Italy after catching measles from his intentionally unvaccinated sibling (2017)

Of course, there are many more, including many kids with cancer who get exposed to a vaccine-preventable disease and have to get treated with immunoglobulin and hope they don’t get sick. And many more who do get sick and are treated in the hospital for weeks and months and thankfully, get better.

And there are even more who get caught up in quarantines because they have true medical contraindications to getting vaccinated, and so have to stay home from school with the intentionally unvaccinated kids whenever there is an outbreak of measles or chicken pox, etc.

What can we do about this?

Vaccinate our kids! We have a choice. These kids with cancer don’t.

More on People with Cancer at Risk from Unvaccinated Kids