As we hear about the increasing number of measles cases in North America, I want to focus on the impact of vaccines and what can happen when one is not vaccinated.
Although vaccines have been proven to prevent potentially serious infections, there are still people that refuse to vaccinate themselves and their children. Unfortunately, those who voluntarily refuse immunization, are not only putting themselves at risk, but also those who are vulnerable because they cannot be immunized.
Vaccines have proven to be extremely effective in controlling and even eradicating some major infectious diseases.
One of the benefits of vaccines from the community or societal standpoint is something called “herd immunity.” This means an entire community is protected, even though not every single person has been vaccinated.
In other words, because a significant proportion of community members have been vaccinated and are therefore immune to a particular infection, those who are unvaccinated are indirectly protected.
The more people who are vaccinated, the higher the rate of herd or community-wide immunity.
The explanation is actually quite simple: germs, be they viruses or bacteria, need to infect people in order to survive, grow, and spread to others. The more people who vaccinate, the less the chance germs will have to spread. This means there would be less germs circulating in the community to potentially infect unvaccinated individuals.
So, by vaccinating ourselves and our kids, we are also indirectly protecting others, who for a variety of reasons may be unable to receive vaccines or are not yet fully vaccinated. This includes people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, the elderly, individuals in whom vaccines are not fully effective and young children who have not yet received the full series of a particular vaccine.
The concept of vaccinating ourselves and our kids for the sake of protecting our community is referred to as “for the social good.”
Along the same lines, individuals (or their kids) who are not vaccinated by their own choice, are exposing themselves and their families to potentially dangerous germs. Because they are not immune or protected, they can contract the infection themselves and also spread it, in many cases, unknowingly to others who may be more vulnerable or susceptible.
A real-life Canadian example of this occurred several years ago when a deliberately unvaccinated child went to an emergency room for fever and a rash. He was subsequently diagnosed with measles.
Unfortunately, while waiting to be seen in the waiting room, he inadvertently exposed some young babies and other susceptible individuals to measles.
Measles is a potentially very serious infection, especially in young children. The exposed babies needed to be closely evaluated and monitored for measles, for which there is no specific treatment. Understandably, this was not at all appreciated by these babies’ parents.
So here is bottom line: vaccines not only provide immunity for those vaccinated, but they help protect the entire community.