Vaccinations And Herd Immunity

Posted on: 22 January 2015

The purpose of immunizations is to protect the recipient against a particular virus or bacteria.  They keep children and adults safe from many kinds of diseases.  The childhood immunization schedule recommended by the CDC includes vaccinations to protect against a large number of diseases, including chickenpox, diphtheria, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, pertussis, polio, rotavirus, rubella and tetanus.  These immunizations are recommended for young infants and should be continued throughout later life. 

When you receive a vaccine, you are receiving a weakened or dead part of a germ.  Your body then makes antibodies that protect you from that germ.  The antibodies make you resistant to the germ and protect you from that particular illness.

Your child's immunizations can protect other people.

Some people, such as infants under two months old, are unable to receive certain vaccinations.  Other people, like the elderly or cancer patients receiving chemotherapy, have compromised immune systems.  These people are more susceptible to disease.  In communities where the majority of the population are vaccinated, those who are susceptible to the diseases are often indirectly protected through a concept referred to as "herd immunity."

How does herd immunity work?

Those who get immunizations on schedule become resistant to certain diseases.  When most people in a community are resistant to a disease, it becomes unlikely that a non-resistant person will get the disease.  This is because those who are not resistant to it are less likely to come in contact with an infected person.

Herd immunity can only work if a small portion of the community is not vaccinated.  It is compromised in some areas due to a large number of parents refusing or delaying vaccinations for their children. 

Herd Immunity in Action

Herd immunity was seen in action after the CDC required the rotavirus vaccination for infants in 2006.  When the vaccine was introduced, there was a significant decline of rotavirus hospitalizations for all ages.  Although only a portion of the population received the vaccine, those who did receive it helped reduce the spread of the disease. 

Herd immunity won't protect you forever.

Herd immunity should not be relied on as a way to protect yourself or your child if you choose not to vaccinate.  If an unvaccinated person is actually exposed to a contagious disease, they are not protected from it.  They will likely get sick.  Adults who have never been protected through vaccination are likely to get more serious infections if they contract a disease. 

Speak with experts like Willow Oak Pediatrics to get started today.