Have you Heard of Herd Immunity?

Refusing to vaccinate puts communities at risk

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Illustration by Darin Connolly

In a society on the cutting edge of medical research and technology, the number and prevalence of diseases should be on the decline. Yet in 2019, diseases once considered eradicated are resurfacing.

A small number of individuals defy proven medical guidelines and refuse to vaccinate themselves or their children.

Their decisions have consequences beyond their own health or that of their children. This was proven by the west coast measles outbreak at the start of 2019 that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, spread to at least 101 cases across 10 states. Measles was thought to have been wiped out in the U.S. in 2000.

For those who are not vaccinating due to lack of resources or access, we empathize. The National Institute of Health found that rates of immunization correlate with socioeconomic status, meaning wealthier people are more likely to be vaccinated. While some solutions exist, including the Vaccines for Children Program and assistance from state health departments and federal health centers, this is an area of public health that demands significant investment.

Declining to vaccinate compromises the herd immunity of the local population. Herd immunity describes the buffer effect large numbers of immunized people have on preventing the spread of contagious disease. Among the most crucial elements of disease control, herd immunity protects the whole community — especially those who medically cannot receive a vaccine.

For these individuals, herd immunity is their only protection from serious illnesses. The right of an anti-vaxxer to make poor choices for themselves or their children should never overpower the right of the general public to live in good health.

This principle is not reflected in the law, however. There are 17 states that allow exemptions from vaccination for philosophical reasons, and 47 states allow religious exemptions. These exemptions are a direct risk to public health.

In California, the UC can mandate vaccination due to a statute granting the UC system significant autonomy over the issue. The UC’s mandate, however, doesn’t extend into neighboring communities. The risk is still present, demonstrated by an outbreak of the mumps at UC Berkeley in 2011.

The risks of not vaccinating and the danger it poses to communities and the country as a whole are obvious. Combined with the fact that vaccines pose little to no risk to healthy individuals, personal or religious objections don’t hold water.

What could compel any reasonable person to put their paranoia over the health of others?

One myth around vaccination is that vaccines increase the risk of autism. This delusion spreads from a now-discredited study conducted by British physician Andrew Wakefield in 1998. Wakefield lost his medical license after it came to light that his study was tainted with procedural errors, financial conflicts of interest and ethics violations.

Beyond that, the implicit argument made by the anti-vaxxer crowd is that the chance of a child being autistic is worse than the chance of the child contracting a possibly fatal disease. In other words, the risk of death is preferable to the risk of autism. 

Refusing to vaccinate based on belief in Wakefield’s study is nothing short of hatred toward people with autism.

The problem of unnecessary outbreaks requires a two-pronged solution. Government entities must enact policy reform limiting vaccine exemptions. In the meantime, individuals must adhere to vaccine recommendations from qualified professionals. 

Up-to-date vaccinations should be mandatory for every person who is physically able to receive them. Proof of vaccination or valid medical exemption should be required for getting or renewing a driver’s license or enrolling in any school. Tax returns should be held without proof of vaccination or medical exemption.

Make it clear to your government officials at all levels that vaccinations must be mandatory for all who are physically able to receive them. Demand they provision funds to make vaccines inexpensive and easy to access. There is no excuse for a technologically advanced society to be burdened with the diseases of yesterday.


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