Anyone who is able to save a life, but fails to do so, violates ‘You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor’. ~ Maimonides (Jewish physician and philosopher, born 1135)
Maimonides implored us, as do religious and philosophical leaders of most of the world’s religions, to care for each other. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves, to be our brothers’ keepers. This calling to protect the lives of those around us, our fellow human beings and children of God (whichever god or gods you believe in), is at the heart of the concept of herd immunity, or community immunity as it is also called.
There are several important reasons why herd immunity is necessary to protect our population. Let’s take a look.
Some people cannot get vaccinated
• Sometimes they are too young. Certain people may have a compromised immune system and are unable to get the live-attenuated (weakened) virus vaccines. Others may have an allergy to a component of a vaccine that prevents them from getting immunized themselves. These people, often some of the most delicate and fragile in our communities (babies, the elderly, pregnant women, people with chronic disease and immune suppression), will remain unprotected from disease if those of us around them aren’t vaccinated. Those of us who can be vaccinated provide a sort of buffer or barrier to diseases that could cause these individuals serious harm and/or death.
Diseases can be deadly
• One of the most effective vaccines is the measles vaccine. Given the complete series, the vaccine is nearly 97% effective against measles infection. However, measles is so contagious that anyone unvaccinated or under vaccinated coming into contact with the infection is highly likely to contract it. And it has the potential to be quite serious (1 in 4 will be hospitalized, 1 in 1000 will develop brain inflammation which can lead to permanent damage, and 1-2 in 1000 will die). Measles requires a whopping 95% rate of community vaccination to provide adequate herd immunity. This is why decreasing rates of vaccination are so worrisome. Declining immunization is exactly why we are seeing current measles outbreaks across Europe and in New York and other areas.
Vaccines aren’t perfect
• The flu vaccine, in its best years, is closer to 60% effective. While not ideal, it is the absolute best thing we have, until we have something better, to protect against the flu (which killed 80,000 people in the US last year). Scientists are working on developing a more universal and effective flu vaccine. But those little buggers mutate rapidly and the scientific process is slow and methodical. When a vaccine is not as highly effective, even those of us who can get vaccinated rely on others in the community to also vaccinate so that disease spread is reduced and we are all protected.
Herd immunity is vital to preventing disease spread. It is the right (and I’m using that in an ethical and moral sense) thing to do. We thrive as individuals and as a community only in so much as we support and take care of each other. When I vaccinate myself and my children (which I do fully and on schedule), I am protecting you and your children. Won’t you please return the favor?