Vaccines are a hot topic in today's news: with dozens of isolated measles outbreaks occurring throughout the United States, many parents worry and wonder whether their child will be next to come down with a serious illness. Those with babies too young to be vaccinated may be especially worried about the effects of exposure to infectious illnesses. Read on to learn more about herd immunity and why it's so important that your child be vaccinated if medically able.
What is herd immunity?
Herd immunity is the term used to refer to the immunity provided when there are a sufficient number of individuals who have been vaccinated against a specific illness to prevent the spread of this illness among the community, even among those who have not been vaccinated. Herd immunity is responsible for the elimination of smallpox and polio in the U.S. since the late 1970s.
Herd immunity depends on high vaccination rates because there are always some children and adults who are unable to be vaccinated against certain illnesses due to allergies to the vaccine ingredients, health issues, or other problems, ensuring that all those who can be vaccinated are helps stop the spread of disease.
The more individuals who are vaccinated, the lower the odds that an infected person will come into direct contact with a non-vaccinated person. In some insular communities with low vaccination rates, herd immunity has completely broken down and permitted diseases like measles and rubella to spread from child to child.
At what point does herd immunity begin to break down?
Although herd immunity can begin to take effect when vaccination rates are still fairly low, in general, at least 80 to 95 percent of a community's population must be vaccinated against a specific illness to help create effective immunity. When vaccine rates begin dropping below 95 percent of the population, small outbreaks of an illness may begin—when these rates drop below 80, these illnesses can spread with impunity.
What should you do if your child is unable to be vaccinated due to an allergy or illness?
Although you should adhere to the Center for Disease Control (CDC)'s guidelines for vaccinating your child whenever possible, in situations where the risk of getting a vaccine will outweigh the benefit, you should err on the side of caution. To prevent your child from becoming ill from the disease he or she could not be vaccinated against, you should minimize your child's contact with other non-vaccinated children and adults.
If your child's school permits enrollment without vaccines if there is a valid religious or personal objection, you might consider switching to a school that has only a medical exemption for vaccinations. Learn more through resources such as Willow Oak Pediatrics.