Skeptoid PodcastSkeptoid on Facebook   Skeptoid on Twitter   Skeptoid on Spotify   iTunes   Google Play

Members Portal

Support Us Store


Get a Free Book



Is herd immunity a myth? A response to Russell Blaylock, Part 2

by Josh DeWald

January 17, 2014

Share Tweet Reddit

Donate In my previous article, I began my response to Russell Blaylock's 2012 essay "The Deadly Impossibility Of Herd Immunity Through Vaccination" in which he seems to claim that vaccines are essentially worthless and therefore the nationwide mandates for immunization are unfounded in addition to being akin the Nazis.

Blaylock continues from where we left off (emphasis again mine):
That vaccine-induced herd immunity is mostly myth can be proven quite simply. When I was in medical school, we were taught that all of the childhood vaccines lasted a lifetime. This thinking existed for over 70 years. It was not until relatively recently that it was discovered that most of these vaccines lost their effectiveness 2 to 10 years after being given. What this means is that at least half the population, that is the baby boomers, have had no vaccine-induced immunity against any of these diseases for which they had been vaccinated very early in life. In essence, at least 50% or more of the population was unprotected for decades.
Let's again distill this down to the claims being made:
  • Medical schools at one point taught that all childhood vaccines offered lifetime protection

  • It was "recently" discovered that most of these vaccines lost their effectiveness after 2 to 10 years

  • The baby boomers have effectively had no vaccine-induced immunity for decades

It seems reasonable to establish which vaccines Blaylock might have in mind so that any statements can be put in context. In the table below I have collected what appear to be the dates of appearance of the various vaccines (some of which have changed). Note that I’ve left out flu and tetanus, as they don’t seem relevant to any discussion of “childhood vaccines” and lifelong immunity. I have also highlighted the ones available when Blaylock was likely in medical school [1].

As in my previous article, the data for table comes primarily from the CDC's "Pink Book".

Illness Date of introduction Protection Notes
Chickenpox 1995 20+ years, likely lifetime
Diphtheria 1920s Not lifetime routine in 1940s
Hepatitus A 1995 Approx 20 years
Hepatitus B 1981 Approx 20 years
Hib 1985 Lifetime
Measles 1963 [2] Effectively lifetime MMR in 1971 in
Mumps 1967 25+ years, likely lifetime 1948 one offered only short-term immunity so discontinued in 1970s. Current one licensed in 1967.
Polio 1955 Several years Additional OPV and IPV in 60s. 1987 final one.
Rotavirus 2006 Effectively lifetime
Rubella 1969 20+ years, likely lifetime but all discontinued when RA 27/3 licensed in 1979
Pertussis 1930s Not lifetime Replaced in 2005

Based on the table, the only vaccines up for discussion are for: diphtheria, measles,  mumps, polio (older version), rubella (older version), pertussis (older version). The combined MMR would have come out around the time he started medical school, but I don't know if it would have already been in textbooks or part of the curriculum. For the MMR illnesses, the protection is effectively lifetime. So if they were taught about lifetime protection there, it was essentially accurate. I honestly have no idea what specifically he is referring to with "only lasts 2 to 10 years", but those numbers do not appear to apply to those three. That leaves diphtheria, polio and pertussis (whooping cough).

We will consider diphtheria and pertussis together before discussing polio.

Recall Blaylock's claim that it was taught that all childhood vaccines offered lifetime protection and that "only recently" was it discovered that some are 2 to 10 years. We naturally don't know what specific textbook he used, but we can look at other medical related books of the time to read what they said about boosters and protection times. Using a Google Books search related to pertussis vaccinations between 1950 and 1975, it becomes obvious that books were stating that pertussis immunization is effective for about 10 years. One example is in the book "Group Practice" from 1972. One also notes that the focus for pertussis is really on children and adults that will be around children.

The same is true for diphtheria. A 1972 book “Natural History of Infectious Disease” discusses the need for booster for diphtheria, on a page that also mentions the precipitous drop in infections when a 50% rate of immunity was reached. The 1974 book “Children and Youth in America” specifically mentions the recommendation for boosters for diphtheria and pertussis, on a page discussing, coincidentally, whether having vaccination laws actually reduces vaccination rates. The 1971 book "Technical Aspects of Biological Defense" specifically says (emphasis mine) that "permanent immunity may be maintained by means of booster inoculations at regular intervals".

So lay books of the time were noting that booster vaccines were required for children. The idea that it was only "recently discovered" that boosters are required seems inaccurate. In addition, both pertussis and diphtheria are primarily considered diseases affecting children, so the protection rate of the "baby boomers" isn't necessarily super relevant in terms of herd immunity.

Even if we granted somehow (which we aren't) that the mumps, measles and rubella vaccines were short-term, it would be irrelevant to the Baby Boomers (1946-1964) because those vaccines didn't come out until the late 1960s, so they would have likely been exposed to those illness naturally. To be on the safe side, only those born before 1957 are actually considered to be immune without the vaccine (mumps, measles and rubella Pink Books chapters in the sections on "Vaccine Schedule").

It turns out that many of the childhood vaccines weren't even around when he was in medical school. The MMR ones are in fact effectively lifetime and prior to widespread vaccination the baby boomers were likely exposed and so immune. For pertussis and diphtheria as best I can tell the books of the time very clearly stated that regular boosters were recommended. As for polio, the hugely successful widespread vaccination program eliminated it from the Western Hemisphere. So there's that.

Again, without Blaylock providing a single reference to back up his claims, the information I am able to find does not agree with the evidence he uses as the basis. And so we are forced to conclude that his "proof" of the myth of herd immunity is anything but.

[1] Wikipedia says Blaylock was born in 1949. Assuming a normal progression through school, this would have him graduating with a Bachelors in 1971 or so, so he'd be in medical school in the early 70s.
[2] Activated and inactivated, inactivated withdrawn in 1967 as it didn’t offer preventative protection. Others in 60s and 70s came and went.

by Josh DeWald

Share Tweet Reddit

@Skeptoid Media, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit








Want more great stuff like this?

Let us email you a link to each week's new episode. Cancel at any time: