…Then How Are Unvaccinated Children a Danger?

I still can’t believe I’m writing this.

Last time, which was sadly much longer ago than I intended, I was writing about whether or not vaccines work. Which, of course, they do. Every disease we have a vaccine for has seen the rate of infection (and the death rate) decline by several orders of magnitude since the vaccine was introduced. Really, this isn’t even a discussion we should be having anymore.

Except that we still have memes—like the one above—floating around. Because we still have people deliberately pushing an anti-science agenda, who are trying to put their mad ideology above human life. Why? I genuinely don’t understand. But rather than dwell on that, let’s move to the other half of that meme:

“How are unvaccinated children a danger to vaccinated children?”

“Old fool! Why, there is a large patch in the hollow of his left breast as bare as a snail out of its shell!”

That’s a quote from The Hobbit—specifically, the scene where Smaug the dragon is boasting about how he is utterly indestructible. “Your information is antiquated,” Smaug declares. “I am armored above and below with iron scales and hard gems. No blade can pierce me.” But Bilbo Baggins, with his keen eyes, spots a weakness: an unarmored patch on his chest, leaving him open and vulnerable.

Uhm. Wait, what? I thought we were talking about vaccines?

We are. Really.

See, there’s a thing called community immunity, more often referred to as “herd immunity.” And, as you might imagine from the name, it is the ability of the community as a whole to defend itself from infection in the same way that a herd of animals protects itself from predators. Having enough tough, strong members can help the herd fight off the predators and keep most of the group alive.

Here’s how it works, in a nutshell: diseases are caused by living things (generally bacteria or viruses, though there some debate about whether viruses are “really” alive). Human diseases use humans as a breeding ground and food source, and they need humans to pass the disease organisms on to other hosts before our immune system kills them completely or they kill us (limiting their ability to be transmitted). In order to maximize their chances of survival, the infecting organism needs to balance out how long it lives, how easily it can come into contact with other hosts, and how likely it is to infect another host.

Smart people who study this kind of thing have come up with a figure called the Basic Reproductive Rate (referred to as R0), which is the average number of people an infected individual will subsequently infect as s/he comes into contact with them over the life of the infection. If R0 is greater than 1, it will continue to spread; if it is less than 1 it will burn out. And if R0 = 1? Then the rate of disease remains constant in the community.

If you want to see how R0 is calculated, let me refer you to “Notes On R0” by James Holland Jones, available on the website of Stanford University. But here’s the R0 for some of the disease we vaccinate against:

  • Diphtheria: 5–7 people
  • Measles: 12–18 people
  • Mumps: 4–7 people
  • Pertussis: 12–17 people
  • Polio: 5–7 people
  • Rubella: 6–7 people
  • Smallpox: 5–7 people
  • Chickenpox: 7–10 people

So, where does herd immunity fit into this?

R0 assumes that there is nobody immune in the population. Herd immunity is an actual rate that can be calculated from R0, indicating the minimum percentage of the population that needs to be immune to a disease to reduce R0 to less than 1 (because we don’t want a constant level of sick people). Those figures are generally estimated as follows:

  • Diphtheria: 85%
  • Measles: 83–94%
  • Mumps: 75–86%
  • Pertussis: 92–94%
  • Polio: 80–86%
  • Rubella: 83–85%
  • Smallpox: 80–85%
  • Chickenpox: I didn’t actually find a herd immunity level for this, but a rough calculation shows 86–91%.

Now, the herd immunity level will never reach 100% (sadly). Some people simply can’t get vaccinated for legitimate medical reasons—most commonly an allergy to some component of the vaccine, or they’re too young, or they have some medical condition that interacts poorly with the vaccine (such as an immunodeficiency, or pregnancy). Other people might get a bad batch that doesn’t work, or it simply might not take. Nothing’s perfect, after all. The problem is, herd immunity has a fairly narrow range for a population. Dip below 83% immunity, and measles will slowly spread from susceptible individual to susceptible individual. Dip below 75% immunity, and whooping cough will inexorably spread. Sure, the immune people are likely to be fine, but the people who need herd immunity because they can’t be immunized are at risk.

In other words, the unvaccinated child isn’t a threat to any specific individual child. My son probably won’t get chickenpox because your daughter never got vaccinated. But your hypothetical unvaccinated child is a potential threat to the entire community, taking the community one notch closer to falling below that critical immunity threshold that helps keep everyone safe.

Your hypothetical unvaccinated child is a chink in the armor of the community. And disease organisms are evolved to be really, really good at taking advantage of those weaknesses.

Wow.

Yeah, wow.

Now look, I clearly got hot under the collar in my last article. I don’t regret that. Eradicating disease, and the suffering and death it causes, is worth a little passion. Because vaccines are demonstrably the single greatest medical discovery in the history of man, and they continue to work and they continue to benefit us despite a long history of people opposing them, often for no good reason at all. Fear. Ignorance. Rumor-mongering. Hucksters selling snake oil to profit off misery. And despite that, we’ve brought these disease to their knees, only to see them resurge as anti-intellectual frauds gain more and more publicity and find greater and greater outlets for their lies.

So, yeah. I get worked up. Because this is important. Sit down and talk to someone who lived through the polio epidemics. Talk to someone who’s nursed a child through whooping cough. Understand why this is important. And then do the right thing.

For everyone.

About Richard Gant

Richard Gant is a husband, a father, and a huge nerd with a deep love of science, science fiction, and fantasy. He works for a brokerage firm he won't name here in order to keep his Compliance department happy, and frequently talks to inanimate objects as if they can understand him. He also has a difficult time writing seriously about himself in the third person.
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28 Responses to …Then How Are Unvaccinated Children a Danger?

  1. Well said and said in a good and righteous cause.

    If only we could vaccinate against stupidity…

    But the herd-immunity factor is so weak for stupidity.

    Maybe the evolution juju doesn’t WANT us to survive; maybe we are a dispensible transitional stage…

    • WorkingInACopShop says:

      Well, the principles of evolution add up to: Whoever has the most grandchildren wins.

      I believe even now if you go to the trouble to look up the data from the last 200 years the Vaxers grandchildren outnumber the Anti-Vaxers. I expect they are in a higher tax bracket also.

      Don’t yell at me, just go look it up.

  2. Macky says:

    The herd-mindset might also be another point of discussion i.e. the authenticity of science and statistics (both questionable) as reasons/evidence why we should ALL get jabbed directly into the bloodstream with substances which are difficult to find out about.

    And even then, are pharma companies telling the truth ? They have a poor record so far.

    Another point to consider is where the stuff is made. Much meds are manufactured in India, with a doubtful record of clean practices.

    I’m thankful for the polio and tetanus vacs I was treated with in the 50’s.

    I would be skeptical of the same standards of manufacture/practice in today’s world.

    • Steven Gelfond says:

      Ah, a conspiracy theorist comes in as troll #1.

      • Macky says:

        “Steven Gelfond says:
        Ah, a conspiracy theorist comes in as troll #1.”

        If you’re referring to me, I am not a troll, and certainly not a conspiracy theorist.

        Every time a pharma company behaves in a criminal manner, science itself takes a knock, because at that point there is no guarantee that solid science has been maintained in the research and manufacture/distribution of drugs/vaccines.

        There is also the blatant conflict of interest re companies doing the tests on their own drugs/vaccines, and the promotion of said meds for maladies for which they have not been approved, dirty drugs from India etc.

        It’s a huge leap of faith when one is prepared to have stuff injected directly into one’s bloodstream, given the above.

        Not to mention the sordid record of unethical experiments on thousands of US citizens over the decades.

        Is it any wonder many are suspicious (WITHOUT any conspiracy theories) of the “latest wonder-drug/vaccine etc).

        • Doctor Futurity says:

          You are engaging in conspiracy-think, though. You can actually find out details on what a given vaccination contains, where it is made, and who made it. These are not incredibly difficult questions to answer, if you are concerned about them.

          Maybe you’re not a conspiracy theorist, but you might have some issues with understanding math/statistics. Example: you mention “thousands of US citizens affected by unethical experiments” over the decades. There’s nothing conspiratorial about that….we know of some well-documented cases. But to conclude that this means that one must be suspicious of all medical procedures going forward is to suggest that you also give no weight to the many hundreds millions of US citizens benefited by completely legitimate, ethical procedures over those same decades. One of these does not weigh like the other….

          • Noah Dillon says:

            Macky loves to claim that he’s not a conspiracy peddler before, during, and after he’s tried to pass off a lot of nonsense.

          • Macky says:

            What is conspiracy-think when I have never promoted or entertained ANY conspiracy either on the old Skeptoid or on here ?

            I agree with vaccines to improve immunity and health in the wider community, but it is not only unethical experiments in the US that show an appalling record of medical predation on citizens, but criminal off-label promotion of medicines for which they have not been approved.
            Here’s a piece of evidence for that https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_pharmaceutical_settlements
            It will forever remain unknown how many people were adversely affected by the above, and other similar criminal applications of medicines.

            As I said, given the above, one has every right to be suspicious of any new medicine/vaccine.
            The reputation of the very best research and manufacture of medicines takes a knock every time a pharma company is convicted of criminal activity.

            Why shouldn’t hundreds of millions of citizens continue to benefit from vaccines without the suspicion that what is being injected into their blood stream may be inappropriate for the stated purpose ?

        • April says:

          Exactly

    • mudguts says:

      Macky??? have you come off the drugs?? Your post is questionable as usual..

      • Bruno Tonon says:

        And yours isn’t.
        With a name like mudguts I think youre one of the untouchables!!!!
        Need to go back to your caste!!!

    • lady lazarus says:

      for eff’s sake, why has someone not exclaimed: “vaccines (and many medications that come in a sterile, injectable formulation,) are NOT commonly administered (appropriately, anyway!) directly INTO the circulatory system”?! each and every single time i kept seeing this odd misconception stated i wanted to head-desk ten-zillion-fold. seriously, do not let a medical worker inject you with a vaccination intravenously, alrighty? sheesh.

  3. Gary Dunning says:

    It’s regrettable that the scientific detail lacks the cachet of know nothing talk show celebrities demonizing vaccines on daytime TV, never mind rampant ‘Chicken Little’ vaccine conspiracy advocates in the general public. You need a bigger ‘Science Guy’ presence.

  4. Wm J Granger says:

    Richard, I think this is one of the clearest and most concise explanations of herd immunity and as a corollary, why vaccination is so important. I think this should be published in every local newspaper.

  5. Macky says:

    Vaccines are good. They provide the herd with a degree of immunity against serious diseases.

    The day Big Business cleans up it act re vaccines/meds and is demonstrably so, will be the day the bulk of the public (i.e. those that are sober skeptics not conspiracy theory Moon-gazers) may regain some confidence that the latest vaccine etc that is being notified for general use is not dirty, or unscientically promoted.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_pharmaceutical_settlements
    https://www.drugwatch.com/2013/12/06/big-pharma-settlements/

    Given the small link sample above, why shouldn’t the public have the right to be suspicious ?

    The assurance that the latest medicine has been scientifically formulated doesn’t mean a thing when it is not correctly and ethically employed.

  6. Macky says:

    “Noah Dillon says:
    April 7, 2017 at 11:17 pm
    Macky loves to claim that he’s not a conspiracy peddler before, during, and after he’s tried to pass off a lot of nonsense.”

    Quote some of the alleged nonsense you’re talking about Noah. I’ve always promised I would change my views and publicly say so in the light of better evidence than mine re my criticisms of the Official Story, but so far you’ve never had any answers to solid evidence and plain logic that I’ve posted on several issues.

    • Noah Dillon says:

      I’m not getting into this with you again. It’s a load of malarky. And in any case, the record is pretty well established for anyone who wants to look on the blog. It used to be on the episode pages, too, but those threads got closed after being swamped with hokum. Forget it. Arguing with stubborn people, even those who claim they’re not, who actively avoid or discount or ignore evidence contrary to their preferred beliefs, is, I’ve found, a waste of time.

      • Macky says:

        Noah
        You never provided a shred of evidence contrary to my alleged “preferred beliefs”, which I’ve always said I would change if in fact you had, and it was better than mine.

        So what are you talking about ?

  7. M says:

    I’m one of those unfortunates whose own health conditions leave them vulnerable to unvaccinated, yet adorable little moppets like, say, my two homeschooled nieces.

    Without getting too bogged down in the generalities, I’ll sum my own problems up as an interrelated series of genetic immune disorders affecting my liver, lungs, and immune system which did not start getting diagnosed until my 30s during graduate school. I catch ill easier and remain sick longer, and in worse shape than just about anyone. My most specific vaccine related experience is when we discovered that despite having previously had the antibodies from having caught Hep-B in my early 20s, and having been vaccinated with the pneuomvax vaccine ~3 years previously (and shouldn’t have needed a booster for several more decades), my system showed no immune response against to either condition, nor for that matter to most respiratory illnesses. My blood got sent off to the famed Mayo Clinic to verify. To quote my Indian immunologist telling me we needed to urgently get several fresh vaccines into me or “I could come down with a sudden case of death.” For whatever genetic quirk/reason, vaccines aren’t nearly as effective or long lasting on me as on the general populace. That doesn’t even count the members of the populace who get vaccines that perhaps have expired, overheated, or were improperly administered and who have no idea that they’re not ‘immune’ to X disease. I take my life in my hands every visit back home with those nieces.

    • Buckminster says:

      Goodness, given your medically proven issues with communicable illness perhaps some vaccinations for those around you would be best? Sounds quite reasonable ethically and scientifically.

    • glorygore says:

      Sounds like you might be a threat to your nieces rather than the other way around.

  8. Bruno Tonon says:

    Any one here seen the film Vaxxed and if not why not and if so what was interesting or challenging for you. I bet my balls none of the ranters have done so!!!!!

    I haven’t seen it either but bits and pieces on the Net and it looks interesting. In Australia the health Nazis
    have boycotted any Cinema that dares to show it.
    What is in it that frightens the life out of Ranters.
    Aren’t we old enough to evaluate and judge for our selves what is factual and true.???
    Do we need actions close to the book burning of the Nazis to stop the public from viewing this film???
    SHAME on YOU!!!!

    • Macky says:

      Without getting into any argument re vaccination, there is more than enough mainstream evidence of Pharma companies criminally misbehaving (solid convictions and fines for off-label promotion and doctors’ kickbacks) alone, to hold reasonable suspicion that ANY vaccine or medication may be safe or not.

      Those that push science and statistics as prove of success of vaccination entirely miss the point that both science and statistics can be easily distorted e.g. test group selectivity, the withholding of crucial test data contrary to positive results etc etc

      While the pharma industry has its grips on its own testing (for one, a blatant conflict of interest) with multi-billion dollar profits at stake, human greed for money and power, and criminal behavior will continue to distort science, with questionable ‘studies’ that ‘prove’ that a certain med or vax is safe and beneficial.

      With so much at stake, one can hardly expect anything else in the decades of large corporate convictions for all sorts of misdemeanors, and the so-called sceptics that Skeptoid seems to be full of would do well to remember that unseemly fact.

  9. Tjimmy says:

    This site could use an button. The discussion is interesting and informative. Interruptions by those like Mackey and Bruno are minor interruptions, but distracting nonetheless. They add nothing but distraction from an informative discourse. Thank you to those with the patience to address the intellectual speed bump posters.

    • Macky says:

      Tjimmy sez
      “This site could use an button. The discussion is interesting and informative. Interruptions by those like Mackey and Bruno are minor interruptions, but distracting nonetheless. They add nothing but distraction from an informative discourse. Thank you to those with the patience to address the intellectual speed bump posters.”

      You mean this site is interesting and informative, as long as one pursues the status quo re “statistics-show” “science-proven” etc etc.

      No mention or discussion on the links I’ve posted as usual, by the “skeptics”, that clearly show that science has been distorted by corporate criminal activity, convictions and fines.

      The use of a button would be the final evidence that Skeptoid is censoring its posters comments, already in place with the deletion from the original site so that no visitor will ever be able to read any counter-points to Skeptoid’s Official Story/Status Quo support, even in the face of official evidence against said OS and SQ.

  10. Nate says:

    I just wanted to make sure i understand this correct because i’m just trying to get a full understanding of it. But technically speaking, an unvaccinated child is not a threat to vaccinated children but it is a threat to other unvaccinated children in the local community. Am i correct in this statment?

    • Noah Dillon says:

      Yes, as well as people with compromised immune systems, people who are too old to get vaccinated, people who just haven’t gotten vaccinated for whatever reason, and others.

  11. Paloma Velasquez says:

    From your own source so you’re wrong…

    In addition, ACIP recommends LAIV not be used for pregnant women, immunosuppressed persons, persons with egg allergy, and children aged 2-4 years who have asthma or who have had a wheezing episode noted in the medical record within the past 12 months, or for whom parents report that a health-care provider stated that they had wheezing or asthma within the last 12 months. LAIV should not be administered to persons who have taken influenza antiviral medications within the previous 48 hours. Persons who care for severely immunosuppressed persons who require a protective environment should not receive LAIV, or should avoid contact with such persons for 7 days after receipt.

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