Immunization: Protection for Your Child, Protection for Your Community
By Dan Stoll
Most parents know that immunizations are a great way to protect their children from vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, pertussis, and many others. But did you know that immunizing your kids also contributes to your community?
The reason is through something called herd immunity, or community immunity. Simply put, if a high enough proportion of the people in a community are immune to a particular disease, the disease dies out in that community because it can’t find enough susceptible hosts to keep itself going. If a disease dies out in a community, even people who are susceptible to that disease probably won’t get it because they won’t come in contact with it. Who are the people who are susceptible to vaccine-preventable diseases? They include kids too young to get a particular vaccine, kids with medical reasons for why they can’t be vaccinated, the rare kids in whom the vaccine didn’t work well enough, and finally, kids whose parents chose not to have them vaccinated.
The proportion of the community that needs to be immune in order for herd immunity to take hold is a little different for each disease, but averages about 90%. Our rates in Colorado for most diseases are lower than that, which is why these diseases either do circulate here, or would circulate if they were introduced. There are even some pockets or “hot spots” where vaccination rates are far below 90%; these areas are especially vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases and could spark an outbreak. High vaccination rates help everyone, as they help prevent diseases from circulating among susceptible kids. Fortunately, a new Colorado law, House Bill 14-1288 (effective July 1, 2014), gives anyone the right to call a school or licensed child care center and get information about that facility’s immunization rates. I suggest you ask your child’s facility, as the results could surprise you!
As both a parent of a young child and as someone soon to become a doctor, I don’t want any kids to get needlessly sick. I believe that all parents want the best for their children, and most want to contribute to their communities as well. Isn’t it great that immunization, the same thing you do to protect your own child, also helps protect others in your community? Colorado law continues to allow parents to opt out of vaccinations based on any personal belief, but I think you can make a better choice.
Protect your kids, protect your community, immunize.
Dan Stoll is a medical student at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. In May he expects to graduate as an MD and to begin a residency in family medicine. Before entering medicine, he had a career in finance. He lives in Lakewood, Colorado with his wife Jennifer and their eight month old son.