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Why are Unvaccinated Kids a Threat if Vaccines Work?

Bizarre picture of white woman picking at her wrist accompanied by question: Why would my unvaccinated kids be a threat to your vaccinated kids, if you're so sure that vaccines work?This morning, a friend sent me the “electronic card” you see here on the right. On it, an odd image of a woman picking at her wrist is accompanied by the question, “Why would my unvaccinated kids be a threat to your vaccinated kids, if you’re so sure that vaccines work?”

My friend doesn’t want me to actually answer this question; she has been resolutely opposed to vaccines for years now and there’s little to nothing that would change her mind. Rather, she’s trying to change my mind with what’s supposed to be a rhetorical question. Oh dear, I am supposed to respond, why I just don’t know! But I’m not going to answer that way.  Instead, I’m going to treat the question as if it were a sincere one, hoping that there might be some other people out there who have heard the question themselves and who are sincerely interested in hearing how somebody might answer.

With that in mind, here are my answers.  I’m not a doctor or a biologist, so it wouldn’t be fair to interpret these answers as professional or perfect.  This is just what I’d say in conversation, which means I’m opening to hear your answers, further questions and other thoughts as well. There’s a comments section at the bottom of this post and I’d love it if you would use it to share what you have to say. All that said, here are my thoughts:

There’s a faulty assumption behind this “gotcha” question, one that becomes clear if we try to extend it to other kinds of risk:

What's the problem with me driving drunk all over town, if you're so sure that seat belts work? Why should I wash my hands after going to the bathroom, if you're so sure that washing your own hands works? Why are you worried about shooting off my pistol in the town square, if you're so sure that bulletproof vests hurt?

These questions are clearly absurd because the understanding of how solutions “work” in the questions is so limited. Seat belts and bulletproof vests and washing your own hands “work” because they reduce the risk of car injury, projectile injury, and infection, but nobody would claim that they protect people infallibly, all the time. A drunk driver can still hurt and kill people in a collision, even if those people are wearing seat belts. Some bullets can pierce bulletproof vests, and those vests don’t cover the whole body. No matter how carefully you wash your own hands, washing just isn’t going to remove every last germ.  Besides, you’re probably going to end up touching surfaces, food or drink in the world after you’ve washed, and if they’ve been touched by someone who doesn’t wash, you still can easily get infected.

These ways of protecting yourself aren’t perfect. Would we therefore say that washing one’s hands, or wearing a seat belt when on the road, or wearing a bulletproof vest in response to a shooter, is absurd and useless? Of course not.  Why? Because these acts significantly lower risk of harm. I also think most reasonable people would also agree it is unsafe to drive drunk, or to shoot a pistol in a town square, or to stop washing hands after using a bathroom. Why? Because these acts significantly increase the risk of harm.

The “why would my unvaccinated kids be a threat to your vaccinated kids, if you’re so sure that vaccines work?” question is similarly absurd because it assumes that “vaccines work” means “vaccines provide 100% protection all the time.”  That’s not how vaccines work.  Vaccines work by reducing risk of infection for most people.  But vaccines, like seat belts and bulletproof vests and washing hands, are not perfect.  A small but important minority of people, due to the variety of human immune systems, fail to become immunized after receiving a shot.  Vaccines “work” because they do immunize most people — just not everyone.  That’s one reason why some vaccinated kids are still at risk from unvaccinated children.

Another reason why some vaccinated kids are still at risk from unvaccinated children is that vaccines don’t always provide perfect protection. Sometimes the protection afforded by a vaccine is to help the body fight off an infection, and thereby to make the infection tend to be lest serious. But that’s still just a tendency.  Vaccines’ efficacy can wear off over time, too.  It doesn’t make being vaccinated a bad idea, because some protection is better than none.  But the result of these imperfections of vaccines is that vaccinated kids are threatened by unvaccinated children carrying viruses and spreading them around.

That yellow wrist-picking woman asking the rhetorical question assumes that “vaccinated kids” are the only people at risk of being injured by unvaccinated children.  People who are very young, very old, or with health conditions that sap their immune systems become vulnerable to infection when exposed to unvaccinated carriers of disease.  Often, such people are so vulnerable to exposure to germs that it’s not even safe to vaccinate them. These immuno-suppressed people are sadly the most likely to be killed when exposed to unvaccinated carriers of disease.

Finally, the typical kid comes in contact with hundreds of other people. Even if the risk of an unvaccinated kid spreading an infection to a particular other person is small, the risk of an unvaccinated kid spreading the germs they carry to someone they know will be much higher because over many contacts, the risks add up.  When you fail to vaccinate your kid, your kid may be fine.  But your decision may result in the ravaging or death of a vulnerable baby, senior citizen, AIDS patient or person with cancer.

If you care about other people, if you care about your community, and if you recognize that not all protections are perfect, it makes really good sense to vaccinate your kids.  If you fail to do so knowing the effects of your failure, you demonstrate a callous disregard for the welfare of others.  Leaving healthy children unvaccinated is not just a health disaster; it is a moral failure as well.

 

27 thoughts on “Why are Unvaccinated Kids a Threat if Vaccines Work?”

  1. Zoya says:

    May I use parts of this to answer the very same question a friend posted this morning? Hers had a picture of a dinosaur though. 🙂

    1. Jim Cook says:

      Sure.

  2. Dave says:

    A great article, Jim. I might have agreed with your friend on first impulse, but you state the case very well. I took the swine flu inoculation back in the seventies while battling mono, and 30 minutes later came down with it, eventually resulting in a blown heart valve. No surgery, just a long recovery, and a long memory of a bad experience with it. I still do wonder, though, if people who are vaccinated against a particular malady are still carriers of it, spreading it around the same as those who have not been vaccinated.

  3. Lydia says:

    One’s fears do not trump another’s Liberty. No one wants to be ill or spread illness, but we all have a Right to our own Liberty. If I choose not to insert foreign objects and God only knows what concoction into my body that is my Right.
    Your comparisons are way off. Driving under the influence most definitely puts others at risk. Shooting in a public square most definitely puts others at risk. Now, washing your hands may or may not put others at risk as with vaccines. That is why you use your Liberty and wash your own hands or receive a vaccination. To those who are vulnerable and fear illness, they must use their own Liberty to associate or not associate to control their risk. Not take away another’s Liberty.

    1. Jim Cook says:

      You are at liberty to refuse to vaccinate your kids in this country. You are also a massive asshole.

      1. Lydia says:

        An insult is not a way to support your views.You have the Liberty to do what you believe is best for you and your family. I hope you all live long and well.
        Vaccinations are not guaranteed to protect, I know of a seven months old infant that died from a vaccination.
        I use my Liberty to trust Christ whether vaccines are or are not taken.
        Proverbs 3:5,6
        Romans 8:28

        1. Jim Cook says:

          I’m not trying to change your mind, Lydia. I’m calling it as I see it. When people with your mindset refuse to vaccinate, people die needlessly. You’re free to do as you choose, but I am free to tell you that you are an ass.

          1. Jane says:

            Tell a mother who’s child became neurologically damaged by a vaccine and has to spend the rest of her days caring for that child like they’re a two year old that she’s an asshole for not continuing to vaccinate. You might consider some people have good reason for the decisions they make, it’s not stupidity.

      2. Larry says:

        You Jim are the asshole! Just because someone has a different view than yours doesn’t make them an asshole princess!

        1. J Clifford says:

          No, Larry. What makes someone an asshole is when they are so attached to an ideology that they are unwilling to consider relevant facts, even when people die as a result.

        2. Jim Cook says:

          “Asshole princess.” That sounds like a reality series, Larry. An asshole is someone who hurts other people. People who can vaccinate but don’t do it hurt other people. What assholes.

    2. Nex says:

      Comment about liberties… so you would take the “liberty” to not vaccinate and thus put your child, a person in their own right, at a greatly increased risk of dying or being permanantly injured/ ill from a preventable desiese. I see that as no different than handing them a pinaple frag.

      1. Lydia says:

        Vaccinations are not guaranteed to protect, I know of a seven months old infant that died from a vaccination.
        I use my Liberty to trust Christ whether vaccines are or are not taken.
        Proverbs 3:5,6
        Romans 8:28

        1. Carol says:

          Vaccines are also not guaranteed to kill. I am very sorry to hear about the 7 month old baby that died as a result of a vaccine. That is horrible and sad. It is also extremely rare. Your choice to not vaccinate does put others at risk though. It’s not just coming into direct contact with a (sick) unvaccinated person that can cause harm. Coming into contact with someone who previously came into contact with that person can spread the illness. Or your unvaccinated child could pick up the illness from another unvaccinated person. You put your child at risk to contract a life threatening disease, a greater risk than that of death by a vaccine. A tough choice to be sure. For me, the choice was clear. I vaccinated my kid for her health and the health of the planet. She survived just fine. She’s now 32 years old and still doing great!

        2. J says:

          Christ says: “for fuck’s sake, vaccinate your goddamn kids! Jeeezus…”

    3. Sumu says:

      Just like driving under influence put others at risk, not vaccinating does the same. It just doesn’t not seem as obvious as effects are not as immediate as an accident on the road. Just as vaccinations not washing your handsite could definitely harm others. Think about this; you are at a public place, you have the very contagious stomach flu, you don’t wash your hands after using the restroom. You go pull a chair to sit. Long after you have left, someone who is very careful to wash hands sit in that same chair. In order to sit they had to pull the chair out and doing so touch where you left your germs. Long story short nown that person and their whole family is sick. So you go around thinking you are not causing any harm, simply because you don’t witness the harm you do.
      You say ” To those who are vulnerable and fear illness, they must use their own Liberty to associate or not associate to control their risk. ” How do they know you or your family is not vaccinated? Then maybe you should inform any new contact with you or your family that you have practiced your liberty to not vaccinate so others can practice their liberty to put themselves at risk or not by association. Better yet, you should have something showing which inform the public of your choice of liberty, that way someone who is immunocompromised or a parent of a child who is too young to be vaccinated can decide from a distance.

      1. Lydia says:

        Even the vaccinated may still contract diseases. There is no guaranteed protection in receiving vaccinations. But you are welcome to receive them all you want.

        https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6406a5.htm?s_cid=mm6406a5_w

        http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/whos-risk-measles-maybe-think/

        Side note: Pediatricians receive several hundred $$ per child per visit when vaccines are given. During the first two years of life over 20 vaccinines may be given. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/downloads/child/0-18yrs-schedule.pdf

        1. Lydia says:

          Since you are using article to make your case, here is one in support of our case, btw, I had measles as a child, before vaccinated, (early 60s) it sucked. When I started school I was vaccinated, but due to the fact that nothing is guaranteed 100% and my parents were smart enough to realize this, they still kept me away from anyone with measles, mumps or chickenpox……….. http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2016/03/17/one-more-time-vaccine-refusal-endangers-everyone-not-just-the-unvaccinated/

    4. Oh dear says:

      My aunt was exposed to German measles whilst pregnant. As a result her daughter was born with “water on the brain” (as it was commonly called then) and died from it at the age of four. One persons “right to freedom” may very well become another persons death sentence. Religion has nothing to do with and is often diametrically opposed to science.

      1. Lydia says:

        I have a cousin who ended up with an eye condition, forget now what it was called, due to german measles as a child. People just don’t know. Also, my mom had a close friend, we called her Aunt Shirley, who polio, she had it from the age of 16 (she only had the use of one hand), this predated the polio vaccine, another awful disease wiped out due to vaccines…….well, as far as I know, there are still no cases of it.

  4. I Am A Science Lady says:

    Firstly, I’ve just discovered your blog, and I thought this post was a concise explainer for anyone looking to genuinely understand the case for vaccines. And now for my two cents’ worth:

    “If you care about other people, if you care about your community…..” well, that’s exactly it. People who decide not to vaccinate believe they are acting in their own self-interest, and don’t give a damn about other people or the health of the community. Sad / ironic thing is, they’re exposing themselves to a needless hazard, as well as compromising the safety of others.

    It’s very telling that in poorer countries, where disease is rife, vaccinations are welcomed and recognised for the huge number of lives they can save. But in richer countries, without the threat of death from preventable diseases, there is a significant minority whose privileged status leads them to think they know better than the medical and scientific communities.

    1. Lydia says:

      If I knew how to do it on here I would give you 2 thumbs up .

    2. Jane says:

      It’s a very known fact that vaccines shed, meaning that people who get vaccinated endanger people around them including older people, babies, people with weakened immune systems. It’s very possible that disease is also spread by vaccinated people who are shedding that disease they just got vaccinated for. Several years ago, my dad had an ER visit for a kidney stone, they noticed he needed booster shots and immunized him. One of the vaccines he received was pertussis. Several days later, our whole family got pertussis. All I can say is thank the Lord we didn’t have a young infant or otherwise that might have been killed by the shedding of that vaccine…we were all fully vaccinated…go figure. A recent outbreak of measles in the US documented that 63% of the patients were fully vaccinated. %63 as opposed to the %47 percent that wasn’t. Vaccines don’t offer lifetime immunity, whereas contacting the disease naturally does. That means any adult who forgets or doesn’t get their booster shots is at risk of spreading or contacting the disease. I don’t know of many adults who routinely get booster shots.

      ONe might also consider the myriad of other issues people get from vaccines(ever read a vaccine insert) that aren’t so very rare, such as Autism. Autism has gone from 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 50 these days. You tell me there isn’t something strange going on. Vaccines have their own risks that people need to research and decide which is the lesser of two evils. Just because a doctor says it’s safe, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have it’s risks.

  5. Rickie says:

    Just ran into the same situation and borrowed some of this very well written article to address it – it helped me remain way more neutral than I otherwise felt cause the meme is infuriatingly oversimplified and passive agressive. Thanks.

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  8. Freeyourmind says:

    What? I love how you confuse people by comparing vaccines to washing hands. Ridiculous. Why would you take a vaccine if “it doesn’t for sure clean your hands?”

    1. Lydia says:

      If you read the article you would know that he said those were absurd questions and used them to show the absurdity of the vaccine question. Don’t you just love people who comment without reading the entire article?

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