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Why 'Herd Immunity' Does Not Work

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

There is an article in the June issue of the journal Pediatrics, which looked at whether parental refusal of pertussis vaccination could be associated with increased risk of pertussis infection in those unimmunized children. The study was conducted between the years 1996 – 2007 and looked at case controlled studies which compared a child with documented pertussis (whooping cough) to 4 other randomly selected children who did not develop pertussis. This study is important as many parents believe that if they choose not to vaccinate their child, that their child is protected by herd immunity (in other words, by all of the rest of us that are immunized). In this case the study showed that 11% of all pertussis cases in this pediatric population were attributed to parental vaccine refusal.

This study is important for several reasons. It is one of the first to document that herd immunity does not seem to completely protect unvaccinated children from pertussis. Children of parents who refuse pertussis immunizations are at high risk for pertussis infection relative to vaccinated children. One would assume, but further studies need to be done, that similar results would be found if you looked at diseases like measles, or H. flu meningitis. Herd immunity is important to the general health and well being of all of us, but it is not 100% at any time and risk of disease is still there.

As we see increases in whooping cough in many communities across the country the need to educate parents about the importance of vaccines is paramount. Parents need to be protected too and we should all have a TdaP as an adult to provide pertussis protection for ourselves, as well as for those infants around us who are too young to be immunized.

With all of the recent anxiety surrounding Swine Flu (H1N1) and the possibility of epidemics, lets be pro active in protecting all of us from diseases that we can prevent with the current immunizations that are available.

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

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