I am going to lay out a scenario here. You may or may not agree with this scenario. You may or may not have experienced this scenario. However, I chose this one because it illustrates a point I want to make about herd immunity and why and how the science around herd immunity is so controversial.
After thinking it over for a long time and stewing and waiting and weighing their friendship a parent finally decides to tell a friend that they have some doubts about the mainstream medical narrative. They may start by mentioning something offhandedly about toxins or certain procedures not making any sense. Eventually, and slowly, their friend starts to get the picture that this parent’s beliefs about health are a little “alternative.”
Sometimes this goes over smoothly, but most of the time, it does not. All of a sudden there’s a text message telling them that their kids are not allowed over anymore. This message may be the “nice” kind where her friend tells her something like, “I feel so bad about this” and “I still think you’re a really great parent but…” or this may be the blatantly rude kind where they are suddenly labeled as “selfish” or a “freeloader” or “I can’t believe you could do this to your child! You’re a baby-killer!” Whichever it is, it isn’t a pretty sight. They take a deep breath and let it out as they roll their eyes. “There goes another friend,” they think scolding themselves that they decided to trust that person in the first place.
Let’s take a step back. Why do exchanges like this one happen? Depending on how you feel about herd immunity at this point you may have very different feelings than the person in this scenario. I think it’s important to acknowledge that stories like these do happen regardless of “what side you’re on.” Personally, I am not on a “side” I am here to talk about what the research says. Not what people tell you or think on either side.
And what I can tell you, from really analyzing the data, is that herd immunity, at least in the sense of feeling that exclusion based on vaccine status, is an illusion.
How can that possibly be?! It’s so widely accepted and talked about. What do you mean?
I want to address two major things here. One, how dare I call herd immunity an “illusion” and two, “how do I talk to someone about this without getting skewered in the first five seconds?”
Part One- How dare I call herd immunity an illusion?
First, let’s fully establish what herd immunity is. Herd immunity is the idea that if enough people have gotten an infection or have been vaccinated for an infection, then, outbreaks of that infection will stop and the vulnerable, (like the very young or the very old), are protected.
It is very important to establish that there are two types of herd immunity. Natural herd immunity that comes when 55% or more (this rate can vary according to the specific infection), of the population, gets the actual infection and therefore everyone else is protected; and vaccinated herd immunity which requires a certain percentage, at this point, we are up to 95% at LEAST, of the population to be vaccinated to stop the infection from spreading and provide protection.
Besides the ones I am about to reveal, there are a few very large flaws in our current ideology about herd immunity which I will explain in a later post. (Spoiler: according to the medical literature the concept of herd immunity was never meant to stop the spread of the infection entirely, only to stop epidemics. And it gets better, just wait for it!)
So, let’s get on with the show! Here are the reasons that herd immunity is an illusion and should NOT be used as a discriminatory excuse not to let your kids play with any other kids regardless of their vaccine status:
1) According to the CDC, you and your children are around unvaccinated people all the time without knowing it. Most of them adults.
Vaccine immunity wanes over time, this is the reason that we get boosters and multiple shots. Here is one government resource showing how long immunity from vaccines may last. Most of the time it is between 2 and 10 years, some vaccines may last longer up to 20 years. Here is a small sample:
There are many discrepancies about how long vaccines last between countries. I chose this one because it shows the longest amount of protection.
This introduces a problem. If not enough people get vaccinated then all their “immunity” will wear off. This problem is manifest in the fact that very few adults have kept up with their shots and most of their immunity has waned. Here is a chart from the CDC showing this very problem:
And here is the link to that chart so you can read the full report if you would like.
As you can see, most vaccine uptake is under 50%. This means that most adults’ immunity has worn off. So, if we do some simple math we can make an assumptive guess about how many people actually have immunity.
If we assume that all children under 18 are vaccinated at a rate of 100%, which they are not, and that all adults are vaccinated with all vaccines at a rate of 60%, (which they are not according to the CDC chart most are probably much lower), then we multiply that by their respective population percentages in the US, 24% for children and 76% for adults, respectively, we should get a fairly accurate rate of vaccine status.
(24%*100%) + (76%*60%) = 69.6%
It will obviously be lower than that as I have rounded up in each category. However, this is enough to show us two things: first, about 30-40% of the people you interact with each day are for all intents and purposes “unvaccinated” as they have no immunity. Secondly, the concept of vaccine-induced herd immunity is incredibly flawed, to say the least.
The other problem is that pre-1990s there were only 3 vaccines routinely given to children: DTP, MMR, and Polio. So, many people born before that marker never got all of the shots that we now vaccinate for. Actually, pre-1990s less than 64% of children received their shots at all. It was not until the mid-1990s that vaccination rates began to get into the 90%+ uptake status they have today. Here is the data straight from the CDC on this:
This link will give you the raw data for this graph from the CDC.
So, looking at this data many people in their mid to late 30s and upward may not be vaccinated at all. Where are all the outbreaks of polio and diptheria and tetanus that supposedly would happen if not enough people were vaccinated? (Obviously, the last two are from a toxin, but why are people not getting it and dying from it all over the place as they used to in 1912?) What about meningococcal? Rubella? Rotavirus? Where are all those outbreaks?
We do have small outbreaks of pertussis, measles, and even occasionally mumps. And when we do have these outbreaks it’s usually those who have previously vaccinated that catch these diseases. Why? If vaccines are effective, then shouldn’t it only be unvaccinated people who can catch them? However, many of the outbreaks show that those who are vaccinated are just as vulnerable and even more likely to catch it than others. Here is the abstract from a study showing one example:
There are many other studies exactly like this one on the same page if you would like to review them. In fact, almost all outbreaks show these same results.
In this scenario, 68 kids, 67 of which were previously vaccinated with MMR were able to catch the mumps. Statistically, that should NOT be able to happen. We know that when people are vaccinated it does not always stick. Most vaccines have a supposed 85%-99% effective rate. The MMR is supposed to be 98.9% effective. So, statistically, this many children who have been vaccinated with MMR should NOT be able to get the mumps, one or two might make sense, but 67? If the MMR vaccine is truly 98.9% effective, the chances of that are pretty close to zero.
You can also look at it this way, if you need 95%+ people to be vaccinated to stop the spread of the infection and that 95% constitutes herd immunity, then this should have never happened. As the above abstract states: 98% of students had been vaccinated. That is above the 95% threshold. Shouldn’t this school have been protected by the herd? Even if there were one or two unvaccinated kids, according to the concept of herd immunity shouldn’t the one kid who wasn’t vaccinated not have been able to spread it or get it in the first place?
Anyway, I digress, as I said before there will be an entire FAQ and more blog post dedicated to this topic. Let’s keep rolling.
The point of all this is: Logically, since there are more unvaccinated adults than unvaccinated children (approximately 1.5% of the population vs. 30% of the population) it is much more likely that the outbreaks that we do experience are caused by adults and those whose immunity has waned than one or two unvaccinated children. It is also logical to assume that it is extremely unlikely that your child being around an unvaccinated child is going to give them one of these infections. They are around unvaccinated people every time you walk out the door, why is playing with one child who has been labeled “unvaccinated” any more dangerous?
2) You cannot give what you do not have.
Even if unvaccinated kids are around your children they cannot give your child what they do not have. Just because someone is unvaccinated does not mean that all of a sudden they are secretly crawling with disease and carrying around measles ready to infect anyone they meet. They have to actually have measles or mumps or rubella or pertussis to give these infections to others.
In my experience, most parents of children who are unvaccinated are extremely careful and properly quarantine their children. They are more aware than the average mom about being respectful of others and not passing infections. They often will ask for permission if there’s even a little sniffle and they would never bring their kids out in public when they have a fever or any other indicators of being contagious.
Regardless, the bottom line is unless a child is actually sick, they cannot pass that sickness on to others.
3) It is very possible for kids who are vaccinated to give others the disease they have been vaccinated for (weakening herd immunity in the process).
As stated on this package insert straight from the manufacturer, after being vaccinated, especially with live virus vaccines, it is possible, for a matter of time, 6 weeks or more, for those who are vaccinated to spread the disease they were just vaccinated for.
Here is a quote from one package insert (ProQuad, MMRV) from the manufacturer:
“5.6 Risk of Vaccine Virus Transmission”
“Post-licensing experience suggests that transmission of varicella vaccine virus resulting in varicella infection including disseminated disease may occur between vaccine recipients and contacts susceptible to varicella including healthy as well as high-risk individuals…Vaccine recipients should attempt to avoid to the extent possible, close association with high-risk individuals susceptible to varicella for up to 6 weeks.”
Here is the actual insert so you can read it yourself.
This is not limited to varicella either. Here is a case study showing the transmission of measles after vaccination. Here is another. These are both in pubmed.gov. Here is one for rotavirus. Here is one for the flu. HepA is here.
This concept as a whole is called horizontal transmission or referred to as “shedding” and though little talked about, widely known among vaccinologists.
As you can see each of my sources if from the NIH, Pubmed.gov, HHS, WHO or the CDC.
Why aren’t we telling parents this when their kids get vaccinated to protect others who may be vulnerable to them shedding? In short, unvaccinated children are just as vulnerable to catching these diseases from a vaccinated child in that month and a half span after vaccination.
However, unlike when your child has a natural infection, it will not be apparent to those parents of vaccinated children that their child may be passing the infection. They will be asymptomatic in most cases and so you will neither be aware nor try to keep your children home. Parents are not asking you to tell them every time that your child is vaccinated. Isn’t there a little bit of a double standard?
4) We only vaccinate for a few diseases out of thousands.
Especially in this season, any child could have a number of common diseases, such as RSV, Croupe, or foot-in-mouth disease. These are readily passed between children all the time. However, you are not afraid of an unvaccinated child suddenly passing Croupe or RSV and you’re not keeping all your friends away just in case they have one of those when they are perfectly healthy. Those infections are more prevalent than measles or any disease that we vaccinate for. Even though the death rates of those diseases are in most cases, higher than measles, mumps, or rubella. And I am talking about pre-vaccine death rates here when it was supposedly so much “worse.”
This chart is from historical data by the surgeon general and the CDC. It and the death rate of measles (.01%, for reference the flu’s death rate is .13%-.3%) can be found here.
I specifically mention the measles here because it seems to be the infection people are the most afraid of because they hear it mentioned often. (So much to say on measles scare tactics, but, it will have to wait until a future post.)
In conclusion, when you look at the data in full the idea that we need to maintain herd immunity and therefore should not let our kids play with unvaccinated kids is a complete illusion.
You let your kids go to community centers and churches and sports events and stores and all sorts of places with people who are unvaccinated. Many of them have probably held your child, or you. They have hugged you, you may have shared food and drinks with them, they may have given you gifts or been your best friend. But, you are not afraid. And you don’t NEED to be afraid. Not of unvaccinated kids or vaccinated kids or any kind of kids. You don’t need to be discriminatory in the name of “safety.” What you need is to be your authentic self and to let them be theirs and stop drawing lines in the sand. It is not really helping anyone.
Now, how do you address this with someone without making them angry? How do you have this kind of conversation? Let’s find out in our next post.