Immunity

The Power of Herd Immunity

The state of California is currently debating legislation that will require all children to be vaccinated. Senate bill 277 will ensure that 10 childhood diseases will be prevented as the law will direct that vaccines for these diseases must be administered prior to admission to kindergarten or any daycare setting. Under this proposed law, only medical exemptions will be allowed to circumvent mandatory vaccination.

Vaccine exemptions exist in many forms and vary from state to state as to which are legal and how they are granted. One major type is that of a personal exemption. These exemptions are based on the belief that vaccines do more harm that good or that calling for mandatory vaccination is an infringement on personal liberty, that no government entity has the right to mandate vaccination. Personal exemptions however greatly undermine the power of medical exemptions which are important for those who cannot be vaccinated due to documented medical conditions. Religious exemptions are granted when vaccination policies are at odds with a person’s religious beliefs. Of the exemptions I have just briefly described, religious and medical exemptions appear to be the most reasonable to grant as the practice of one’s religion is a right granted by the constitution while medical as I mentioned is stating that the vaccine could be harmful to an individual’s health due to a preexisting medical condition.

No matter which of the three exemptions are granted, vaccination is still very important. Establishment of herd immunity and maintaining a high percentage of vaccinated individuals within a population reduces the incidence of disease within a population. How? I will use a very simplistic example with ten people (we know that this is an inappropriate sample size, but this is to illustrate the point).

Scenario 1: Of the ten people in this population, only 1 is vaccinated (10% vaccination rate), 1 person is infected (10% infection rate) and the remaining eight people are not vaccinated. Thus, we have 80% of this example population that is susceptible to disease and with a low vaccination rate, infection is rapid among the non-vaccinated.

Scenario 2: Vaccination rate increases to 50% (5 vaccinated individuals), only one infected individual and four non-vaccinated. Here, susceptibility has been halved from scenario 1 (40%) but it is still not enough to keep infection from passing readily through this population.

Maximum protection of the population (vaccinated as well as the non-vaccinated), we need the vaccination rate to be at 90% or higher and only 10% of the population is susceptible to infection. Looking at that, 10% may still be too high of a susceptibility rate but what this number really means is that the chances of infection are greatly lowered and can really be better defined as sporadic. This is due to the high percentage of the population that acts essentially to buffer the effects of the infection among the population.

In a perfect world, 100% of the population would be vaccinated, thus no one would suffer from disease. A rate of 90% is acceptable, although with the current state of vaccination in the U.S., this number has dwindled, placing us in a very dire state. If not for yourself. vaccinate for the good of all. Our fortunes against infectious disease rise and fall with every action we take or every opportunity we squander.

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Protect yourself, protect others during this flu season

Lately I have moments where I ask myself why am I still on Facebook. It was so much better in college, now it has lost it’s luster and fun. But I remind myself that the major reason I hang on is to keep in touch with friends and most importantly family. It was family that prompted me to write this blog entry as you can learn and get so much from a Facebook status. As I scrolled my timeline yesterday, one of my cousins stated that she was sick but she was going to press on to church. Hmmmm…now don’t take this the wrong way as I do not want to make this a blog entry about going to church. Nor do I want to pick on church but I want to talk about going places like church when we are sick and in the midst of a horrific flu season. I understand the need and the desire to attend church weekly as we are taught. However,  I have always been very uncomfortable sitting in a service in the middle of winter with multiple people within earshot and far away coughing as if a lung is going to pop out and/or sneezing into tissues, sleeves or their hands. I know if I am sick, honestly the last thing I am thinking about is going anywhere but most especially I would not want to expose any mass gathering of people to my germs. 

I cannot think of any minister, pastor or bishop who would tell you to not come to church under any circumstances. These folks are constantly encouraging you to come in, take your seat and worship. When you enter, you should feel that you are entering not only a sacred space, but a stress-free space where the worries of the day and the week past and coming can melt away. But then the coughing starts behind you, the sneezes start next to you and your stress level increases. As your stress level increases, your immunity drops and leaves you more susceptible to getting sick. No one wants you to NOT come to church, but when you are sick I think the man upstairs will truly understands if you sit one out in order to not only get yourself well but to also reduce the chance to getting others (the very young, the elderly and everyone in between) sick with your germs. That’s right, the population that you encounter in church, on your job and in other public places vary and many like the elderly and the young have immune systems that may not be as vigorous and robust enough to shake off exposure to cold and flu viruses. Or think about this another way if you go to church sick: If you were healthy, how would you feel if you were near someone who had the potential to make you sick from a cough, a sneeze, a handshake or touching a surface that may have germs on them? Not a good feeling thinking about it that way is it?

Many denominations have been very proactive in speaking to their member churches and providing guidance on gently encouraging parishioners to not attend services when sick, reducing contact among members during services and in some cases modifying communion protocols to reduce germ spread. Many of these items are common sense but because of our commitment to attending services, it unfortunately has to be said in order to show the importance keeping the chances of spreading disease to an absolute minimum. I ask you to heed these recommendations if they have been shared in your church community. If they have not been, use sound judgement and don’t go to church when you are very sick. Remember, if you don’t want someone to make you sick, why would you do that to someone else?