Community Service: Your vaccination protects more than just you

Your vaccination will prevent you from getting sick from the diseases you inoculate against. Less well known is that it will also prevent others from getting sick. An interesting report in the online medical journal STAT tells us that this protection of others happens through something called herd immunity and, separately, by indirectly decreasing the number of those nasty “superbugs” we create, thereby lessening the number of drug-resistant infections they cause.

Herd immunity, also called community immunity, is the idea that if you immunize enough people in a given population, then even those who aren’t vaccinated are less likely to get sick. That’s because they’re less likely to come into contact with someone who is infected – because they’ve been immunized. The following chart nicely illustrates this. Notice that the more people who are immunized the better it works.

 

Herd Imm.

 

Also, if we want to get rid of superbugs then we need to stop doing what creates them – overusing and misusing antibiotics: Nobody wants to die including bugs, so as we needlessly and relentlessly assault them with antibiotics they fight back by evolving mechanisms, “body armor” if you will, that renders these indispensable drugs obsolete.

Fortunately, immunization can help remedy this chronic overuse problem in 3 ways:

First, there are vaccines for bacterial diseases such as pneumococcal infections, bacterial meningitis, or pneumonia. Thus, through immunization that prevents these bacterial infections from arising in the first place, you eliminate the need to use antibiotics.

Second, by preventing influenza and other viral infections through immunization you eliminate the need for antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections that often follow virus-caused respiratory illnesses.

Finally, immunization “immunizes” us from our own folly. Antibiotics only work against bacteria, not viruses. Yet we insist on using antibiotics on viral-based flu-like conditions in about 80% of those cases – a harmful, huge, and needless waste of a precious resource. Thus, if we vaccinate against these viral diseases in the first place, there will be no viral infections to (mis)treat with an antibiotic.

 

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