The Real Reason to Vaccinate: It’s About Community

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate? Let’s explore one reason to vaccinate that we aren’t talking about nearly enough.

Vaccines have become incredibly controversial as more and more parents are opting to skip or delay vaccinations and we are seeing measles outbreaks here in the U.S. for the first time in 15 years.

The anti-vax movement began when Dr. Andrew Wakefield falsified research published in British medical journal The Lancet. His study, he claimed, showed that the MMR vaccine caused autism. The journal retracted the study in 2010, and Wakefield lost his license. Despite the retraction, Wakefield’s research caused many parents to look more closely at vaccines, their potential side effects, and whether they’re worth the risk.

Vaccines do have potential side effects, though autism is not one of them. Some kids develop a high fever or may even break out in a measles-like rash after a vaccination. And some of the diseases we vaccinate against – like measles – aren’t always that bad when healthy kids contract them (maybe).

In the TED Talk above, health researcher Romina Libster talks about the real reason vaccines are important: herd immunity. We’re not necessarily getting vaccinated to protect our own kids from measles or mumps. We vaccinate because we live in a community, and herd immunity protects people with weak immune systems — like the one-month-old named Sol she describes in her introduction — from potentially deadly diseases.

The story Libster shares of Sol, who died of whooping cough, hit particularly close to home for me. When my own son was born two years ago, there was a whooping cough outbreak here in Georgia. Newborns are too young to get the whooping cough vaccine, and even a year or two ago we would have been able to rely on herd immunity to protect our baby. But because so many Atlanta parents aren’t vaccinating, my child was at risk. Every little cough was scary for us.

Libster’s talk reminded me of a piece that I read recently from Sayward Rebhal about why she chose to vaccinate her children. As a self-described “hippie at heart,” she didn’t want to vaccinate just because that’s what people do. As a scientist, she wanted to dig in, weigh the pros and cons, and decide what was best for her family. She and her husband debated this thing for ages.

I highly recommend reading her whole piece, because it’s a very unique perspective on the vaccine debate. This excerpt sort of sums up where all of that debate landed them:

“…as a parent, Iím not *just* responsible for protecting my childís physical safety. No, Iím also responsible for molding him into the man that he will some day become, and thus the way that he will move through the world forevermore. And so I asked myself, what kind of man do I want to teach him to become?

Do I want to teach him, ‘Me! Me! Me, at the expense of those around me!’

Or do I want to teach him, ‘I am in community. I am part of something that is bigger than myself, and I have a responsibility to respect and protect my fellow beings.’

And that, ultimately, is how I made my decision. I chose to walk my talk. I chose community.”

The Real Reason to Vaccinate: It's About Community

As a hippie at heart myself, this idea really speaks to me. Vaccinating protects more than just our own families. It protects people who don’t have the choice to vaccinate. By taking a small risk, we’re supporting public health and preventing debilitating and sometimes deadly diseases.

Libster explains it another way in her TED Talk: “Many people in the community depend almost exclusively on this herd immunity to be protected against disease. The unvaccinated people you see in infographics are not just hypothetical. Those people are our nieces and nephews, our children, who may be too young to receive their first shots. They are our parents, our siblings, our acquaintances, who may have a disease or take medication that lowers their defenses. There are also people who are allergic to a particular vaccine. They could even be among us, any of us who got vaccinated, but the vaccine didn’t produce the expected effect, because not all vaccines are 100 percent effective. All these people depend almost exclusively on herd immunity to be protected against diseases.”

It’s on the rest of us to protect our community by getting vaccinated and vaccinating our children, if we can.

She also brings up a great point about side effects in her talk. We take all kinds of medicine when we are sick: medicine that has potential side effects. Antibiotics can have all sorts of side effects, for example, but if your child had strep throat, would you hesitate to give him life-saving medication? This disconnect between treating illness and administering preventive medicine is something we need to talk about more in the vaccine debate.

Libster calls vaccination “an act of individual responsibility” with “a huge collective impact.” I think that this really nails it. What do you think?


John Farnham
John Farnhamabout a year ago

When criticizing vaccination technique is cause for lampooning as being 'anti-vax', then jumping on the bandwagon of a ridiculously permissive public policy targeting infant immune systems is the only position not generating denigration. What is the position of immunologists on the idea of 'herd immunity' where unvaccinated are protected from vaccinated conditions that should theoretically protect the vaccinated. In other words, "What are the Outcomes ?." Silence. Why Does This Immunologist Reject Vaccinations? It's an interesting article - which supposes the author's judgement is superior to the expert. I'll remember that the next time a 'peer review' proposition comes up.

Darlene Buckingham

That does not mean that allergies are not triggered by vaccines. It is a bite that pierces the skin exactly like a vaccine that causes the allergies.
"Why would someone think they're allergic to meat when they've been eating it their whole life?" Dr. Erin McGintee told CBS News. She's an allergist who has reportedly seen 200 cases of this type of red meat allergy among people on New York's Long Island.
Lone Star ticks carry a sugar called alpha-gal, which is also found in red meat, but not in people. Normally, alpha-gal in meat poses no problems for people. But when a Lone Star tick bites a person, it transfers alpha-gal into the bloodstream.
As a result, the person's body produces antibodies to fight the sugar. The next time that person eats red meat, their immune system responds to the alpha-gal in the meat and they suffer an allergic reaction that can include itching, burning, hives and even throat swelling, CBS News reported."
Note that the tick bite transfers a substance into the blood that was not there before - like a vaccine injects gelatine into the person and can cause allergies.

Frank Hanline
Frank Hanline4 years ago

On another board, a very prolific and outspoken member of the anti-vax league heere admitted that one does not need to be exposed to the actual food to become allergic to it

There is a tick that spreads a disease that can make you allergic to meat

The Lone Star Tick spreads that illness. No meat needed to become allergic to meat

Darlene Buckingham

Heidi: The only way vaccines are reported now is by self-reporting to VAERS because it is not possible to hold vaccine companies accountable by suing them in court. Vaccines manufactures cannot be held accountable. It would be a much better system if the medical community was involved in reporting vaccine injury rather than leaving it to parents and the vaccine injury board to determine harm from vaccines. Many people are also advocating for a better system to deal with vaccine adverse effects.

Heidi Werbrouck
Heidi W4 years ago


If there were so many (self) reported cases, then why didn't anyone bother to examing the production hall where the vaccine was manufactered?

Platelet count of 135000 is considered as normal, only worrysome when below 35000

Darlene Buckingham

"Why has it been decided that we blanket vaccinate newborns for hepatitis B? The poorer population, which tends to have the virus, was not bringing their children in for follow-up vaccination. So they decided to hit the entire population. In other words, for a few they target all. That hardly seems necessary to me.

We understand we risk offending people. We do not judge you for the vaccine decisions you make for your child. We vaccinated Ian and in the future we will make the best decision for Vance and Everett based on our research and our children’s medical history."

Darlene Buckingham

"To start, we want to be VERY CLEAR that we are NOT AGAINST VACCINES. We are for SAFER USE of vaccines.

We hear so much about the good in vaccines from our doctors, friends and other parents. There is good in vaccines, but there is also another side. We want to share the side that Scott and I saw; the side that caused Ian’s death. Knowing both sides of the story may help you make better, more informed decisions.

Consider this: Hepatitis B is not airborne. It is contracted through sex, use of drug needles and blood transfusions. Unless you or your baby is involved in any of these, vaccination is not necessary for your child.

Further, the hepatitis B vaccine is made of baker’s yeast. It is the only man made vaccine. The rest are made from the disease itself. Across the board, parenting books tell us yeast is one of the things to avoid for youngsters because of its high allergic reaction rate in children. Thus, the vaccine they give your child contains a known allergen. Children who are allergic to yeast may have a reaction. How do you know if your newborn is allergic to yeast? You don’t. It’s a gamble. You decide: Does the benefit outweigh the risk?

Why has it been decided that we blanket vaccinate newborns for hepatitis B? The poorer population, which tends to have the virus, was not bringing their children in for follow-up vaccination. So they decided to hit the entire population. In other words, for a few they target all. That hardly seems nec

Darlene Buckingham

"Ian passed away in August 2007. In October of that year, Scott and I asked Ian’s neonatologist at Children’s Hospital to write the federal government to see if there were any cases similar to Ian’s. In January 2008, much to the astonishment of Ian’s neonatologist and the entire Neonatology Board at Children’s Hospital, a CD from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) arrived indicating that there were “several” (which means hundreds) reported cases exactly like Ian’s; cases in which infants became ill within 24 hours of receiving the hepatitis B shot and then passed away. These are just the self-reported cases. What about those cases that have gone unreported?

Fact: After receiving the hepatitis B shot these symptoms appeared within hours: Platelet count dropped from 248,000 to 131,000, a rash appeared, seizure-like posturing noted, irritable, non-stop crying, stopped eating, and viral-like symptoms."

I will again say this family that lost Ian are not anti-vax - they want safer vaccines and safer vaccine schedules.

Vinu Arumugham
Vinu Arumugham4 years ago


"What did all these children die of?"

Easy. Unsafe vaccines. If vaccines were safe, most of them would have been vaccinated.

Vinu Arumugham
Vinu Arumugham4 years ago

"The same things in pollution and GMOs are in Vaccines?"

I wrote Cervarix and Flublok were made with GM virus. That's plain English. Do I have to repeat that?