This is a manifestation of what I call the “Truther” syndrome – that malady that causes somebody with incomplete (or non-existent) knowledge of a topic to assume that they are nevertheless an expert, and that they are capable of making pronouncements on the topic that are every bit as relevant as those of bona fide experts. Whenever a person says “Jet fuel can’t melt steel beams”, or “Astronauts cannot survive passing through the Van Allen radiation belts,” or “Unvaccinated children don’t pose a threat to vaccinated children”, he or she is exhibiting symptoms of “Truther” syndrome. Unfortunately, there seems to be no cure for this puzzling ailment, or more precisely, the twin treatments that might be successful – rigorous study and critical thought – are often rejected by the patient.
For those who already recognize the insipid stupidity of this meme, let’s give you a booster shot. Vaccines, as you know, are injections filled with weakened or dead pathogens. The idea is simple: your body mounts an immune response to the non-threatening germs, which it then “remembers” for future use. If you ever do encounter a live version of the bug in question, your body has a ready-made defensive line already in place. In theory, your body can defeat the invaders before you ever get sick.
Not every disease has a vaccine, of course – as of now, there still isn’t a vaccine for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), cytomegalovirus (CMV), dengue fever, or malaria, to name just a few of the more serious afflictions that may befall a human being. And of course, those vaccines that do exist have varying levels of effectiveness. Generally speaking, vaccines successfully immunize their recipient between 95 and 99 percent of the time; in other words, for every 100 people that receive a particular vaccine, 95 to 99 will be protected from that disease should they ever be exposed to the germ that causes it.
But that still leaves 1 to 5 people who aren’t protected by vaccines. For various reasons, vaccines simply don’t take for some people. Those people for whom a certain vaccine is not effective – or who are too young to receive the vaccine – or who are allergic to ingredients used in the vaccine – or whom haven’t been vaccinated long enough to reap the full benefits of the vaccine – rely on herd immunity to protect them.
People are social animals who tend to live in big germ-swapping groups. If a lot of people in a population are immune to a disease, that prevents the disease from establishing a toehold in the community. In other words, the vaccinated members of a community provide a wall for the unvaccinated; however, there must be a sufficiently large number of vaccinated people to prevent the disease from spreading. The more infectious the disease, the more vaccinated people are needed to establish herd immunity. For a disease like measles, herd immunity requires that about 95% of a population be vaccinated.
Vaccines do work most of the time. They are certainly right up there with hand-washing as a means of preventing the spread of disease. In the few instances where they don’t work, however, a person needs to be surrounded by others who can shield him or her. To refuse to vaccinate yourself and your children based on groundless fears amounts to anti-social behavior. Your “Truther” syndrome, against which you failed to vaccinate yourself by learning to think critically, will result in physical maladies and possibly even death for other people. There is no sense in anybody dying from a preventable disease, but that is exactly what anti-vaxxer attitudes have led to.