Who Do Vaccines Really Protect?

If someone told you that eating an apple a day would prevent you from dying, ceteris paribus, you would eat the apple. So if there are vaccines that prevent you from getting sick, why don’t people get immunized?

When I was younger I thought everyone was vaccinated. You go to the doctor and the doctor gives you shots and then you don’t get sick. It seemed so simple. There is so much to learn from the innocence of young children, they see things as being right or wrong. In this case choosing vaccination is right.

Maybe you think that you’re above vaccines. Maybe it’s the paper that Andrew Wakefield wrote saying that vaccines cause autism. Maybe it’s the idea that these diseases are rare. Maybe it’s the thought that the big pharmaceutical companies are trying to scam you. Or maybe it’s accessibility, the time, the effort required to get vaccinated. All of these are reasons that should be recognized but just as much they should be contested.

How many of your family and friends have gotten polio, measles, or smallpox lately? Most likely none as these diseases have been eradicated in most of the world. Historically these diseases were dangerous and they still are but with a reduced risk. Thanks to vaccines.

Outbreaks of any abolished disease in the United States have typically occurred due to someone bringing it back from another country. For example the measles outbreak in San Diego, California. It occurred in 2008 after an unvaccinated 7 year- old boy brought it back from his trip to Switzerland. Measles is a highly contagious disease and according to the CDC vaccination rates over 90% are required to “interrupt transmission and maintain elimination in populations.” It’s airborne which means the disease lingered for at least two hours in any area the little boy went, increasing the chance of transmission. Since nobody knew he was sick at first, he spread the disease around. He got his siblings, kids from school, and children who visited the pediatrician’s office after he did sick. There were 8 first generation and 3 second generation cases, all 11 were not vaccinated. Vaccines are important in keeping these diseases eradicated and we need to continue to try and get them eradicated in less developed areas. The only reason these diseases aren’t coming back and are theoretically rare is due to vaccines. You can’t afford to think that “these diseases are rare, I won’t get sick, what’s the point of getting immunized if I won’t get sick?” You need to be careful.

There’s an increasing number of people deciding against vaccinating their children and it’s not doing any good. It makes me wonder if they realize who they are endangering. In getting vaccinated you protect yourself as well as the others around you.

Think of the power of community immunity. Community immunity according to the CDC is “A situation in which a sufficient proportion of a population is immune to an infectious disease (through vaccination and/or prior illness) to make its spread from person to person unlikely. Even individuals not vaccinated (such as newborns and those with chronic illnesses) are offered some protection because the disease has little opportunity to spread within the community. Also known as herd immunity.” This is crucial. You getting vaccinated helps protect the ones who can’t, the ones who are too young or physically can’t get vaccinated. The more people who are vaccinated increases the percentage of the protected population protecting the ones who can’t. We need the ones physically able to vaccinate, choosing not to vaccinate, to do so to achieve these high rates required to protect the others.

Times have changed. You would assume that vaccination has changed a lot since the 1800’s but in reality some people are clinging to historical hierarchies contributing an increasing problem. Some of the privileged have developed a thought, thinking that they are “above” getting immunized, or don’t want to be associated with doing the same things as people they consider “lower than them. They decide not to vaccinate or find ways to do it differently than the “standard” way. The thought of the privileged in the past was that lower-class people were “dirty” and had to become immunized so that they wouldn’t get sick, and therefore not get the privileged sick. They would force them to be vaccinated and if they refused they would face fines or even jail. Eula Biss says “This radical inversion of the historical approach to vaccination, which was once a form of bodily servitude extracted from the poor for the benefit of the privileged.” (Biss 2) Obviously the upper classes aren’t forcing people to vaccinate themselves anymore but the thought that they are above it still lingers today.

I’m not saying that every wealthy individual thinks this way but the ones who do and that aren’t getting immunized are contributing to declining rates and hurting the ones who can’t be vaccinated. This is definitely showcased in some of the Los Angeles school districts. From an article published in the Atlantic, Khazan says, “In some schools, up to 60 to 70 percent of parents have filed these PBE’s, indicating a vaccination rate as low as that of Chad or South Sudan.” (Khazan 2) A PBE is a “personal belief exempt” form that can be submitted to schools exempting children from the required vaccines to attend school. The problem with these forms and the low rates is that these communities are putting themselves at risk, “A community can only be protected when 92 percent or more of its population is immunized… These parents aren’t just risking their own kids’ health, they’re risking everyone’s.” (Khazan 3)

Nobody is ever “above” vaccinations. The less privileged were being forced to be vaccinated against their will just to protect the rich, they didn’t owe it to you then and they don’t owe it to you now to get themselves vaccinated. I don’t promote not getting vaccinated; I am promoting everyone getting vaccinated themselves and for themselves, in turn helping the greater good. Many of the less privileged don’t have the resources to get immunized (that shouldn’t be a reason not to, but to try your best). The privileged getting vaccinated is crucial because they have the resources readily available to which means them doing it protects them and the ones who can’t.

Society has been becoming too easily swayed. For example vaccination rates dropped after Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues wrote a paper saying that the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine caused autism. Many credible people conducted research saying that they were incorrect. Wakefield and colleagues had falsified the information and eventually retracted the paper but it is still circulated as a reason not to vaccinate.


There are many reasons people chose not to vaccinate and endanger others. Some reasons have a valid point where others don’t make sense. The idea that pharmaceutical companies are trying to scam you out of your money shouldn’t even be a thought. The pharmaceutical business is worth a lot of money but vaccines are worth the least, “One estimate puts the vaccine business now at $24 billion — huge, but a mere 2 to 3 percent of a trillion-dollar worldwide industry.” (Lam 2) The amount of companies in the business has greatly decreased and has become a series of monopolies and duopolies since it is so hard to make a profit. Lam from The Atlantic says “…another conspiracy theory circulated online that both doctors and pharmaceutical companies stand to profit financially from vaccination-which supposedly leads to perverse incentives in advocating for the public to vaccinate.” (Lam 1) In reality they don’t make much of a profit and many companies opt to produce higher value/higher profit drugs.

In many underdeveloped countries around the world vaccines aren’t as readily available as they’re here, and traditional beliefs of their families prevent some mothers from being able to be allowed to vaccinate when they feel otherwise. Dell’ Antonia from the New York Times spoke with Nimmi from Uttar Pradesh, India and found that, “Nimmi takes her 3-year old son in a three wheeled bicycle taxi, then a bus, then walks again to the hospital: a journey of about three hours. Sometimes, the vaccines aren’t available; sometimes, there is no one to give them — there’s no way to know ahead of time.” (Dell’ Antonia 1) This is just one woman’s story showing how hard she has to work to get her son immunized. She has a friend who has to go behind the back of her husband and mother in-law just to protect her child. They are both educated from community outreach programs and are willing to take risks to protect their children. Where has that mentality gone in developed areas like America?

So many people have been choosing not to vaccinate for so many reasons and there is a portion of the population that can’t get immunized. While I want to respect personal beliefs and your freedoms, you need to consider all the bigger picture. The infants with weak immune systems that prevent them from being vaccinated. The same goes for the elderly. The people who have life-threatening allergies and can’t be vaccinated. The ones who are too ill to be be vaccinated. These people need protecting! We can achieve this through community immunity, which requires high vaccination percentages of the population. Meaning that if you can be vaccinated, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be.

In stressing why people choose not to vaccinate, I divulge the reasons to become immunized. I am trying to reveal the importance of vaccination and who it’s protecting. Not just yourself but the others around you.

Works Cited

Biss, Eula. “The Class Politics of Vaccination.” Harper’s Magazine. N.p., 2 Jan. 2013. Web.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 July 2016. Web.

Dell’ Antonia, Kj. “Seeking and Resisting Vaccines.” The New York Times. N.p., 28 June 2012. Web.

Khazan, Olga. “Wealthy L.A. Schools’ Vaccination Rates Are as Low as South Sudan’s.” The Atlantic. N.p., 16 Sept. 2014. Web.

Lam, Bouree. “Vaccines Are Profitable, So What?” The Atlantic. N.p., 10 Feb. 2015. Web.

Linsley, Breenan. “Why Doctors Without Boarders Refused a Million Free Vaccines.” The Atlantic. N.p., 14 Oct. 2016. Web.

“Measles History.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 03 Nov. 2014. Web.

“Outbreak of Measles — — San Diego, California, January — -February 2008.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d. Web.

Paolo. “Paolo.” Toxins and Cancer I Viotox. N.p., 19 Apr. 2015. Web.

Rao, T. S. Sathyanarayana, and Chittaranjan Andrade. “The MMR Vaccine and Autism: Sensation, Refutation, Retraction, and Fraud.” Indian Journal of Psychiatry. Medknow Publications, 2011. Web.

Willingham, Emily, and Laura Helft. “The Autism-Vaccine Myth.” PBS. PBS, 05 Sept. 2014. Web.