When it comes to protecting health, all of humanity could learn a few lessons from their friends who raise livestock. In order for vaccines to be truly effective, the entire herd must be vaccinated to break the chain of disease transmission. Unfortunately, the human herd is falling short of vaccination goals and diseases like measles that were once declared "eradicated" in the U.S. are making a nasty comeback . . . all because some parents have refused to vaccinate their children. That choice places all of us at risk.
When humans or cattle receive a vaccine, antigens force the body to create antibodies to ward off the small grade infection. Booster shots, when given to either humans or cattle, amplify this natural defense mechanism so the body can better fight off a disease should it encounter the real virus. Call it a scrimmage before game day.
In a disease epidemic, the antibody protection that vaccines provide disrupts the disease cycle by breaking the chain of transmission from host to host. This, in turn, lowers the disease's replication rate. Once the virus loses vulnerable hosts, it fades away.
Those who skip vaccinations are typically most vulnerable, but so are others in the herd. The young or old, those already warding off another illness, and the immunocompromised, such as cancer patients, can die from a host of health complications. It's these very groups that depend on others in the herd to be immunized for their safety.
History can be our best teacher. When it comes to vaccinations, today's parents fortunately never lived through a polio, measles or whooping cough epidemic that sent children to their graves. Without that perspective, if just 5 or 10 percent of parents buy into the notion that vaccinations are unnatural, cause autism or some other unfounded myth, the unvaccinated human herd will bring disease outbreaks back upon ourselves.
Fortunately, most of us who own cattle aren't so cavalier with our animals' health. Let's hope the smartest population of all - the human herd - also wises up and gets vaccinated.