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Why Vaccination Isn't Just About You - It's About All of Us

Protecting the Herd with Herd Immunity

Why Vaccination Isn't Just About You - It's About All of Us

As a dad, the role of protector has changed a lot since the days when sabre-toothed tigers were a constant threat.

Today's threats to children are more insidious: out of control teen celebrities, teenage vampire movies, and yes, viruses and diseases. Here's the thing though, while protecting your kids by getting them vaccinated is the best way to ensure they stay healthy, even more important is the benefit they have on those around you. But that benefit isn't just a nice side effect, it's actually the entire point of the vaccine.

Humans have lived in groups ever since we came down from the trees. We hunted together, sought shelter together, and raised children together. However, while we were doing all this our bodies were doing something else, learning how to adapt to a plethora of new viruses, bugs and bacteria. It was pretty ineffective at first, humans died by the millions, but eventually we figured something out...

It turned out that people who caught a virus and managed to survive were less likely to get the same virus in the future. Our bodies had learned how to adapt. That's the essential value of vaccination, it simply replicates a process that the human body would typically have to go through on its own, at great personal risk.

When discussing vaccinations, we hear a lot about the concept of herd immunity, the idea that by vaccinating as many people as possible we can more effectively protect those who can't get vaccinated (like infants). Ask anyone from an older generation about herd immunity; in their day it was acquired the hard way, and not without casualties - it came with sickness and death that immunized only the survivors against future outbreaks.

As parents, we feel like we only have a responsibility to our own kids - our own family - but the fact is that as part of a greater society, we have a responsibility to everyone. It’s the same reason we don’t litter, the reason we have traffic rules, even the reason we have indoor plumbing- the understanding that in exchange for a safe and productive society we have to follow certain rules to protect each other. Unless you’re going to go live off-the-grid in a shack in the woods, you owe certain things to the rest of society to ensure everyone is safe.

Unless you or your child fit into the very narrow category of doctor-validated reasons to avoid vaccination, your compliance is a sign that you respect the rights, freedoms and societal safety net that Canada provides for you. We owe it not just to our kids, but to each other to get vaccinated.

This clash of personal and societal rights is something we don’t talk about much because we take our freedom and relative safety for granted. It’s overly simplistic to think that your role as a parent is just to protect your kid. Your child lives in a greater society and many of the things that help make it safer have absolutely nothing to do with you on a day-to-day basis, that doesn’t make them any less important.

You may never interact with the justice system in your life but it exists to protect you. Your interaction with food may be restricted to a fast-food menu, but there’s a system behind the scenes ensuring your bacon cheeseburger is fit for consumption. That’s what society does for us, it asks us to trade in a small part of our individual freedom for a whole bunch of collective safety.

In my family, I have the joyful task of being “the holder” during vaccinations. You know, the one who has to keep the child’s arms steady and prevent them from trying to escape while getting the needle. It’s not a fun job, it’s not something I enjoy doing, but I understand the importance of it for both my kids and society in general.

We don’t hunt woolly mammoth together anymore, but we do live in a society where we rely on each other for protection and benefits. The minute we forget just how lucky we are to live in a society where the perils of infectious disease are considered benign enough to become the focus of a party we are forgetting our roles as protectors of the herd. Part of that protection plan is making sure everyone is vaccinated - a program with perhaps the best ratio of risk to reward on the planet, because vaccines are ridiculously safe and come with decades of peer-reviewed scientific research backing them up.

So when you’re buckling your kid up in their car seat, remember that the risks you take every day are only possible because you have a system protecting you, and getting your kids vaccinated is the least you can do to show your appreciation.

This post was developed in association with the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. The opinions of the author are their own.

Getting your family immunized is an important part of creating a foundation for a healthy life. If you’re on the fence about immunizing, here’s the information you need to make an informed decision for your family.

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