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Herd Immunity? A Dishonest Marketing Gimmick

Herd Immunity? A Dishonest Marketing Gimmick

As a country and a society, we’ve never been anywhere close to “herd immunity” through vaccination, but where are all the epidemics? That doesn’t keep vaccine makers from using herd immunity as a weapon to guilt and scare parents. Why are we allowing “mythology to trump science”?

Hiding in a nondescript office building in Washington, D.C., Every Child By Two (“ECBT”) poses as a nonprofit organization with a seemingly noble goal: getting as many children vaccinated as possible. Of course, a quick Google search or perusal of the nonprofit’s 990 forms reveals a different truth: ECBT is a front group for vaccine makers, the primary source of their funding. Don’t take my word for it, the prestigious British Medical Journal ran an expose of many groups like Every Child By Two titled, “The unofficial vaccine educators: are CDC funded non-profits sufficiently independent?” The BMJ was pretty unsparing:

IAC, ECBT, and AAP have a few things in common. They are all non-profit organizations with large online presences that promote themselves as sources of reliable information on vaccines. They also receive funding from both vaccine manufacturers and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And, in their advocacy for compulsory vaccination, they all have in common a goal that pushes beyond official governmental policy and, in the case of influenza vaccines, the evidence.

Amy Pisani, ECBT’s director, maintains a twitter account for the organization where she recently encouraged parents to do their part in maintaining “community immunity” through an infographic that was part gentle reminder, part guilt-induced obligation, and 100% founded on nonsense.

What, exactly, is “Community Immunity”?

“Community Immunity” is the term du jour and an apparently more palatable synonym for the oft-invoked concept of Herd Immunity, the idea that unless enough people are vaccinated against a certain disease, everyone is at risk. Find the right doctor to come on TV, and they’ll be happy to explain the magic of vaccine-derived Herd Immunity, and what a scientific process it really is, according to them. Fall below Ms. Pisani’s 95% vaccination rate number in her infographic? We return to the Dark Ages!

There’s just one problem with the Community/Herd Immunity math and the shaming and pressure that goes along with it: we’ve never come close to achieving “Herd Immunity” through vaccination, and we never will. In order for Herd Immunity to be a real thing, you need two things to be true (and neither have ever been):

1. Adult vaccination rates would also have to be very high, just like rates for children

Ms. Pisani’s infographic above mentions the 95% threshold needed to achieve herd immunity for measles, but she fails to mention one thing: the vaccination rate of all the adults. According to the CDC, adult vaccination rates have been, and remain, woefully low, as the CDC’s 2016 survey–Vaccination Coverage Among Adults in the United States, National Health Interview Survey— explained:

“Many adults in the United States have not received recommended vaccinations…”

How low are adult vaccination rates? Well, the CDC study included a chart of adult vaccination rates for at least some vaccines over time:

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