If vaccinations work, why are unvaccinated children a threat to your vaccinated one?

Ever seen a meme, blog post, tweet or a debate online about this very question? If you haven’t, you don’t have to look very far to find one. It seems like a simple question and it is often trotted out by those against vaccination as a way to defend their choices. If vaccines protect people from illness, why should vaccinated people care if some people choose not to vaccinate, right? How could unvaccinated children present any threat if vaccines work? It’s a personal choice, isn’t it?

It’s really not that simple.

unvaccinated children memes

Just a sample of what I’ve seen online.

Vaccine effectiveness.

Firstly, the unvaccinated population are more vulnerable to the diseases we vaccinate against. Therefore they are more likely to contact and pass on these illnesses if exposed to them. And while my children have the protection that vaccines offer, any doctor will tell you that even the most effective vaccine does not offer 100% protection against disease. So my children and any other vaccinated person can still contract the disease they have been vaccinated for. When this does happen, the vaccinated person usually gets a mild case of the illness. We should remember, though, that a mild case of an illness that we vaccinate for can still make a person very ill.

When a vaccinated child gets a vaccine-preventable illness.

A “mild” case of a vaccine preventable illness is not something to be dismissed. Sydney mother and fellow blogger, Kim-Marie, was shocked when her fully-vaccinated 11 year old son contracted whooping cough.  Kim-Marie’s son missed his school holidays while sick and bed-ridden with a “mild” dose of whooping cough.

kimba quote

If a mild dose can see a child bed-ridden, feverish, coughing, vomiting and struggling for breath, we can only imagine what a more severe case feels like. How would a mild dose of whooping cough affect a child with a chest infection? Or a child with bronchitis, asthma or another medical condition?

It’s not just MY children that I worry for.

I vaccinate my family because I want to protect them from diseases. However, that isn’t the only reason I do it. The argument that we shouldn’t worry about unvaccinated children because our children are vaccinated just doesn’t stack up for me. Vaccination is a community-minded action. If my children and I are vaccinated, we have less chance of contracting these diseases. Therefore, we have less chance of spreading them to people who are more vulnerable to their effects. People like newborn babies, elderly people, those undergoing treatment for cancer, people with conditions that impair their immune system or conditions that mean they cannot be vaccinated. These people will be protected by herd immunity if vaccination rates are kept high enough.

When an unvaccinated child gets a vaccine-preventable illness.

The risks of them getting seriously ill increase. We often see people who are against vaccination discussing the risks of serious, adverse reactions to routine jabs as a reason to avoid vaccinating. These are real risks; no medical procedure is risk-free. It’s important to note, though, that serious adverse events like these are extremely rare. Most side effects from vaccines are mild (like redness or soreness) and resolve themselves quickly. Experts agree that the benefits far outweigh the very small risks.

Serious complications from the illnesses we vaccinate for are much more likely than those from vaccines. Measles, for example, can lead to pneumonia, encephalitis and even death. When a child is infected with it, they are contagious for a day or two before they start showing symptoms, which means they could be exposing any number of people to the illness before their parent knows anything is amiss. Even the initial symptoms can be mistaken for a bad cold for a couple of days before the rash becomes apparent, meaning infected kids aren’t quarantined before inadvertently exposing others.

The cost of not vaccinating.

The cost is very real and on more than one level.

Unvaccinated people suffering the effects of a vaccine preventable illness may well need hospitalisation. That in itself is an enormous diversion of resources as they will often require isolation, medications and they may have exposed other people to their disease who will then need to be monitored.


People, especially babies, can and do die from exposure to illnesses we vaccinate for. Others may suffer permanent and disabling after-effects from these diseases. To use measles as a further example, infection can cause brain damage from encephalitis or even blindness. Even chicken pox, up until recent years considered a fairly benign illness, can lead to serious complications like pneumonia and encephalitis. These complications are far more serious for pregnant women who are at risk of pneumonia, encephalitis and even hepatitis. Depending on the stage of pregnancy, chicken pox infection may also cause abnormalities and problems for the developing foetus.

It’s not just a personal choice.

The idea that people who vaccinate their families don’t need to be concerned about other people’s choices is fundamentally flawed. It’s not a choice that we parents make that has no effects beyond our own family, it has potential repercussions on our entire community. I have no doubt that parents making the choice not to vaccinate their family do so in the belief that they are doing the right thing. However, while their intentions might be excellent, their information is not. It relies on the belief in an enormous conspiracy. A doctor I know had this to say about the idea that she and other health professionals are apparently complicit in such a conspiracy:


Routine vaccination is endorsed by every major health authority in the world and the World Health Organisation estimates it saves between 2 and 3 million lives each year. So when someone implies that I shouldn’t care if others vaccinate their children or not, I must disagree.

The idea of 2 to 3 million people dying each year from preventable disease is horrifying; I care very much that some people are inviting that reality to return.

FYBF @ With Some Grace


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