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The Minority Rules the Herd

December 3, 2010 21 comments

By Christine Vara

“What?” you say.  “Minority rules?” 

“How can that be?”

Living in the suburbs of DC I’m constantly reminded about the power of the majority.  In these post-election days, references to the majority and the minority are intended to declare political influence within our government.  People accept that the majority rules because we live in a democracy and that is how it was intended.     

However, this may be why many vaccine advocates grow frustrated with the anti-vaccination sentiment.  People who favor vaccinations are clearly the majority in regards to numbers.  More people vaccinate than don’t – plain and simple.  History shows that immunizations have been effective at significantly reducing the prevalence of vaccine preventable diseases.  Yet, what concerns many vaccine advocates is that the actions of a small percentage of people – a definite minority percentage of the population – can adversely threaten public health.    

Take for instance the concept of herd immunity.  It is based on a delicate balance of numbers.  If the number of people immune to a disease (by means of vaccination or other natural immunity) can be sustained at a high enough percentage of the population, than it severely incapacitates that disease and the ability for it to flourish and spread throughout a community.  Interestingly enough, this “magic” number can differ according to the contagious nature of the various diseases.  Typically, for most diseases, it falls somewhere in the neighborhood of an 80-90% vaccination rate in order to provide protection to the “herd”.  

Fortunately, in most areas of this country, public health efforts have been able to maintain vaccination rates that fall within these percentages.  However, this is not the case in every area and for every disease.  (Take for instance reports of low vaccination rates in areas of CA.)  Read more…

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