Why Worry About the Unvaccinated?
Apr 12, 2011

We hear this question a lot:  “If vaccines work so well, then why would you worry if I’m vaccinated or not?  

It’s a reasonable question to ask. After all, we get vaccinated to protect ourselves from diseases like COVID-19, measles, and flu. Being vaccinated should make us feel safer and more protected from getting sick. But while vaccines are great at preventing serious disease, nothing is 100% effective, and not everyone can get vaccinated because of their age or medical conditions.   

Why worry about the unvaccinated? Because the more vaccinated people there are in a community, the safer it is for everyone — including the most vulnerable among us. Here’s what we mean.  

Community immunity protects the vulnerable — but only if enough people are vaccinated.  

When a very high percentage of people are vaccinated there’s very little chance that the vaccine-preventable disease will spread through the community. But if not enough people are vaccinated, then the disease can pass from person to person, increasing the risk for everyone, but especially for those who aren’t (or can’t be) vaccinated.  

Some people need the protection of others because they can’t get vaccinated themselves. 

Not everyone can be vaccinated safely with all vaccines. Some might not be able to get vaccinated because of: 

  • A life-threatening allergy to an ingredient in a vaccine  
  • A history of severe reaction to a particular vaccine (and if so, they can’t get the next dose, if applicable)  
  • A compromised immune system, some chronic diseases, and being treated for cancer 
  • Their age: they might be too young to get vaccinated
  • Pregnancy (for some vaccines)  

For more information on risk factors to getting a vaccine, the CDC has a list outlining who should not receive certain vaccines.  

Have you read:  

These diseases aren’t gone, and those who are unable to be vaccinated need the protection of everyone around them to keep themselves safe from disease.  

There are children like Maggie, diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (blood cancer), who can’t be vaccinated against diseases like measles. After finishing her last round of chemotherapy, she was discharged from the hospital and went that same afternoon to a clinic for lab work. At the clinic, she was exposed to a patient with measles. After the exposure Maggie was given shots of measles antibodies. She thankfully survived, but it was a scary time for her and her family.   

Or take baby Brie. Unlike Maggie, Brie didn’t survive the vaccine-preventable disease she was exposed to. Brie caught pertussis (whooping cough) when she was less than a month old. Her family said goodbye to her on her 52nd day of life, just seven days shy of being eligible for the pertussis vaccine.  

Maggie was immunocompromised and Brie was not yet eligible for the pertussis vaccine, but anyone can become seriously sick from disease as well.  

For example, Latasha, a healthy 34-year-old, developed pneumonia and congestive heart failure from the flu. She spent six days in critical care and 16 days total in the hospital. Since her illness, she regained much of her health but has some lasting medical conditions. Latasha is now an advocate for the annual flu vaccine –– a vaccine that could have prevented her illness in the first place.   

Protecting your child could help protect others in your community too.  

Vaccinating your child is not only about protecting your child, but about helping our communities and the ones we love stay safe. Everyone, including those unable to be vaccinated, deserves to be protected from vaccine-preventable diseases. 

Updated: August 4, 2021

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