Collective Responsibility: The Importance of Protecting Others through Vaccination
Aug 14, 2020

Guest post by Rachel M. Cunningham, MPH and Julie A. Boom, MD

This month is National Immunization Awareness Month — a month dedicated to highlighting the importance of vaccines for all ages. In a year when millions have been suddenly impacted by a devastating virus, we’ve gained a renewed understanding of one of the core guiding principles of vaccination — that is, we have a collective responsibility to protect ourselves, our families and our communities.

Protecting others through vaccinationIn the context of COVID-19, this guiding principle is demonstrated in numerous ways. One of the most meaningful demonstrations is mask-wearing, which helps prevent individuals from unintentionally spreading COVID-19 to those around them. Many of us have also taken other steps to protect those we love and in our community — we’ve made difficult choices to limit or temporarily suspend interactions with others. Weddings, graduations, proms, vacations, faith gatherings, and more have all been impacted, delayed or canceled. We’ve made these difficult choices to protect each other, particularly high-risk family members and friends such as elderly grandparents, those with chronic medical conditions and others. More than ever, we understand that we each have a responsibility to protect each other, particularly those who are the most vulnerable among us.

For those of us in the medical and public health communities, this principle is not new. Rather, we have long lauded this idea, particularly when considering the importance of vaccines. One of the most profound implications of maintaining high vaccination rates in our community and nation is what it means for those who are unable to be vaccinated themselves. These individuals may be too young to be fully vaccinated or have a medical condition that makes them ineligible for vaccination. Other individuals may be more susceptible to the devastating and severe effects of vaccine-preventable diseases such as influenza (flu).

More than ever, we understand that we each have a responsibility to protect each other, particularly those who are the most vulnerable among us.

Working in a hospital that cares for a wide range of patients, including children who are among the most medically vulnerable, we are reminded of this reality on a daily basis. Children battling cancer or congenital heart disease, recovering from a heart or lung transplant, or a premature baby — all vulnerable children at risk of illness who need the individuals around them to stay healthy to protect them. All of these children rely on their families, caregivers and c­ommunities to get vaccinated and protect them from vaccine-preventable diseases. This is a concept known as “community immunity” or “herd immunity.”

newborn babyWhile COVID-19 has devastated our society, it is our hope that from these current difficulties, we will be reminded of the impact our decision to vaccinate, along with other decisions we are facing, has on those around us.

This fall and winter we must be prepared to face an unprecedented time in which we have multiple potentially deadly respiratory viruses circulating (COVID-19, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus or RSV). Let’s continue to do what we can to protect those around us. Staying up to date on our children’s and our vaccines as well as getting vaccinated annually against the flu is single-handedly the best way to protect ourselves and our loved ones. The choice to vaccinate is a choice to help safeguard the most vulnerable members in our family, our circle of friends and community. We’ve already suffered incredible losses and owe it to each other to do our part to protect each other. Let’s prevent what’s preventable. Immunize, on time, every time.

Ms. Cunningham and Dr. Boom are part of  Texas Children’s Hospital Immunization Project, a team focused on vaccine research and education. They are the co-authors of the booklets, “Vaccine-Preventable Disease: The Forgotten Story” and “Vaccine-Preventable Disease: Human Papillomavirus” and accompanying videos and materials. Both Ms. Cunningham and Dr. Boom are mothers to 3 fully vaccinated children.

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