Immunisation: Why we do it and how ‘herd immunity’ works

Denial of community immunity or herd immunity is a common feature of antivaccinationists.

In fact groups that spread harmful disinformation, such as the Australian based Australian Vaccination-risks Network (AVN), have for years been refining the denial of this evidence based fact. Notably they misrepresent what herd immunity is, primarily by referencing an aspect of herd immunity or an expected result of herd immunity.

The Australian Government Department of Health offer this definition;

If enough people in a community are immunised against an infectious disease, there is less of the disease in the community, which makes it harder for the disease to spread.

Immunisation protects both people who are vaccinated and also helps the entire community. It helps protect those who are too young to be vaccinated and those who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons. This is known as community (herd) immunity.

Claiming that the “laws” of No Jab No Pay and No Jab No Play “are based on herd immunity”, Meryl Dorey of the AVN contends;

The theory claims that the unvaccinated are more likely to contract and transmit diseases than their vaccinated peers.

Travel to a largely unvaccinated country, get shots and you’re apparently in a protected bubble. Back home and they’d have us believe we need a 95 per cent plus vaccination rate to be protected and that a lone unvaccinated individual can be responsible for an epidemic.

Indeed rather than “claim” that unvaccinated community members will contract and transmit disease, herd immunity provides greater protection for the unvaccinated. Nonetheless herd immunity cannot protect any particular unvaccinated individual and is very important with respect to protection from measles infection.

This is why individuals who cannot be vaccinated for specific reasons or those with weakened immune systems will be better protected in a community that has a vaccination level of 95% or above. In certain communities where vaccination levels are low, herd immunity and the cluster of immune individuals doesn’t exist. In this instance measles can easily spread from an infected individual to unvaccinated individuals.

If not for herd immunity providing protection to those who refuse vaccination and deny their children the protection of vaccine induced immunity, many of the false beliefs held by antivaccinationists could not persist. The success of so-called natural remedies, homeoprophylaxis and so on persist simply due to the protection of herd immunity.

  • The video below was produced by the BBC and provides an accurate summary of vaccination and herd immunity.

Immunisation: Why we do it and how ‘herd immunity’ works – © BBC News

Discredited anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist Judy Wilyman has even used denial of herd immunity in her ongoing attacks on Australia’s successful vaccination policy. Wilyman wrongly contends that only public health reforms such as sanitation led to the control of vaccine preventable diseases.

Vaccines did not create herd immunity to control infectious diseases, is an open letter on her website. The monumental flaw in her fallacious claim begins with her use of only mortality, and no morbidity data.

Also, Wilyman refers to changes in public health occurring before 1950. This ignores more modern vaccines such as that for Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) used in Australia from 1993 and later in Kenya from 1999.

Only vaccination can explain the control of Hib and the emerging success of the HPV vaccine.

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Facts about meningococcal disease

The Melbourne Vaccine Education Centre has an excellent page on meningococcal disease and vaccines which includes comprehensive resources and the video below from the Australian Academy of Science.

Meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection which can kill in hours. It is caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. Risk groups include children under 5, teens and young adults aged between 15 – 24, smokers, those with a suppressed immune system and anyone living in crowded accommodation. Of the 13 known sub-types of meningococcal bacteria, five are vaccine preventable.

These are B and A, C, W, Y.

Over 2018 the main serotypes causing disease in Australia were B, W and Y. Variations in serotype infection were specific to Australian states. On the information page the Melbourne Vaccine Education Centre (MVEC) notes;

People with meningococcal disease can become extremely unwell very quickly. Invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) can cause meningitis (inflammation of the membrane covering the brain and spinal cord), septicaemia (infection in the blood) as well as other infections like pneumonia (lung infection), arthritis (inflammation of the joints) and conjunctivitis (eye infection). Mortality (death) can be as high as 5-10% and permanent lifelong complications can occur in 10-20% of those who survive. Disease is transmitted via respiratory droplets (sneezing and coughing etc).

Prevention is via vaccination. Three quadrivalent vaccines are available for the A, C, W and Y meningococcal serogroups. One, Nimenrix® is freely available from 12 months of age as part of the National Immunisation Program.

In September last year it was announced that the federal government will fund the addition of meningococcal A, C, W and Y vaccine for 14 to 19 year olds. From April 2019 teens aged 14 to 16 years will have free access via school based programs as part of the National Immunisation Program. Teenagers aged 15 to 19 years who do not receive the vaccine at school can be vaccinated for free via “an ongoing GP based catch up program”.

The details of access to the vaccines are clearly explained on the MVEC information page. Private scripts are available and required to purchase the meningococcal A, C, W, Y vaccine for those who don’t meet NIP criteria.

Meningococcal B vaccines are available although not yet part of the National Immunisation Program. Bexsero® is suited for use from 6 weeks of age. Trumenba® is suited for use from 10 years onward.

There is additional information in this post from September last year. Access the Department of Health immunisation information here.

Facts About Meningococcal DiseaseAustralian Academy of Science

Vatican position on vaccines derived from the descendent cells of fetal material

Despite very clear facts on the issue of fetal material used in the production of some vaccines, there is ample misinformation in circulation.

The anti-vaccine lobby aim to benefit from any confusion that can be created by misrepresenting the fact that human diploid cells derived from fetal cells are used in the production of some vaccines. During production the vaccines themselves are purified so that no cells remain in the final product.

In January 2014 I published Vaccines contain no aborted fetal cells and the piece is still relevant today. It’s important to remember that the diploid cellular material used to grow viral material in vaccine production are descendent cells.

Descendent cells are the medium in which these vaccines are prepared. The cell lines under consideration were begun using cells taken from one or more fetuses aborted almost 40 years ago. Since that time the cell lines have grown independently. It is important to note that descendent cells are not the cells of the aborted child. They never, themselves, formed a part of the victim’s body.

Source – National Catholic Bioetics Center

I see. One must be sure to observe “that descendent cells are not the cells of the aborted child. They never, themselves, formed a part of the victim’s body.”

A very clear source of information specific to the morality of this issue is the Vatican Statement on Vaccines Derived From Aborted Human Fetuses.

The article includes;

The matter in question regards the lawfulness of production, distribution and use of certain vaccines whose production is connected with acts of procured abortion. It concerns vaccines containing live viruses which have been prepared from human cell lines of foetal origin, using tissues from aborted human foetuses as a source of such cells. The best known, and perhaps the most important due to its vast distribution and its use on an almost universal level, is the vaccine against Rubella (German measles).

[…]

To summarize, it must be confirmed that:

  • there is a grave responsibility to use alternative vaccines and to make a conscientious objection with regard to those which have moral problems;
  • as regards the vaccines without an alternative, the need to contest so that others may be prepared must be reaffirmed, as should be the lawfulness of using the former in the meantime insomuch as is necessary in order to avoid a serious risk not only for one’s own children but also, and perhaps more specifically, for the health conditions of the population as a whole – especially for pregnant women;
  • the lawfulness of the use of these vaccines should not be misinterpreted as a declaration of the lawfulness of their production, marketing and use, but is to be understood as being a passive material cooperation and, in its mildest and remotest sense, also active, morally justified as an extrema ratio due to the necessity to provide for the good of one’s children and of the people who come in contact with the children (pregnant women);
  • such cooperation occurs in a context of moral coercion of the conscience of parents, who are forced to choose to act against their conscience or otherwise, to put the health of their children and of the population as a whole at risk. This is an unjust alternative choice, which must be eliminated as soon as possible.

 

  • Further reading;

Do vaccines contain aborted fetal tissue?

The Catholic Church and vaccines – Vaxopedia

The Australian Immunisation Handbook

David Attenborough presents “Migration of the Skeptic”

This is a rather short presentation on the somewhat rare migration of that strange creature, the skeptic.

This strange, pedantic being prone to seek out evidence is often accused of being at the heart of invented conspiracies. This accusation is particularly true of reality-adverse groups such as herbalists, antivaccinationists, chiropractors, homeopaths and many others who peddle fallacious claims devoid of evidence. It seems the innocent skeptic is motivated by an innate drive to challenge such obvious hanky panky.

This video focuses on a number of their distinguishing features and, when considered in full, highlights the ability of skeptics to take the piss out of themselves.

 

Australian government to provide meningococcal vaccine to teens

Recently the Australian government announced that from April 2019 the meningococcal vaccine Nimenrix will be available free to teenagers aged 14-19. This will prove to be a significant public health measure against Invasive Meningococcal Disease (IMD).

Nimenrix is a quadrivalent vaccine protecting against 4 of the 13 serogroups of the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis. The four serogroups are A, C, W and Y. The vaccine Bexsero protects against serogroup B and is presently the subject of a South Australian study. The manufacturers of the vaccine, GlaxoSmithKline have confirmed they will seek to have Bexsero listed on the National Immunisation Program once they have the study results. The ACWY vaccine has been freely available to 12 month olds since July 1st, 2018. Of these five primary strains of meningococcal disease, B and W serogroups are the most common.

The incidence of meningococcal disease and the serogroup responsible fluctuates over time. According to the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS), serogroup B (MenB) was the most common cause of IMD from 2006 to 2015. Over this period MenB accounted for 63% to 88% of annual notified cases where a serogroup was identified. An NCIRS fact sheet notes that since 2013 serogroup W (MenW) has increasingly caused IMD.

In that year 17.4% or 17 cases with an identified serogroup were responsible for the disease. By 2017 MenW was identified as responsible for 38.1% or 139 cases. It is also clinically interesting that the NCIRS have reported, “many of the MenW cases have been due to a single clone of meningococcus, the ST-11 strain type”. This suggests sustained person to person transmission. MenW appears to have a higher fatality rate (9.3%) than MenB (5%).

With serogroup Y there has been a “smaller but notable” increase. In 2014 there were 7.4% or 12 cases of those with an identified serogroup, increasing to 20.5% or 75 cases in 2017. IMD due to serogroup Y is more common in older Australians. 61% of the 75 notified cases in 2017 were in adults ≥ 45 years or older. The decrease in cases due to serogroup C (MenC) is an indication of the efficacy of immunisation programmes.

The MenC conjugate vaccination programme began in 2003. The number of MenC cases with an identified serogroup was 225 in 2002, falling to 14 (3.8%) in 2017. The NCIRS observe that, “serogroup A disease remains rare in Australia”. Nonetheless overall meningococcal disease and death from different serogroups has increased in recent years.

Reporting recently on the government intention to soon provide the quadrivalent Nimenrix vaccine to teens, both SBS and Fairfax published the following figures on IMD for 2015 – 2017.

  • 2015: 182 cases, 12 fatalities
  • 2016: 252 cases, 11 fatalities
  • 2017: 382 cases, 28 fatalities

The Fairfax article was published at 12.00am on September 25th and noted that there had been ten fatalities from meningococcal “so far this year”. A little over 44 hours later at 8.07pm on September 26th the Moree Champion reported;

Laboratory tests have confirmed meningococcal disease as the cause of death in a 25 year old woman in the New England region. The young woman collapsed at home on Saturday, September 22 and was taken to hospital by ambulance, but was unable to be revived.

Meningococcal disease can kill within 24 hours if not treated in time. The audio below is from Meningococcal Australia and addresses important points regarding infection, symptoms, prevention and treatment.

The Meningococcal Australia website notes;

10% of those infected will die, and around 20% will have permanent disabilities — ranging from learning difficulties, sight and hearing problems, to liver and kidney failure, loss of fingers, toes and limbs and scarring caused by skin grafts.

It is important to access reputable information with respect to diseases such as Invasive Meningococcal Disease. IMD from the five primary serogroups A, C, W, Y and B can be prevented by vaccination. This makes it a target for misinformation from the anti-vaccination lobby. In Australia the most vocal group is the Australian Vaccination-risks Network, or AVN.

Meningococcal bacteria can live harmlessly in the throat and nose in 20% of people and IMD is one of the less common bacterial diseases. Antivaccinationists use this information to wrongly assert there is no need to be vaccinated. Yet the reality is that in cases of meningococcal disease the bacteria enter the bloodstream and multiply rapidly, causing septicaemia and damage to blood vessel walls. This leads to bleeding into skin tissue producing the dark purple rash associated with meningococcal disease.

Bacterial meningitis caused by meningococcal disease is the most dangerous type of meningitis. Meningitis is a serious inflammation of the meninges – the lining of the spinal cord and brain. Thus the argument that humans “naturally” carry meningococcal bacteria and should avoid vaccination is based on deceptive reasoning and is dangerously misleading.

Vaccines are demonstrably very safe. The testing of vaccines before approval for use in Australia can take over a decade. Their ingredients are well understood and are themselves tested for safety.

The introduction of the quadrivalent meningococcal vaccine Nimenrix is a positive for Australian public health.