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Do Unvaccinated Children Put Others At Risk?

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"One issue that was in the headlines over the past summer was: What to do about the children who have not been vaccinated against common childhood diseases. Laws differ by state. But most states let parents opt out for moral or religious grounds. But in New York City, a federal judge ruled that in some certain circumstances, such as when there's an outbreak of disease, schools may keep unvaccinated kids children out of the classroom. We asked health care policy expert and pediatrician Dr. Aaron Carroll to weigh in," says host Barbara Lewis. 

Carroll: I think the judge is right. And I think it brings up a good time to talk about herd immunity. We don't just vaccinate to protect ourselves; we vaccinate to protect others and often people who can't protect themselves. Vaccines aren't perfect. They don't provide 100% protection. They make it less likely that you'll get an illness when exposed to it... So vaccines work in two ways. The first is by giving you that increased protection through yourself. And the second is by making diseases so rare in the community that you really don't get exposed to them. And that serves two purposes: One, it protects those are vaccinated from that little extra chance. But they are a lot of people who can't get vaccinated. Small babies often can't get vaccinated with certain vaccines until they get older or they don't have a lot of protection. The elderly are sometimes at increased risk for certain diseases because their immune systems are a bit older and don't work as well. And there are a fair number of immunocompromised individuals who are always at higher risk for infectious diseases and often can't be vaccinated depending on what the disease is. And when we choose not to vaccinate or when we choose not to vaccinate our children, we sometimes believe, that's OK, because we're willing to take that risk. We know it's small and we know that there's very small chance that the individual person will get the disease. But when outbreaks occur, they most always start with unvaccinated individuals. They most always spread initially through unvaccinated individuals. And most of the people who get infected in outbreaks are unvaccinated. And they pose a risk to everybody else.