Researchers around the world are scrambling to develop a vaccine that can protect us against the novel coronavirus, the source of the COVID-19 infection that has killed nearly 1,500 people in the Rio Grande Valley, 200,000 in the United States and 1 million worldwide. Already, however, people are expressing reticence to take the potentially life-saving vaccine when it’s developed. Some say they want to wait to see if side effects develop, others say they don’t trust the scientists working on the vaccines or the counties sponsoring the work.
Worse, medical experts report that vaccinations for other diseases have fallen significantly. This alarming news comes even as doctors and pharmacists everywhere are starting to administer the standard annual flu vaccine.
Obviously, we hope this trend is situational, and goes away soon.
Routine vaccinations, many of them required for school attendance, might merely be a casualty of the closure of doctors’ offices and the fact that people aren’t going home much. Many Valley families rely on the annual deployment of Operation Lone Star, in which National Guard personnel come to the area to administer the inoculations before schools open.
One unfortunate argument that appears to be gaining popularity is the notion that “herd immunity” will keep most people safe. This idea suggests that if the majority of the population has been immunized, then those who aren’t are also safe because viruses don’t find enough host bodies to enable the diseases to spread. Doctors depend on herd immunity to protect the tiny percentage of people who are allergic to certain vaccines, have immunological weaknesses or other conditions that preclude the administration of the vaccines.
Some people have even promoted the idea of herd immunity to suggest that Americans shouldn’t fear contracting COVID-19, because as more people contract the disease and develop immunity, less of the population will be at risk of getting it.
But it only works when the rest of the herd — as close to 100% as possible — is immune. The farther we are from total immunity, the greater the chance of infection. As we saw in the spike of new COVID-19 cases that followed a partial easing of restrictions on public interaction, we’re nowhere near the level of public immunity that would protect most people.
The dozens of mumps cases that broke out in Hidalgo County last year shows how even a small downturn in immunization rates can endanger the entire community.
We should also remember that one disease — any disease — weakens the body and can make it more susceptible to other infections, including COVID-19.
The flu shot is readily available, including at most large grocery and department stores that have pharmacies. Families can get their shots on their trips to get groceries.
With schools planning to start reopening in the next few weeks, families also should check children’s immunization records and make sure they are current. Doctors who have closed their doors to walk-in patients might schedule flu shots if families call.
Vaccinations are a quick and easy way to help avoid severe and possibly fatal diseases. Avoiding them can leave one vulnerable to serious disease.
The choice should be a simple one to make.