Community Immunity – A Quakerly Concept

Photo by Summer Moon Scriver

The Quaker testimony on community is one of the ways we attempt to put our faith into practice. This belief in the equality of all people and the value placed on sharing and mutual obligation contrasts with the behavior of a materialistic and individualistic age.
Here’s what the testimony on community looks like. We make meals when a new baby arrives or when someone goes through chemotherapy.  When a family’s house burns down, we give shelter and help build a new one. Some of us mentor school kids, others drive shuttle buses for seniors, and many serve on the boards of non-profits.
There’s another important way to act on the testimony of community – immunizations.
Earlier this year, the New England Journal of Medicine reported that my county is the worst in the nation when it comes to vaccinating children, with only 28 percent of kindergarteners and 11 percent of sixth graders meeting school vaccine requirements. These numbers are troubling in light of my state health department’s recent announcement of a statewide pertussis (whooping cough) epidemic. The agency projects we’re headed for 3000 cases this year, an alarming jump over the 965 reported in 2011.
Pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial infection that usually starts with mild cold symptoms. For young children, it typically causes uncontrollable coughing spells, followed by gagging or vomiting and a “whoop” sound. Infants are most vulnerable for severe complications and death. Last year, 38 infants in my state were hospitalized with pertussis, and 2 died.
Many of our communities are at risk for a variety of vaccine-preventable diseases like pertussis because thousands of parents refuse to immunize their children. As a school nurse and former immunization nurse, I’ve answered parents’ doubts that diseases like polio and measles still exist (they do and in some places are on the rise); I’ve heard fears about a study linking measles vaccines and autism (the report was retracted, and the doctor involved lost his license); and I’m aware that some perceive school vaccine requirements as government intrusion.
Others, though, can’t receive this preventive care even if they wanted to. Most vaccinations aren’t given to babies under 2 months because their immature immune systems can’t respond. Older children and adults whose immune systems are weak because of illness or aging can’t be vaccinated, either.
Here’s where our testimony on community comes in. When enough of us get our vaccinations, we benefit even those who don’t.  Such “community immunity” cuts the spread of diseases like pertussis to our vulnerable neighbors.
Now it’s time for us to do our part to achieve community immunity. Check immunization records. Schedule an appointment. Get yourself and your children immunized. It’s what we Quakers do for each other.

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