Another benefit of vaccines: reducing antibiotic resistance


Anti-vax advocacy is unethical. Most of us are familiar with the reason: Withholding vaccines from your children doesn’t merely deprive them of protection and put them at risk for life threatening diseases. It deprives other people’s children of protection from those same diseases.

Vaccines work by making it impossible for pathogens to jump from person to person. Even the best vaccines are not 100% effective, and we can’t vaccinate 100% of the population. For example, babies can’t be vaccinated for specific diseases until they can mount the appropriate antibody response. Immuno-compromised people may not be able to mount an immune response at all.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Vaccines prevent the rise of superbugs.[/pullquote]

If vaccines needed to be 100% effective to work, they wouldn’t work in the real world.

Instead, vaccines work by dramatically reducing the chance that an infected person will encounter an unprotected person. When parents withhold vaccines from their their children, herd immunity is disrupted and deadly diseases can spread. So when you refuse to vaccinate your own children, you aren’t just hurting them; you’re hurting many other.

Some of you are probably thinking “Big Deal! It’s my responsibility to protect my children from vaccine side effects and I have no responsibility to anyone else.” But you hurt everyone in another way that affects your children as well:

Vaccines prevent antibiotic resistance and the rise of superbugs.

Epidemiology Professor Marc Lipsitch explains in How Can Vaccines Contribute to Solving the Antimicrobial Resistance Problem?:

…Vaccines can reduce the prevalence of resistance by reducing the need for antimicrobial use and can reduce its impact by reducing the total number of cases… These effects may be amplified by herd immunity, extending protection to unvaccinated persons in the population. Because much selection for resistance is due to selection on bystander members of the normal flora, vaccination can reduce pressure for resistance even in pathogens not included in the vaccine…

Most anti-vax parents assume that if their unvaccinated child becomes ill with a vaccine preventable disease, they can take that child to the doctor’s office or hospital for antibiotics to cure the disease. Unfortunately, every time antibiotics are used, the risk of resistant superbugs grows. As Prof. Lipsitch points out, the microbes that become superbugs aren’t necessarily even the microbes that are causing the disease; they may be otherwise harmless bacteria in the normal microbiome.

For example:

Existing vaccines already help to reduce the burden of antimicrobial resistance. Notably, resistance is not a significant clinical problem for either of the transmissible bacterial infections against which we have routinely vaccinated for decades—diphtheria and pertussis, most likely because they are rarely seen and thus rarely treated…

But as parents continue to withhold vaccines from their children, the rate of rare diseases will inevitably rise and antibiotic resistance will rise along with it. And as Dr. Lipsitch notes, the new superbugs will not necessarily be those that cause diphtheria and pertussis; they might be staph bacteria that are normally present on the skin. Those staph bacteria commonly cause minor skin infections in cuts and scrapes but can quickly become lethal if they are resistant to antibiotics.

Lipsitch concludes:

Vaccines and antibiotics are widely hailed as the two greatest accomplishments of modern medicine. In fact, vaccines are the medical intervention that has saved the most lives globally. As evolution begins to erode the value of antibiotics, a multipronged approach to preserving and restoring this value is needed. Vaccines have an important role to play in doing so.

Both vaccines and antibiotics have saved millions of lives, but by overusing antibiotics we are destroying their usefulness and putting everyone at risk. Vaccines can reduce antibiotic resistance by preventing the need for antibiotics in the first place.

When parents withhold vaccines from their children under the assumption that they can be treated with antibiotics if they get sick, they don’t just hurt their children; they hurt everyone including themselves.