Claiming natural immunity is better than vaccine immunity is like claiming walking from Boston to San Francisco is better than taking a plane

happy child playing pilot aviator outdoors in autumn

If there’s one thing that anti-vaxxers are sure about it’s that natural immunity is better than vaccine induced immunity.

They’re wrong. Claiming that natural immunity is better than vaccine immunity is like claiming that walking to San Francisco from Boston is better than traveling by airplane. Yes, if you walk you can be sure you won’t be in a plane crash, but the odds are extremely high that you would never get to San Francisco.

Vaccination produces immunity faster and far more safely.

What’s wrong with natural immunity?

Visit any cemetary from the pre-vaccine age; it’s filled with people who died precisely because natural immunity couldn’t save them. Pre-vaccine cemetaries are filled with people who died of influenza, of diphtheria, of measles, of tetanus, of pertussis. But they’re also filled with people who died simply because they got a minor cut that became infected and, in the absence of antibiotics, the infection continued to spread unimpeded until it entered the bloodstream (sepsis) and killed the unfortunate individual. Natural immunity couldn’t save them.

Consider the Black Death. Literally 2 out of 3 people died because natural immunity could not save them.

Consider the leading causes of death in the US in 1900. Pneumonia and influenza led the list; tuberculosis was second, diarrhea and enteritis were third. Diphtheria was tenth.

Today, pneumonia and tuberculosis can be treated with antibiotics and influenza, infant diarrhea and diphtheria can be prevented by vaccines.

The situation for children was even more dire.

Life expectancy around 1888 was less than 50 years, infant mortality approached 200 per 1000 births, and neonatal mortality was about 50 per 1000 births. The infant mortality rate in 1880 in New York City, a particularly crowded urban area, was as high as 288 per 1000 live-born infants, primarily related to various infectious processes. Infectious diseases such as diarrhea, diphtheria, scarlet fever and tuberculosis dominated as the major causes of morbidity and mortality among children…

But wait, you say: didn’t basic sanitation measure contribute to a decrease in mortality from infectious diseases? Of course they did, but that’s just another acknowledgement that natural immunity was insufficient; preventing exposure in the first place — NOT natural immunity — was the best way to save lives.

Why is vaccine induced immunity so much better than natural immunity? For the same reason that taking a plane to San Francisco is better than walking: it’s faster, safer and far more convenient.

Speed is the key advantage. Individuals who have been vaccinated can produce an immune response much faster than those who must wait for natural immunity to develop.

We’re not born with natural immunity; we make antibodies in response to a threat. For example, we are not born with antibodies to the chickenpox (varicella) virus. When exposed to the varicella virus, though, we can learn to make antibodies to it. It takes time, but gradually we can produce enough antibodies to fend off the disease.

Unfortunately, we don’t always get the time we need. We can make antibodies to smallpox, for example, but many individuals are overwhelmed and killed by the virus long before they could make enough antibodies to fend it off. Those who do win the race and manage to produce enough antibodies to survive are now permanently protected. That’s because the immune system retains the ability to make the specific antibodies against the smallpox virus. Whereas it may take days to produce smallpox antibody when first exposed, a second exposure will be met with rapid and massive production of antibody, generally preventing the individual from getting sick at all.

So for natural immunity to work, you have to get the disease, and you might die before you are able to make enough antibody to protect yourself. What if you could learn to make the protective antibodies without actually getting sick? That’s the theory behind vaccines.

In order to make antibodies to a virus (or bacterium) the body needs to “see” the virus. In other words, it needs to have direct exposure to the virus, but that virus doesn’t have to be functional, and it doesn’t even have to be whole. A virus can be inactivated (live attenuated) or killed and still produce an immune response. It can also be broken down into its constituent parts and the parts can produce an immune response. Any future exposure to the live virus (though contact with others who have the disease) will be met with rapid and massive production of antibody, preventing the individual from getting sick at all. A vaccine is merely an inactivated or dead form of the virus, letting you learn to make antibody without getting sick in the process.

Vaccines do not produce perfect immunity. The dangerous part of the virus might be the part that evokes the most powerful immune response. Rendering the virus harmless by inactivating it, killing it or breaking it up, may remove that part and the immune response to the less dangerous parts might be weaker. So actually getting the disease may produce a better immune response than the vaccine … but ONLY if you survive the disease.

Natural immunity is great in the same way that walking across the country is great. Theoretically everyone could walk across the country, but in reality most people cannot. Theoretically natural immunity can protect people from infectious diseases, but in reality it often cannot. Of course vaccines have risks just like airplane flight has risks, but the risks are minuscule and the benefits are enormous.

Natural immunity is very important, but rather imperfect. Vaccine immunity is better. As with airplane flight vs. walking, you end up in the same place, but you are far more likely to get where you want to be (immune and alive) and you get there much faster.

  • kilda

    completely aside from all the good points made here….this whole natural immunity thing seems so pointless.

    why do we want immunity?
    to avoid having the disease.
    what earthly point is it to get immunity by having the disease?
    so, I had chicken pox and now I am safe from getting chicken pox!

    it’s like throwing away all your money and being happy you don’t have to worry about anyone robbing you.
    Or burning down your own house so you can be safe from arson.

    • Roadstergal

      I think it’s a perversion of ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ (wrong to start with) into ‘you can’t be stronger without suffering.’

      Like, vaccination is ‘cheating’ a la using steroids instead of lifting weights, so it must somehow be inferior?

      (When a better parallel is ‘lifting weights in a gym vs running around trying to find big rocks to pick up.’)

  • StephanieJR

    And so you get vaccinated to protect yourself from diseases, and then you hop on a plane to fly to a county you could never reach by walking, and Ilost my point but would anybody like to hear about Thailand? My brother’s a teacher there and we visited him in January.

    Off topic, but let’s talk about holidays!

  • demodocus

    OT: Since this is effectively my woofree parenting group, can i ask a question? Apparently girlbard doesn’t like purees but likes slightly watery and overcooked brown rice. So, since she’s a 4 month old and having 10-11 oz of formula at a time (she’s something like 80th percentile in size) I could use a few more suggestions in grains she might go for that won’t choke her.

    • MI Dawn

      Really thinned oatmeal, or grits, or any other cereal. Make them thin enough, she shouldn’t choke. My kids scarfed down any and all grains offered. Younger child adored mashed potatoes, the older one hated them (still does…)

    • Inmara

      Anything that’s formed into quick cooking cereal – millet, buckwheat, oats. Since they require cooking, not just soaking in hot liquid, I would cook them in water and then whisk in powdered formula to make it sweeter. All can be cooked to the consistency they are not puree-like, have some texture but are soft enough to not pose choking risk.

      Tbh, we started “real” cereal just recently (at 13 months) because I’m too lazy to cook something and baby cereal is easier to make so I have no idea how a 4 month old would react – but if she likes rice, quick cooking cereal would be a thing to try.

    • Sullivan ThePoop

      My niece loves that quinoa baby cereal

  • Inmara

    My little one has finally got all the vaccines for his age (14 months) and we’re up to ourselves until his 7th birthday. Now I have to get flu shot and remind my husband and nanny too – because after last vaccine of DTP there is 45 day window until LO can get flu shot on his own. I’ll have to jump through several hoops now, because getting any vaccine here is not as simple as stopping at the pharmacy on your way home (and it’s particularly bad with flu shot and any boosters for adults – doctors are not reminding or insisting, and people don’t take flu seriously; some end up in hospital like my aunt did last year).
    In other news, LO is ramping up his speaking skills: we’re still waiting for him to clearly say “mommy”, but he can manage to name apple, bread and balloon almost in a two-syllable words. Also, he loves books (something I’m immensely proud of because I’m the avid reader in our family) and asks to leaf through them or to us read to him. Now we know what to tell relatives who will inevitably ask what to get for Christmas!

  • Nycticorax

    Not the best analogy for me… I rode my bike from Astoria, Oregon, to Jamestown, Virginia… and it was much better than taking plane.

    But I’m all for vaccines! Don’t get me wrong.

    • MaineJen

      …but how long did it take? 😉

      • Nycticorax

        That was the best part! 11 weeks and a day.

    • Roadstergal

      I would say that doesn’t count. The bicycle, the roads – all unnatural. For ‘natural’ points, you gotta walk offroad!

      • Nycticorax

        Oh snap!

      • Mattie

        and barefoot, if nature had intended us to have shoes we’d have been born with them

    • Sonja Henie-Spinning Jenny!

      Why are people arguing with the analogy? It may not be the best, best, BEST, but surely you do get the point?

      • Nycticorax

        Truly, I’m just bragging about my accomplishment! Because that’s what the analogy made me think of. Am a regular reader of Dr. Amy Tuteur though, and appreciate her work.

  • Sue

    A question for anti-vax numpties:

    What’s not “natural” about the body’s response to a (vaccine) antigen, producing natural immune priming?

    Also, regarding “injected vs natural barriers” numptiness – why don’t they get that you can’t develop immunity to an antigen UNLESS it breaches mucosal or skin or gut defenses. Duh.

    • N

      If you catch the illness “naturally”, it will be more natural as if you inject it controlled at the right age and “artificially”. So pertussis for a newborn, some illnesses during pregnancy, or in old age, or during chemotherapy are much more “natural”. No, chemotherapie is not natural. So cancer patients should not die from vaccine preventabale deaths but from cancer (natural), while trying to fight it with garlic and ginger (natural), without pain relief. Or, would they not have cancer if they where not vaccinated??

      • Who?

        Why is natural better?

        • N

          Montserrat Blanco and Who? I’m deeply sorry, you misunderstood me. I did not want to say that natural is better. I’m fully vaccinated and so are my kids and my husband. And my sister who works in a hospital. And I would have died after the birth of my third if not for emergency surgery and lots of blood transfusions. I just wanted to show why anti-vaxers probably think natural is better. Not saying they are right!
          My MIL fights cancer for two years now. And it is no fun. And I do NOT think it is because she was vaccinated. I think it is genetic because her father had cancer and because nature is NOT perfect.
          This past week I wished there was a vaccine against stomatitis as my little one suffered hell because of it. Fortunately we did not have to go to hospital because of it. But it was hell. For me it is always hell when my kids suffer. I don’t even want to know how it feels to see my kids near death, the thought alone is bad enough and I know I’m lucky that this stomatitis was the worst one of my kids hat to endure until now. … Did you really think I thought pertussis in newborns was good because natural? And my mother in law should not die from cancer nor vaccine preventable death nor anything! She should stay with us for a long time and die of very old age!

      • Montserrat Blanco

        As someone that would have been dead without medical interventions at least twice in her life, and the mother of a lovely child that would also be dead without medical help… Screw Nature. Vultures are very natural, but I have no interest whatsoever on being their dinner tonight.

        Being so blasse about vaccines talks to me more about how lucky you have been that you did not see yourself or your kids near death and you have literally no idea how that feels. If you would you would go around the streets begging for vaccines. The Spanish family that saw their son die from diphteria lost no time on vaccinating her daughter agaisnt everything.

      • Juana

        They probably would not have had cancer if they weren’t vaccinated. After all, that’s the point of the whole cancer “epidemic” – you get cancer because you’re old an nothing else managed to kill you before: no VPD, no puerperal fever, no random infection of any age.

        • N

          Yes. And as my father always says, when in the past someone managed to get older than most people around and finally died anyway, people just did not know why this person died. He died “of old age”. Today we know what is the cause of death for everyone: cancer, heart attack, … The same with young people and children. They did not always know what caused the death. So I wonder if people in the past did not die of cancer too occasionally. It can’t be something totally knew.

          • N

            I mean new.

          • SporkParade

            We know that people in the past died of cancer because that was their recorded cause of death. For example, Caesar Rodney, signer of the Declaration of Independence, died from a facial cancer that plagued him for 8 years, and John Adams’ daughter underwent two mastectomies (unsuccessfully, unfortunately, and without anesthesia) for breast cancer.

    • Diet dee

      The injected aluminum is unatural and potentially triggers autoimmunity.

      • Azuran

        so, you are claiming that ‘unnatural’ things trigger autoimmunity, but not natural things? How does the body makes the difference?
        The immune system doesn’t care if something is natural or not. It cares if something is from ‘self’ or not.
        Where do you think the aluminum comes from? Those aluminum atoms came from naturally occurring aluminum. We didn’t create those atoms. So at what point do you decide where it stops being natural?
        So at what point in the process does the immune system goes: Shit, this isn’t natural!!!!!

        • Diet dee

          The human body tries it best to filter and excrect aluminum. It is very common elements but it doesn’t appear to serve any function in the human body. I’m not aware of any naturally occurring source of aluminum hydroxide. But if you injected aluminum you are unaturally bypassing the filter that is the GI tract.

          • Azuran

            You didn’t answer the question. The body can’t tell and doesn’t care if something is occurring naturally or not. It cares if something is part of self or not.
            As for bypassing the GI filter. Although intestinal absortion of aluminum is not great, some aluminum IS absorbed through the digestive tract and end up in the bloodstream. Do you think the body is reacting differently to this aluminum because it’s ‘natural’? Or what if you eat ‘unnatural’ aluminum and some of it is absorbed. Will the body react differently?

            Also, a very quick google search would teach you that aluminum hydroxide does come from nature. That’s what they purify aluminum from.

      • shay simmons

        Injected aluminum is AI. Inhaled or ingest aluminum is also AI.

        There is no difference — it’s the same element.

        • Diet dee

          Dose makes the poison and so does route of entry. A bubble of air in a artery can send you to the ER

          • shay simmons

            A minute amount of aluminum is a minute amount of aluminum, regardless of how it gets in your system. And since vaccines aren’t injected into arteries, I’m not sure of the relevance of your second sentence.

          • Diet dee

            Simple we breathe Air all the time but if air gets into the wrong place then of to the ER. Trace amounts of of Aluminum are in foods that we eat and the body filters most of that out. Some infants may not be able to handle injected Aluminum which can accumulate in the organs including the brain.

          • Azuran

            And you haven’t provided ANY evidence that any number of babies are unable to handle the amount of aluminum in vaccines. The vaccine has been given to millions of babies, and you can’t point any single case where aluminum caused any kind of problem.

          • shay simmons

            How does injected aluminum get into the wrong place (and what is “the wrong place”)? What is your citation for infants not being able to handle injected aluminum? Why would the body filter out ingested aluminum but not injected aluminum?

            I don’t think you’re really thinking this out.

          • Diet dee

            If enough Aluminum gets into the body it get stored in the organs. The brain is least likely to accumulate Aluminum but it can and does happen. When Aluminum gets past the blood brain barrier then inflammation in the brain can occur. Sometimes it manifests behavioral problem, neurological problems or Autism.
            There are no studies on infants and aluminum. Just animals studies. Aluminium in a known Neuro toxin. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease have Aluminium accumulation in the brain. People with impaired kidney function must also be aware of Aluminum during dialysis.
            Some people can handle toxins that others can’t. Some infants and even adults react negatively to Vaccines read the insert on the chicken pox Vaccine.

          • shay simmons

            Your entire post is argument by assertion with no corroboration to back it up. This, btw, is what is referred to as the Gish Gallop.

            How much is “enough”? What studies have shown that injected aluminum accumulates in the brain? Can you cite research that link injected or ingested aluminum with brain inflammation — research that is not looking at long-term exposure in workers? What citations can you offer that injected or ingested aluminum leads to behavioral problems, neurological problems, or autism?

            There are multiple long term safety studies on infants and vaccines https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26740250),
            everything is toxic in sufficient doses, aluminum accumulation on the brain is not linked to Alzheimer’s (http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_myths_about_alzheimers.asp) , medical contraindications for people with impaired kidney function are for people with impaired kidney function, the fact that some people are allergic to some things doesn’t mean we should stop vaccinating, everyone knows that some people react badly to vaccines but again, that doesn’t mean we should stop vaccinating, and perhaps you should read the entire chicken pox insert.

          • Diet dee

            https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26948677
            It is the most commonly used adjuvant in human and veterinary vaccines but mechanisms by which it stimulates immune responses remain ill-defined. Although generally well tolerated on the short term, it has been suspected to occasionally cause delayed neurologic problems in susceptible individuals.

          • shay simmons

            Your citation still doesn’t address my questions.

            Can we try again? How does injected aluminum get into the wrong place (and what is “the wrong place”)? What evidedence do you have that infants are not able to handle injected aluminum? Why would the body filter out ingested aluminum but not injected aluminum?

          • Diet dee

            Even the paper admits that Aluminum is poorly understood, but some individuals may be a harmed by it. So why assume that ALL infants can handle ALL vaccines equally.
            The GI tract is the main filter of Aluminum then it’s the kidneys job. Injected Aluminum will be transported via macrophages through the lymphatic system bypassing the kidneys and perhaps the Blood brain barrier. (the wrong place)
            http://vaccinepapers.org/vaccine-aluminum-travels-to-the-brain/

          • shay simmons

            Can you provide any evidence that your “some” and “may” and “perhaps” has ever, in fact, happened?

            Given that children’s vaccines are subject to extensive scrutiny and there are safety studies numbering in the tens of thousands on the subject, don’t you think this risk would have manifested itself already?

          • Diet dee

            A number of vaccines list brain inflammation and neurological problems as a side effect/adverse event. Look up the vaccine inserts. The Vaccine court exist because these sort of event are common enough.

          • shay simmons
          • Diet dee

            Adverse event
            An adverse event (AE) is any untoward medical occurrence in a patient or clinical investigation subject administered a pharmaceutical product and which does not necessarily(but might!) have a causal relationship with this treatment.
            Translation: lawyer BS for side effect.
            If aluminum or some other vaccine ingredients get to the brain or vulnerable organ you have a problem.
            Let not assume that vaccine injury is some time foil hat conspiracy theory.

          • shay simmons

            Translation — post hoc is not necessarily propter hoc. This is why these events are investigated.

          • Nick Sanders
          • Azuran

            People on dialysis isn’t really a good example on the safety of anything.
            Many medication aren’t recommended for people with kidney problems. Hell, some type of food aren’t recommended for people with specific diseases. Are you calculating your sugar intake? Because diabetics have to do it.

            You say ‘if enough’. No one is claiming that you can inject infinite amounts of aluminum without side effect. But as with everything, the dose makes the poison. The dose in vaccine is safe. And unless a baby is extremely severely compromised (in which case, it wouldn’t be vaccinated anyway) There is no valid evidence suggesting possible toxicity from vaccine.

            Aluminum doesn’t randomly decide to accumulate. It can accumulate either by receiving very large doses (not the case with vaccines) or because someone has a severely impaired renal function (which would cause very important and noticeable clinical signs)

          • shay simmons

            Yes…as an example of a Gish Gallop, I give it about a 4 out of 10.

  • Platos_Redhaired_Stepchild

    There is an undercurrent of eugenics to anti-vaxxers insistence that natural immunity is best. From their POV all the people who died of vaccine preventable disease were inferior in some way and best out of the gene pool. Naturally of course their inherently superior spawn would survive those nasty germs.

    pg. 227

    https://books.google.com/books?id=dJaA7aN6GdAC&pg=PA227&lpg=PA227&dq=anti-vaxxers+eugenics+darwin&source=bl&ots=xzW4NtJ2fS&sig=4YTWWT8A_O6qcFUTkCCcCgFkh4o&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj9p9PVnuPPAhUO-2MKHZvHDiIQ6AEIRzAG#v=onepage&q=anti-vaxxers%20&f=false

    • N

      Oh, so we must already be a Super-race, with all the plagues OUR ancestors survived. They must have had and therefore we must have already very superior genes. Hey we don’t need vaccines, we are not going to die, we are ALL superior.

      • Who?

        With vaccines more of us live long enough to die of something other than vpd. Shocking thought, but there it is.

        And what’s a feew dead kids, right? After all, those whole families of children you see in old cemetries, you don’t know them so why do you care? And their parents probably didn’t care either…

        • Mike Stevens

          Did you know that everyone who has been vaccinated dies?
          I say stop vaccination!

          • Who?

            I’ve heard that life is invariably fatal.

            Is someone looking into that? If they’re not, they should be!

        • N

          “With vaccines more of us live long enough to die of something other than vpd. Shocking thought, but there it is.”
          Yes exactly.
          And for the dead kids… Yeah, they probably didn’t know about the benefits of coconut oil or wash themselves enough … NO! Before I had some of my own I wondered if mothers in ancient times or in the developping world would cry over the loss of a child as we do today and in our world, as they had/have a lot more children… But now with my own kids, I’m sure every mother out there will mourn every child she looses regardless of her situation!
          I have a sponsored child in Africa and I really hope the organisation uses my money also to vaccinate that child and her whole community.

        • MaineJen

          Yeah, that old-timey stoicism totally wasn’t shock or fatalistic resignation. They just accepted all that death cheerfully. /s

    • Roadstergal

      What makes that doubly stupid is that for certain illnesses (Spanish ‘flu in particular), it preferentially took the young and healthy, as it the over-the-top-ness of the immune response was an effective killer.

      • SporkParade

        My understanding is that the current leading theory on why young people were more likely to die is because those younger than 18 and the elderly had their first flu exposures to related flu strains, while the people who should have survived had immunity to a completely different H and N, and therefore had nearly no immunity to H1N1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=48Klc3DPdtk

  • Mel

    My husband and I took a weekend trip up to the Straits of Mackinac and wandered the three cemeteries on Mackinac Island.

    Mackinac Island is a limestone mountain in the middle of where Lake Huron and Lake Michigan join that has shitty soil. The Native American tribes in the area never settled there because there is about 1 acre of arable soil on the whole island. The entirety of the white settlement pattern can be described as soldiers, seasonal fur traders and people who sold stuff to the soldiers.

    Why do I bring this up? Well, it was never colonized heavily enough to have massive sanitation problems. The main water supplies came from springs and cisterns. Yeah, I’m sure there was some animal and human waste run-off into the surrounding Strait, but the water in the area is deep, cold and moving at a 5 knot current minimum.

    And, yet, kids died.

    The headstones that I always leave stones at are two infants buried in the Military Cemetery. They are two infant children of one of the officers at the Fort. The mother’s journal survives and describes how their infant son Josiah got what sounds like some form of infant diarrhea that caused him excruciating abdominal pain and eventually killed him.

    Two years later, their nearly one-year old daughter Isabelle developed the same symptoms. The Mom’s entries where she realizes that Isabelle has gotten the same (or a similar) disease to the one that killed Josiah is chilling – and absolutely heart-breaking when Isabelle dies within a week.

    • Sue

      Yes, this.

      No GMOs, no excess sugar in their diets, no processed foods, no artificial colors or preservatives, no excess cesarean sections or epidurals, no chemtrails, no “artificial” water fluoridation, no hydrocarbon pollutants – and yet, deaths from infectious diseases.

      • MI Dawn

        Oh, but I’m sure they did *something* wrong. They didn’t breastfeed only until the child was 5! They didn’t make sure that the child only had X, Y, or Z. It’s always the fault of the parents when things go wrong, doncha know?

        (I know that cemetary. I love Mackinaw Island.)

  • Amy

    Take one of my all-time heroes, Helen Keller. Her disabilities were entirely caused by vaccine-preventable diseases.

    • MaineJen

      Scarlet fever, wasn’t it? *shiver*

      • MaineJen

        Which is actually not vaccine preventable, but it is easily treated with antibiotics, so modern medicine still wins!

      • MI Dawn

        I actually thought it was measles, for some reason. Actually, The Pfft of all Knowledge known as Wikipedia says the cause isn’t known. Various sites give the cauase as possibly rubella, scarlet fever or meningitis.

  • Mike Stevens

    I am always bemused by the logic fail in the antivaccine crew’s insistence that natural diseases are harmless (or even beneficial), and that because they provide “life long immunity” it is vital to get them.

    Why are they bothered about gaining any immunity at all? Shouldn’t they be embracing recurrent attacks of measles, and pertussis, and polio, and hoping they and their kids will get them every year/season?

    Or alternatively, if the diseases are harmful, and it really is of benefit to gain immunity against them, then why on earth would they try and gain that immunity by catching the disease they want to avoid in the first place?

    Vaccination is a win-win – it provides the immunity without having to endure the risks from the disease.

    • Sue

      Yes, and not only that. Infection-derived immunity may not be “life long”. How many times have they told us that their kids got whooping cough several times, and it was “no big deal”. If you got it more than once, then the infection did not protect you!

      Also, HepB acquired vertically (maternal transmission during vaginal birth) leads to a high rate of chronic infection with life-limiting complications.

      • Angela

        That always gets me, whooping cough is “no big deal.” They are either lying or in denial. I have three young children. Any sickness, even a cold, is just annoying and inconvenient (wiping noses, waking up at night coughing or stuffed up…). I can’t imagine something like whooping cough.

        • MI Dawn

          As an adult, I was horribly miserable with it. I can’t imagine my children suffering through it. Wanting your children to be that sick and miserable makes you a horrible parent. Especially because there is no difference in immunity from the disease and the vaccine. I’d rather have a day or so of a sore arm from the TDaP than go through pertussis again!

          • demodocus

            problem being the anti-vaxxers believe there is a difference. They’re wrong, of course

        • momofone

          I’ve mentioned this before (sorry to the people who’ve seen it already), but I knew a woman who lost two babies to whooping cough before vaccines were available. Her daughter was 8 months old when she got it from a cousin and died. A year later, her six-week-old son died of it. She couldn’t get her third child vaccinated quickly enough when it became available.

          • Sonja Henie-Spinning Jenny!

            When was this? Pertussis vaccine has been around since the 1940s; was combined into DTP in 1949.

          • Azuran

            Probably somewhere around those years. It wasn’t really that long ago when you think about it, only around 75 years. My (still alive) grandmother was born in 1951. So she obviously knew people (her own grand-parents, aunts/uncles, familiy friends etc) who had kids before the 1940s. Lots of people still alive today probably knew people who lost babies to VPD before there where vaccines. There are also probably people (very elderly people) still alive today, who actually had kids before the 40s

          • Sonja Henie-Spinning Jenny!

            My MIL is 97 (b. 1919); her oldest was born in 1942 at the age of 23 (her age). There may be a FEW centenarians who had kids very young, before 1940. I asked because you’d be amazed what people post!

          • momofone

            It would have been probably late 1930s or early 1940s. Her third child (different marriage, so some time had gone by) was born in 1950.

          • Sonja Henie-Spinning Jenny!

            Got it. Makes sense.

      • Mike Stevens

        Exactly.

        • kilda

          well, except if it kills you. Then you’re pretty much guaranteed not to get it again.

        • corblimeybot

          My friend’s mom survived tetanus as a child, and all it conferred on her was psychological trauma.

    • N

      My mother always said that those children’s illnesses are better supported by, so more harmless for children. If you hadn’t caught them as a child, beware of them as en adult if they go around. You will suffer more and it will be more dangerous than. I don’t know if it is true…

      • Who?

        That’s what you say when you have no control and you have to put up with whatever it is you are rationalising.

        Like when a damp cloth on the head and a few herbs were the treatment for migraine, or tetanus, or something big and heavy dropping on you. Pretty much everything, really.

        We know more, we do better. If we can prevent illness, why not try.

      • Mike Stevens

        All of them are more severe in infancy (and maternal immunity won’t necessarily protect them).
        Some are less severe in adults (e.g. Pneumococcus, influenza, Pertussis), some can be more severe (mumps, chickenpox). Some can cause great damage to the unborn child in pregnant adults (rubella, chickenpox). Some are as horrible to get in adulthood as in childhood.
        One (hepatitis B) is clinically less severe in kids (20,000 cases a year prevax) but more damaging, since kids get chronic infection and then suffer cirrhosis, liver failure and cancer later in life)

        Overall, vaccination is the way to go. Prevention is preferable.

        • N

          Thanks Mike Stevens and Who?. I’ve learned something today.

      • Roadstergal

        Just to add on to the below – ‘worse in adults’ doesn’t mean ‘no big deal in children.’ ‘Natural’ immunity can indeed wear off – in fact, there’s a theory that says that ‘natural’ immunity only works decently when the pathogen is actively circulating in the population, to give endless ‘boosters.’ Vaccination and booster jabs are always preferable.

    • Sean Jungian

      I was thinking something like this today, too – antivaxxers try to provide exposure to chicken pox and possibly measles, AFAIK, but you never hear of them exposing their children to diptheria, tetanus, etc, the really rough stuff.

      To me that seems to indicate that they know damn well those illnesses are dangerous.

      • N

        I went to a gardening workshop with my kids once. There was that family with, I don’t remember two? three? kids. My kids worked and played in the dirt and I was not worried at all. Their kids had to wear gloves all the time. They didn’t want to. It was probably too hot or too uncomfortable I don’t know. I wondered at first why they argued with their kids about those gloves. Where they allergic to something? Or what was wrong? Then I overheard a sentence: “No, remember, we talked about this. You are not vaccinated! And we explained to you why! If you don’t want to get ill, you have to wear gloves while working in a garden!” ??? Of what are they more afraid than, the vaccine or the illnesses? And how are they going to control every step of their children?? I would be too lazy for that. I take the vaccines and let my kids get dirty.

        • Sean Jungian

          If natural immunity was so desirable, and these illnesses were really “no big deal”, it seems to me they’d be trying to get their children infected. I guess they really do NOT have the courage of their convictions after all.

          Next time we get an antivaxx parachuter in here I want to ask them if they purposely infect their children with, say, tetanus.

          • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

            Or Polio…

          • Roadstergal

            We had a parachuter recently who said that she declined the tetanus shot for her kid when said kid was injured by, IIRC, a cut on rusty metal – but was fully cool with her kid getting IVIG infusions (which are far riskier than vaccines – not that they don’t have their place, but if she had vaccinated the kid from the get-go, that wouldn’t have been necessary).

          • Sean Jungian

            Ugh, I don’t want to upvote you for this because UGH!!! 🙂

          • MaineJen

            And IVIG is produced from the plasma of…people who have been vaccinated for tetanus! So she’s still indirectly benefiting from vaccination. But her own special snowflake didn’t have to get the vaccine, so it’s a win in her book. Yeah, my eyes were bugging out of my head on that one.

          • MaineJen

            It was an amputated toe. Her kid was sitting there with an amputated toe and she was arguing with the doctors about the tetanus vaccine.

          • Roadstergal

            Oh god, you’re right, I had forgotten it was THAT. 🙁

        • MaineJen

          OMFG.

        • Roadstergal

          I actually remember, as a young kid, stepping on an old rusty brooch that a friend of one of my siblings brought by to show off and getting a puncture wound. I also have a scar on my left ring finger from when I was moving a chair by myself by tugging on the bottom, and ripped the finger open on a rusty staple. I was fully vaccinated, so no big deal (I have a high pain threshold, I thought the incidents were funny and didn’t tell my parents, so there was a delay in them finding out) – and it really shows how there’s no amount of helicoptering that’s as effective as the sleepless immune system patrol.

  • Jen

    I’m not sure I like the analogy much. Air travel vs walking is a comparison mostly based on convenience and doesn’t drive home the risk of death. Plus walking has all these added health benefits of exercise and low carbon foot print. Natural immunity makes you feel terrible, increases the risk of death and has no benefit whatsoever. Whereas vaccines are amazing and offer immunity with an almost 0 risk of death and feeling terrible.

    • Amy Tuteur, MD

      Walking to California from Massachusetts?

    • Acricket

      I think there is a fair amount of danger people forget about. There would be encounters with wildlife or dangerous drivers if you are walking alongside a road. There would be the sun exposure, blisters (and all accompanying dangers of they burst), extremes in temperatures, difficulty in crossing the terrain. Not to mention providing your own food and water through the more remote locations on the trip. This is far from an exhaustive list. The trip would be over 2000 miles over every type of terrain available on earth, from the driest desert to not the highest but still damn high mountains depending on the route chosen. So I think the comparrison is more apt than it appears at first glance.

      • Roadstergal

        Indeed, even without walking – even with some ‘unnatural interventions’ like carts and draft animals – mortality on cross-country trips was notoriously high before modern roads and vehicles.

    • MI Dawn

      I like it.. Vaccines are similar in speed (training the immune system) to flying, whereas walking is similar to natural disease. You have risks from flying: crashes, hyjacking, catching a airbourne illness from someone on the plane. Walking is a lot slower, has more risks (injury from walking, weather, natural hazards, wild animals), but if you survive, you still end up in San Francisco.

    • MaineJen

      But…walking from Maine to California would surely make you feel miserable. (Let’s be honest here, we’re not talking about a brisk 5 mile walk). Whereas a plane ride might be momentarily uncomfortable for some, but it will get you to the same destination *far* more quickly and safely.

    • Sonja Henie-Spinning Jenny!

      I really think all this arguing about the analogy is silly. Don’t you get the point?

  • Melly

    But you don’t get awesome scars from vaccines.
    Here are the ones I got as a bonus with my natural immunity to H1N1 back in 2009. Thoracotomy + 3 chest tubes.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/cb17fb73e066c20a406f2ba1a69c301ecd5cb887b6de56154fc93c6828cedb72.jpg

  • J.B.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t the body’s own responses make up a decent chunk of our symptoms of illness? Mucus, inflammation, etc make you feel pretty bad. I’d rather not wake up the dragon unless necessary.

    • MaineJen

      Yes…which is why it’s better not to develop an illness in the first place, if you can possibly help it.

    • Roadstergal

      Ja – mucus, sneezing, coughing, and fever are all mechanisms that stumblingly evolved to try to control pathogens.

  • Clorinda

    The point about sanitation is spot on. Why try to avoid it via hand washing and better hygiene if the natural disease is so much better for our immune system. Don’t rinse off vegetables. Don’t wash your clothes. Don’t bother putting food in the fridge. Don’t bother wiping after using the toilet. Don’t cover your mouth when you sneeze, or better yet, sneeze into your hand then wipe it on doorknobs or offer your sneezy hand to the next person you meet After all, it is natural and is giving the gift of future immunity.

    By their rationale, every bout of food poisoning we get, only makes us more immune to the next one and makes those that survive stronger. And they completely ignore the fact that humans over time (and it did take time for each thing) noticed that bad things tended to happen after not washing, not cooking completely, not wiping, not storing at certain temperatures. etc. And they slowly changed their habits to prevent the bad things as far as possible. And it was as they had the chance to change and the means to change that life expectancy went up.

    • guest

      I never thought of clothes washing as preventing the spread of disease before.

      • Clorinda

        When you think of the history of diseases, you’ve got the smallpox in blankets, whether accidentally or on purpose, or chicken pox parties where they’d have a kids play in certain clothes then send the clothes home to the other kids so they can play in it and get the disease. Measles and polio usually resulted in all clothes and bedding either sanitized is super hot water or completely destroyed, usually by fire to prevent transmission. Even the old Biblical remedies for “leprosy”, some of which was actually mold in clothing or houses, some was what we know to be leprosy, and some other contagious skin diseases, resulted in destruction of property, clothing, pots, etc. to prevent spreading of stuff.

        • guest

          Very true – my brain just made the stupid assumption that since smallpox, polio and leprosy are not diseases we see in the US anymore, that it didn’t apply to the other diseases we do see so much (colds, flu, etc.). It makes sense, but now I wonder about what the best frequency to wash clothing and bedding is (especially since washing clothing is a major strain on the environment).

          • Sonja Henie-Spinning Jenny!

            Many viruses do not live long off the host (person or animal, but we’re talking about people here). I don’t think you have to worry too much about washing any more than necessary unless the patient throws up, bleeds, or eliminates on the clothing or bedding. OTOH, I certainly don’t recommend NOT washing to avoid strain on the environment. Not sharing towels, bedding and clothes is helpful, too. Hard if two kids have to share a bed (or a husband/wife).

          • guest

            Oh, my apartment is something of a lost cause. The kids are twins and share a room, and it’s so small their beds touch each other. We have one little bathroom with not enough space to hang three separate towels. And both of them come and sleep in my bed halfway through the night. I wash sheets and towels once a week because any less frequently and I start to have allergy symptoms anyway.

            Clothes, on the other hand, I was based on whether they have visible stains, whether I recall sweating heavily in them, or whether they smell. Maybe I should consider a little more frequently if anyone has a case of hand, foot, and mouth disease, or anything else I really don’t want spreading to me.

      • Angela

        I just thought of the Velveteen Rabbit story.

        • MI Dawn

          That’s what I thought of, too.

    • Mike Stevens

      Typhoid, cholera and intestinal parasites are just so… desireable!

  • Angela

    Good post. I’ve always been puzzled about how anti-vaxxers can believe this claim. For almost all of human history we’ve had natural immunity, and we know how that worked out.

  • demodocus

    I wonder if one can actually be born with an immunity to a specific illness. If, for example, someone has congenital rubella, do they have immunity too, or just their mom?

    • Roadstergal

      You have to a: be infected and b: have a mature enough immune system to mount an active response. So, no, you’d only have passive immunity (transferred antibodies with a limited half-life) in that situation.

      • demodocus

        Figures. Disabled by a disease and you don’t even get immunity from it so you could catch it again. Thank you and @azuran:disqus

      • OkayFine

        I have no idea what you do for a living or if your knowledge extends to this topic. Since someone mentioned above that you have some working knowledge of immunity, I figured I’d chance it and ask. My spouse seems to be immune to certain stomach viruses, is that possible? Several times I’ve had what appears to be noro or rotavirus and he doesn’t get it even though he is exposed. It drives me insane since I’ll feel like I’m on my deathbed and he is totally fine.

        • Mike Stevens

          There are many different strains of norovirus. Unfortunately you develop immunity only to the strain you get, and remain susceptible to the others.
          It is possible however that exposure to sufficient numbers of the prevalent strains would leave your hubby with some useful immunity.
          It may also just be down to a difference in the genetic/constitutional factors between you. He might be naturally more resilient to some infections, for example.
          It’s like the wedding party who get food poisoning with salmonella… 50% might not even get ill, whereas some might end up seriously ill, or even dead.

          • Roadstergal

            I didn’t even see these discussions below, so yes, Mike pretty much addressed it. 🙂 There are also genetic differences between how you vs your husband might process and present antigens that give you very different responses to the same pathogen.

            When it comes to mucosal immunity, even little things like gut pH make a difference.

        • fiftyfifty1

          This is me and my husband except reversed. My husband and I will be exposed to the same bug (e.g. if a kid brings it home from daycare). My husband will spend the entire night in the bathroom repeatedly vomiting to the point of severe dehydration. I will respond by having my stomach growl a bit more than normal and producing a single slightly looser than average stool. If I weren’t looking for symptoms, I never would notice I was “sick”.

          But it gets equaled out with upper respiratory infections. We will get the same cold and he will need to blow his nose occasionally while I will usually get a sinus infection despite 24/7 decongestants and frequent saline nasal rinses.

    • Azuran

      It’s probably possible. I know it’s possible for cows to be born with immunity to some illnesses if they have been exposed in-utero.
      However, the infection need to reach the foetus, and the foetus needs to be advanced enough to have a working immune system, and survive the infection. I just don’t know if there is any specific illness that is able to reach a human foetus in a late enough stage of gestation for this to happen, but theoretically, it’s possible.

      • StephanieJR

        I remember reading somewhere that, after myxomatosis was spread through Britain, any rabbits that survived it with an immune response passed it onto their offspring. I’m not sure if it has lasted down the generations, though. I do know that it’s time to update my bunny’s vaccinations soon.

    • Michael McCarthy

      I wonder if one can actually be born with an immunity to a specific illness

      Roadstergal may be able to shed more light on this, but there is a mutation called CCR5-delta 32 which offers immunity to most HIV infection. It is also suspected to have offered immunity to the Black Death.

      • Azuran

        I don’t think that’s the kind of immunity Demodocus was referring to.
        From what I understand, the Immunity to HIV is due to having a dysfunctional kind of receptor, that the HIV is not able to use to enter the cell. But it’s not an actual ‘immune response’
        But still very interesting.

        • Kerlyssa

          human resistance to pathogens is composed of more than just the adaptive immune system. the adaptive system is just what vaccines target, since, well, it adapts. bit harder to get a shot to tell your various membranes to form differently, for example or in the hiv resistance’s case, your cell receptors

          in the case of the adaptive immune system, it’s not really heritable like that. the system itself might be changed by the ancestral experiences/allele selections, but it’d still have to ‘learn’ how to respond to each pathogen

          edit: aaand replied to wrong person. clearly bedtime

        • Mike Stevens

          Yup… It’s related or the chemokine receptor which HIV needs to bind to a new host cell. With a delta 32 mutation, this process is impaired, meaning HIV cannot infect new cells. It also protected against plague (the Black Death)

          • demodocus

            That is interesting, although as Azuran surmised, i was asking about the regular, can’t catch it again type

          • MaineJen

            See? This is why I love genetics. #nerd