This article appeared in Ag Journal. Read the full story here.

“When you vaccinate, you’re not just protecting yourself,” said Health Department Director Rick Ritter on Friday. “You are doing that for the good of the community and the public.”

School is back in session, but students aren’t the only ones mingling in the hallways between classes. The kids (and teachers) are bringing whatever germs reside inside them, and some people may have weaker immune systems than others, which is why the health department stresses the importance of getting children vaccinated.

Ritter explained the concepts of herd immunity, the “cocooning effect” and how they play a vital role in keeping the most vulnerable among us healthy and safe.

Herd immunity, Ritter explained, is the idea that disease outbreaks are less likely to occur in populations where vaccination rates are higher.

“If the herd or the public in a certain area is mostly immunized, a disease will not gain any traction to make an outbreak, to make an epidemic,” he said. “If the herd is immunized, how’s the outbreak going to happen?”

Ritter said vaccinations protect not only the person who was immunized but, also, the community in which they live.

Cocooning is a vaccination strategy to protect infants and other vulnerable individuals – especially those who cannot be vaccinated, e.g., those who are receiving chemotherapy – by immunizing those in close contact with them.

The theory is that those who can’t receive vaccinations are protected because the people around them have been protected from disease.

Ritter used the analogy of a calendar to visualize his point.

“If you think of your desk calendar that’s got dates on it, it’s got the squares,” said Ritter. “The person who’s medically contraindicated is smack dab in the middle, and all the squares around that are people who are immunized.

“Then on the outside of your calendar are the diseases. Those diseases can’t get through that pack of immunized people because they’re immunized. They’re not going to get sick, so they can’t get to the non-immunized person. There’s not going to be an epidemic.”

Ritter added that contraindicated persons can quickly find themselves in life-threatening situations should they get sick.

“Have you ever heard the old expression, ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?’” asked Ritter. “What that means is a little preventive measure is going to circumvent a whole lot of heartache. In other words, prevention is much less costly, in terms of money and pain and worry and stress, than trying to cure a disease.”

The health director shared an anecdote that demonstrated his adage. In an issue of Hot Topics Epidemiology, Ritter found a story about a 6-year-old boy who was hospitalized after sustaining a laceration on his forehead.

The boy’s parents cleaned and sutured his wound at home, but six days later he was crying, clenching his jaw and experiencing involuntary upper extremity muscle spasms, which were followed by arching of his head and neck.

“And, of course, that’s tetanus,” said Ritter. “Which is life-threatening.”

The boy’s parents hadn’t gotten him vaccinated with the TDAP. Not including air transportation, patient rehabilitation and ambulatory followups, Ritter said, the experience costed the boy’s family $811,929.

“When you include air transportation, in-patient rehab and ambulatory followup, that’s going to go north of a million bucks,” he said.

Ritter said vaccinations are safe, and he and his family – including his kids – get them and will continue to get them.

Some vaccinations are optional for school children, but others are mandatory.

So which ones does your child need?

Colorado law (Board of Health rule 6 CCR 1009-2) requires all students attending Colorado schools and licensed child cares to be vaccinated against certain diseases, unless an exemption is filed, the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment states on its website.

“Meeting the initial vaccine requirements does not excuse a student from meeting additional requirements,” the site states. “In addition to the vaccines required for school entry, there are several vaccines recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices that provide protection against other diseases. These include Meningococcal, Hepatitis A, Rotavirus, Human papillomavirus and Influenza.”