Why Don’t People Vaccinate? Familiarity! November 7, 2014 By Cait Hartwyk Leave a Comment A new report from the University of Michigan Risk Science Center claims that the main reason we do not vaccinate is because we are familiar with the disease. Professor Brian Zikmund-Fisher uses the example of chicken pox to support his claim. He notes how the chicken pox vaccine has been around for nearly 15 years, yet varicella vaccine compliance numbers trail far behind those for the vaccine for MMR. His reasoning is quite simple. We sometimes don’t see the need to vaccinate because we are familiar with the disease. Continuing with his example of chicken pox, it is estimated that more than 99% of people over the age of 40 have had chicken pox. That is practically everyone. And yet, many of these people have not vaccinated their children against chicken pox. The anti-vaccine movement may have something to do with this statistic, but it is likely that familiarity plays a role too. Professor Zikmund-Fisher points out how, for many, chicken pox was practically a ‘rite of childhood,’ uncomfortable though it may have been. Having the chicken pox was not ‘that’ bad. It’s the same basic logic that many people use when deciding to forgo an annual flu vaccination. “I didn’t get a shot last year. Yes, I got sick, but the flu wasn’t that bad. Why should I get vaccinated now?” “I can survive the flu. I have before. I don’t need a shot.” And yet, a Bloomberg View article points out the dangers of this mentality. Shingles is a resurgence of the chicken pox virus in the body. It attacks the nerves, and, while generally painful, it rarely leads to more serious issues. However, for a portion of the population, it can lead to post herpetic neuralgia, a painful form of nerve damage that can last for a few months or even the rest of the individual’s life. Interestingly, if 100 people are not vaccinated for shingles, 30 will contract the disease, and, of those 30, about 5 will get post herpetic neuralgia. Compare that to 100 vaccinated individuals; only 15 of these people will end up suffering from shingles, and only 1.5 people will have post herpetic neuralgia. The infection rates drop in half, and the incidence of serious complications decreases markedly with vaccination. It is estimated that only about 20% of individuals over 60 years old (the group that is eligible for the shingles vaccine) have received it. Professor Zikmund-Fisher uses himself as an example; his parents had chicken pox, he’s had chicken pox, it wasn’t too bad, so he didn’t really see a need for the shingles vaccine. But, he reminds us that vaccination is very necessary. When dealing with any disease, (and varicella and herpes zoster are no exceptions!) it is crucial to endeavor to avoid complications, and the vaccines for both diseases do just this while saving money too. Indeed, the medications to help treat shingles can easily cost more than $300 with insurance! The best way to prevent these costly bills and stay healthy is to be prepared and vaccinate as soon as possible. Even a few days delay can make a huge difference as some vaccines can take more than a week to become fully effective in the body. Don’t be familiar with a virus. Just because it ‘wasn’t that bad’ doesn’t mean vaccinating isn’t important. For more information on this and other vaccine related topics, please contact our Passport Health immunology specialists either through our website or by calling 1-888-499-PASS (7277).