vaccine

Thought vaccines had wiped out disease and cleared the way for a sickness-free future? Well, mumps came to UF to prove you wrong.

The Alligator reported 18 UF students had contracted mumps as of Monday, a disease characterized by “swollen glands, particularly around the jawline and neck, a fever and fatigue.” All the students had been vaccinated against mumps.

So how is this possible?

Well, as PBS explained, the MMR vaccines, which protect against mumps, measles and rubella, are not 100 percent effective. The vaccine provides a 99 percent protection rate after two doses. The unprotected 1 percent doesn’t mean vaccines are worthless. The 1 percent is still a concern, and for that, another key concept should kick in: herd immunity.

Herd immunity is the idea that if the vast majority of the population is vaccinated against a particular disease, that disease will not gain a foothold in the population and few people will come into contact with it. This not only provides additional protection to vaccinated people, but it also protects unvaccinated people as there will always be a segment of the population who cannot receive vaccines due to health reasons. Unfortunately, not all people who do not take vaccines are doing it for health reasons. That’s where we run into problems.

In recent years, growing skepticism over vaccines and concerns of harmful effects have led to more people opting not to vaccinate their children. According to the Center for Disease Control, the percentage of unvaccinated children rose from 0.3 percent among children born in 2001 to 1.3 percent among children born in 2015. This may not sound like much, but herd immunity requires just about everyone who is healthy enough for vaccines to get one. Even a small decrease can make a big difference. And with other outbreaks, like the measles outbreak in Disneyland in 2014, we can see the weakening of herd immunity in action.

So what do we do now? The obvious answer: get vaccinated if you haven’t already. Contrary to the fearmongering, vaccines are safe and usually only have minimal and temporary side effects.

I’ll refer to numbers given by LiveScience, which show vaccines have saved the lives of 732,000 U.S. children, saved another 300 million from getting sick and (contrary to the claims of a decades-old discredited paper) no vaccines have been shown to cause autism.

In addition, not getting the vaccine and catching one of the diseases you’re supposed to be vaccinated against can have even more serious consequences. One in 10 children who contract measles develop an ear infection that could lead to permanent hearing loss. One in 1,000 children who contract measles dies. Before the chickenpox vaccine was introduced, 100 people out of the 4 million who contracted the disease died each year.

The benefits clearly outweigh any risks. Unless your doctor specifically says you or your child aren’t healthy enough to get vaccines, you should get your vaccinations.

There are very rare cases when vaccines fail and diseases like mumps and measles still spread. In which case, you should follow the usual advice given for avoiding sickness: wash your hands often, cover your mouth when you sneeze, don’t share items like cups and bottles and stay home if you become sick.

If you do actually contract mumps, the Mayo Clinic says there is no way to speed up recovery or cure the disease besides bed rest. Recovery takes a few weeks, but people are usually no longer contagious about five days after symptoms appear.

If you’re one of the 17 UF students with mumps reading this, I wish you a speedy recovery and hope you can rest and take it easy for a little while. For everyone else, I hope this column has armed you with the knowledge to deal with this and similar outbreaks.

And remember: Get vaccinated.

Jason Zappulla is a UF history senior. His column appears on Tuesdays.