What would happen if you removed all herd immunity by intentionally creating a population of children who are not vaccinated, because their parents don’t believe in vaccination? What would happen if at a young age, when especially vulnerable to a disease like pertussis? What would happen if this highly contagious disease were then introduced to said population?
Pretty much what you’d expect to happen.
This week, there is an example in Virginia of the ways in which a concentrated number of deliberately unvaccinated children can effect (or infect, depending on your perspective) the health of an entire region: Earlier today, The Roanoke Times reported that the Blue Mountain School, an “alternative” private school in Floyd County, had to shut down for a full week after twenty-three of its forty-five students came down with pertussis. According to the Times, every single one of those children was unvaccinated. The school’s administrator, Shelly Emmett, was quoted as saying, “Many of the families and staff at our school understand that some people choose not to vaccinate their children. We’re not requiring that they do.”
Emmett seems to be saying that the school’s administrators have decided they are exempt from Virginia law, which requires schools and day care centers to have documented proof that children have been vaccinated. (There are religious exemptions available in Virginia, as there are in 48 out of 50 states; Emmett’s quote implies that some, but not all, of the school’s unvaccinated students obtained such an exemption.)
Of course we have already seen outbreaks in mainstream public and private schools (and entire school districts) because a large enough number of parents left their children unvaccinated, thus allowing dangerous infections to take hold in the population and infect those who were not protected. The one thing that has kept most of these outbreaks from reaching the point of full blown epidemic is that at least some of the children were vaccinated, and thus protected from infection.
According to reports, the school, which is very small, with only 45 kindergarten through middle school students has had a total of 30 confirmed cases of pertusis (also known as whooping cough). 23 of them were in students. Presumably the remainders being family members of school faculty.
In case you missed the scale of this, more than half of the student body is confirmed to be infected!
On the bright side, pertusis is usually not fatal in individuals who are beyond a few years old. It is still a horribly unpleasant condition to endure. The infection can easily last more than a month. It is treatable with antibiotics, but because the disease has a long asymptomatic incubation period, by the time the condition becomes obvious and treatment is started, the bacteria can already have taken hold to the extent that weeks of antibiotic treatments are required to cure it.
During that time, sufferers will experience uncontrollable fits of couging. The coughing is so continuous that it results in gasping for breath between coughs (hence the name “whooping cough.) Coughing can result in broken ribs, damage to the lungs, hernia and other complications. Occasionally lung damage or other effects may result in life-long complications.