Dr. Paul Offit explains the difference between immunity following natural infection vs. vaccination and why vaccines are the safer choice.
Wouldn’t it be better for my child to get these diseases naturally?
Speaker 1: Wouldn’t it be better for my child to get some of these diseases naturally rather than get the vaccines?
Paul Offit, MD: It's a reasonable question. So, let's take a look.
I'm a child of the fifties. I had measles. The level of antibodies that I have against measles is probably about three-fold higher than the level of antibodies that my children have after they got a measles vaccine. So, they were born in the 1990s, they got a measles vaccine. I got natural measles. Now the fact is, is that with a measles vaccine, we were able to essentially eliminate measles from the United States.
So, the question isn't really, is the immunity following natural infection better? It's, is the immunity following vaccination good enough? And it's certainly is good enough for measles to have eliminated this disease from this country, measles, by the year 2000. Now, sadly measles has come back to some extent in the U.S. because a critical percentage of parents have chosen not to vaccinate their children with measles-containing vaccine.
But I'd like to say that when I got natural measles back in the 1950s, I was lucky because every year 3 to 4 million children would get measles. Every year, about 50,000 children would be hospitalized when measles infected their lungs and caused pneumonia or when measles infected their brain and caused encephalitis. And every year, about 500 children would die from measles.
So, the goal of the vaccine is to induce the immunity that's encountered by natural infection without paying the price of natural infection. That's what vaccines do. I'm not sure why the word “natural” has such cache because a natural virus, a circulating virus which virologist refer to as a wild-type virus, is never a good idea. You never want to try and get a natural infection because natural infections can kill you. And you want to be able to get the immunity that's acquired by surviving a natural infection without ever having to risk that severe and occasionally fatal illness associated with a natural infection.
Related Centers and Programs: Vaccine Education Center
Last Reviewed on Feb 16, 2022