Community Protection: Winning the Vector Battle

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In biology, a vector is a biological agent, kind of like a secret agent. It can be an animal, an insect, water, food, or another person. The vector transmits an infection (like a virus or bacteria) a host where the infection can grow, like you. A vector is another name for a carrier of disease.

The evil, self-described character “Vector”, Victor Perkins from the 2010 animated movie, Despicable Me, used another way to describe a vector.  “It's a mathematical term, represented by an arrow with both direction and magnitude.” That describes the vector for many contagious diseases … they are an agent that gives the disease both direction to the host, and magnitude, depending on how many vectors are out in the community.

In quest to help people live the healthiest lives possible, vaccines are our best weapons to stop the evil vector. If a disease is directed at someone – say your child – you want a defense that deflects that redirects that arrow elsewhere, no matter the magnitude.

The problem is, disease will continue to bounce around until it finds an acceptable host.  That is where community protection comes into play. When a community is protected by immunization, disease doesn’t have an opportunity to grow. They can’t find a host, and that host cannot become a new vector. We see that today with diseases like polio – there are enough individuals protected by vaccines in our community that the virus cannot get established. With no hosts or vectors, it more or less dies out in a community (we refer to a disease as being “eliminated” when this happens). When a disease is complete removed from our environment, it is considered eradicated (such as Small Pox, which now only exists in laboratories).

Sometimes when we almost reach elimination of disease in an area, we get lax in our defenses. Diseases then have the opportunity for “resurgence”, or returning – we have seen this happen with measles. This disease was considered eliminated from the United States in 2002. But we have seen a resurgence in the US including here in Utah. It is most often tied to travel by unimmunized or under-immunized individuals to areas where you can still find the disease, who then become vectors, bringing the disease back to our community.

With most preventable disease, we need to reach a level of community protection (the number of people that have received the full course of vaccines) that doesn’t allow the disease to sustain itself, because it can’t find hosts and vectors. Because of how infectious measles and pertussis are, almost everyone in the community needs to be immunized in order to keep these diseases from returning.

There are some that would suggest that others should be vaccinated, and that by doing so it protects them and they don’t need to do it. This is simply not the case. As mentioned, the level of community protection needed for some diseases is incredibly high.

There are some individuals that don’t respond well to vaccines, and even when they are vaccinated they don’t develop the antibodies to protect themselves.  There are a few other that simply cannot be vaccinated. Whether due to rare allergies, or they are too young, or they are immunocompromised (meaning their bodies cannot create antibodies). This can be because of another disease (AIDS), a treatment they are receiving, or other health issues.

If our community is to beat the odds and win the vector battle, we all have to step up and do our part. Childhood immunizations (required for school or daycare) is the one that gets the most attention, but there are important vaccines that adults need as well like influenza (flu) and pertussis (whooping cough) vaccines The CDC has an easy to read list of vaccines needed by age:

At Intermountain, we are so committed to winning the vector war that we require all of our staff to be vaccinated, to prevent them from passing infections on to the patients we care for. This is vital if we are to help everyone live the healthiest lives possible.

Have questions?  See your doctor. They have the education, training, and experience to know what is in your best health interest.  You can also visit Intermountain pharmacies for more information and for many vaccinations. The point is that in order for all of us to live the healthiest lives possible, we need to work together to help see preventable diseases eliminated from our community.