How herd immunity works

by Deb on February 20, 2010

I didn’t intend to write a series about vaccines, but it is a pet topic and there are a lot of scientific misunderstandings out there.  So every now and then when the topic comes up in my life I can see I’ll be adding to this.

The immune system

Our bodies face multiple attacks every day.  They are not only attacked by people who are obviously sick – there are environmental antigens and even the colonies living inside us can cause problems.  Thrush is a perfect example – it is normal in the gut, but in the mouth, nipples and vagina it will make us sick if our immune system doesn’t deal with it straight away.  This contamination happens all the time, but most of us are lucky enough not to have thrush continuously because our immune system just deals with it.  In other words every single one of us who is not immune compromised has a good immune system.

Your immune system deals with thousands of threats a year, the times you get sick are the tiny percentage compared to the times it is defeated.  If you want numbers, say conservatively your immune system faces 1000 threats in a year and you have 8 colds – that’s a 0.8% failure rate!  If you’re a little kid and get lots of colds, you might have a 0.15% failure rate.  Even an extremely sickly child who had a new cold every single week (it actually takes little ones longer than that to get over things, but hypothetically an extreme case) would be looking at a 5% failure rate.  To me, that sounds like it’s working extremely well – I wish I had a 95% success rate!

In fact, if you get a cold your immune system has not failed, so I really shouldn’t say “failure rate,” it is a temporary setback.  It only fails if you die or are only saved by medicine.  Having a cold is just the delay between an antigen building up enough for you to notice it and your immune system getting rid of it.  How ‘well’ we feel is not really about our immune system – we all notice different levels of discomfort at different times.  It depends on far more than our viral load.

People can be immunocompromised for a number of reasons, including chemotherapy and pregnancy.  Most of us are familiar with AIDS – acquired immune deficiency syndrome – the reason it was isolated was because doctors noticed people with really weird diseases that usually occur in parrots or cancer patients.  People were dying of things that the rest of us don’t even notice are around – we are still attacked by them, but our immune system deals with them so quickly we don’t know about it.  So for the average person without those specific conditions the immune system is extremely strong, even if you are living on processed junk food.  It can be affected by deficiencies in particular nutrients, but getting extra is not going to boost it to super extra extremely strong.

Herd Immunity

The world from a virus’ point of view is rather different to ours.  A virus exists to make more of itself.  It generally does this by hijacking other species’ cells and hiding there.  Once it infects a host it has to make as much of itself as it can and move on to other hosts, because there are generally only two outcomes – the host destroys the virus, or dies itself (in which case there are no more nice cells and the virus dies too).  So viruses have all sorts of clever ways to get themselves spread as quickly as they can.  In a herd, this is much easier than with separated individuals – there are lots of potential hosts all around you.

The way herd immunity works is by isolating potential hosts and reducing a disease’s opportunities to be passed on.  Have a look at the first picture.  It represents 100 people with a 95% vaccination rate.  There are also around 10% of the population who have reduced immunity to that particular virus for some reason.  This is just a representative figure – our immune systems have different reactions to different diseases and vaccines so there is never 100% coverage, some diseases are very high and some fairly low.  We all know people who’ve had chicken pox more than once, or who have lost their immunity to rubella.  It doesn’t mean they have a bad immune system, it means they haven’t developed full immunity to that particular antigen.  They are the people who are light pink.

The dark pink people are those who haven’t been vaccinated, for whatever reason, or had the disease.  You can see that these people are relatively isolated.  If one of them were to have the virus, there is a ‘fence’ of immune people around them which stops the virus – there is nowhere for it to multiply because the new host stops it straight away.  The reason I’m talking about vaccination here is because it is the only practical way to get 95% of the population exposed to a disease, it doesn’t happen naturally.

Now consider a population with 80% vaccination.  It sounds pretty good, but look at the graphic -

There is no ‘fence’ around these people, if one of them were to get the virus it could easily be passed to another without immunity, then another, and another.  So the disease in this population will never be controlled because there is always someone else it can go to.

In reality it is even worse, because people who are unvaccinated tend to be in clusters.

You can see here there are pockets that are almost completely unprotected, or have very low vaccination rates.  This is bad for two reasons – first, it is disastrous for those inside the pocket.  If the virus gets loose in there it will spread quickly and there will be an epidemic.  And the reality is that very few people who are unvaccinated are that way through their own choice – the decision has been made for them by circumstance or by their parents.  Secondly, it has been shown that it is safer to be unvaccinated and surrounded by an immune population, that fully vaccinated and surrounded by non-immune people.  So the vulnerable groups are bigger than they appear when you add in the people on the periphery who are in danger of repeated attacks by the virus – the more attacks there are, the more likely one is to get through!

That’s a lot of people who are in danger when the epidemic hits.

One last graphic to show why it’s so important to have very high coverage, this is a population with only 70% immunity.  This is not unusual in pockets, or in countries without easy access to vaccines.

In fact it’s fantastic for some countries, but still not good enough.  You can see there is no separation of non-immune people, a virus would happily circulate in this population forever and people are depending on their personal immunity.

In summary:

  • Unless someone is immunocompromised, their immune system is fine.  In fact it’s awesomely fantastic.
  • A virus’ purpose is to be spread to as many people as it possibly can, as quickly as it can.
  • Herd immunity builds a fence around non-immune people, so viruses cannot find new hosts and are stuck in a dead end (literally).
  • Herd immunity has to be extremely high to work – if the non-immune people meet up, the virus can use them like a road to get around the whole population and will continue to find new hosts and make people sick.
  • When non-immune people are in clusters they are just waiting for the epidemic and the people around the edges of the cluster are also in danger.
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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Scott Roob February 21, 2010 at 9:40 pm

This article is assumming that persons who get the vaccine are more protected than those that dont get the vaccine, therefore it is innacurate to class un-vaccinated persons as a threat to the herd. A un-vaccinated person could easily pass on aquired immunity to others if there immune systems work well.

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Deb February 21, 2010 at 9:51 pm

No. Read the article, I clearly talk about immune people, not vaccinated. Immunity can come from vaccination or from having the disease – as far as your immune system is concerned it is the same process (there are some differences in immunity when vaccines only use part of the virus). Vaccination is a more certain and less dangerous way of developing immunity than hoping that you catch something but then only get a little bit sick.

There is no way to ‘pass on immunity’ – that makes no sense. Your immune system develops immunity in response to an antigen. It is completely individual and cannot be passed on.

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Scott Roob February 21, 2010 at 10:51 pm

“There is no ‘fence’ around these people, if one of them were to get the virus it could easily be passed to another without immunity, then another, and another. So the disease in this population will never be controlled because there is always someone else it can go to.

In reality it is even worse, because people who are unvaccinated tend to be in clusters” you are claiming that the fence belongs to the vaccinated people, you are not placing the un-vaccintaed people in the “fence” there therefore claiming they have superior protection. I need to find out where I read about immunity being spread without contact

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Deb February 22, 2010 at 8:37 am

It’s true that unvaccinated people tend to be in clusters. Either they are unvaccinated because they have health problems or contra-indications like a family history, in which case the whole family is often unvaccinated. Or they have chosen not to vaccinate, again it is usually at least a family group but if you look at vaccination rates in both the US and Australia there are distinct geographical clusters, areas where large numbers of people have chosen not to whether for social reasons or like-minded people living together. In 3rd world countries there are clusters because of the way health services are spread. So for many reasons it is a fact – unvaccinated people tend to live in clusters.

The ‘fence’ is metaphorical – a virus cannot spread if it gets into a host who is already immune because it will be killed before it can build up the numbers to be passed on. So the fence does not belong to anyone, it is made up of the people who are immune who surround the people who are not immune. However, in order to completely surround people who are not immune, the numbers of immune people need to be extremely high – have a look at the diagrams, the fence only works with 95% immunity. The only practical way to achieve numbers that high across a population is vaccination – it’s incredibly rare for a disease to be able to infect that many that quickly, I don’t know if it’s even possible.

Herd immunity is about populations, not individuals. A population with vaccination will have superior protection to a population that doesn’t, purely because it has a higher percentage of immune people in it.

There are two ways immunity can be passed on – during pregnancy and breastfeeding. However that is different to the lifelong immunity we are talking about here. It would be lovely if my children were immune to chicken pox, mumps, rubella etc., unfortunately they aren’t. It’s just that my body can support them temporarily.

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Scott Roob February 22, 2010 at 1:35 pm

hmmmm, anyway, what makes you think people who have been vaccinated will have superior protection? The swine flu, for example, wasn’t tested to show to give more protection against the flu than those that didn’t get the vaccine. I think if anything, those that choose not to get the vaccine – because they didn’t see it neccessary – where more likely to be informed about how to improve ones own immune system response – through herbs, foods or supplements. Most of the people I knew (who got the vaccine) where the conventional un-educated persons easily scared by governments propaganda and typical ignorant person who thinks processed food is food, further they had no idea on how to improve the immune system and it wouldn’t surprise me if they even knew they had an immune system. I find it odd that when the WHO says a virus is gonna spread, they never mention about the power of eating well, using supplements and using herbs herbs for protection – why don’t they teach people to be strong and independant, rather than live in fear? The answer is ovious.

Alot of people where almost like mice being tested on with the swine flu vaccine, and a alot people reported being ill after the vaccine. I dread the day when we are forced vaccines against our will, I can feel it coming, its almost like they have been preparing for it the way they (WHO) made it out to be pandemic, its almost like they are building up to something by practicing.

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Deb February 22, 2010 at 2:20 pm

I haven’t said that vaccination gives superior immunity to catching the disease. Are you saying you think vaccinated people don’t have superior immunity to a particular disease than people who haven’t had it or the vaccination? If that’s what you think, it’s a misunderstanding of how the immune system works. The bit we’re talking about with vaccination isn’t some general shield that keeps disease away from you, it’s very specific. It sees an antigen, in this case a virus. It creates a specific weapon to fight only that virus, then remembers it. So the next time that virus appears it doesn’t have to waste time coming up with a weapon, it’s already there and waiting. That’s why you don’t usually get viruses twice – not because you’re stronger or healthier or never get exposed to them, but because your immune system is ready and kills them quickly before they can make you sick. If your immune system has never seen the virus, either through vaccination or having the disease, it has no protection against that disease, no matter how generally healthy you are. So yes, in people who are vaccinated for a particular disease have far superior protection to that virus than someone who has never encountered it.

And unfortunately, you disprove your own theory.
“those that choose not to get the vaccine – because they didn’t see it neccessary – where more likely to be informed about how to improve ones own immune system response – through herbs, foods or supplements.”
This just proves you don’t understand anything about the immune system. You cannot improve it through herbs, foods or supplements unless you actually have a deficiency of some sort. As the first half of the article discusses, it is already mind-blowingly strong. It doesn’t face a dozen infections a year – it faces thousands. And the tiny, tiny percentage that get through are the ones you notice.

The rest of your comment is opinion and irrational conspiracy theory. You are claiming that literally millions of people around the world, including doctors, universities, governments, scientists, editors, journalists, aid agencies and yes, pharmaceutical companies, from different countries, colours and across all socio-economic groups are all in on some conspiracy to control or kill people for some completely unknown reason and none of it has ever been leaked. In that case you have far more to worry about than vaccines – you couldn’t possibly send your children to school where they could be indoctrinated or purchase food from a shop or trust a powersupply or telephone company (how do you get internet access?).

I consider conspiracy theories to be unfair attacks on innocent people who are actually working very hard to protect you and inappropriate to this blog, which is about teaching science. Perhaps in the future I will deconstruct one, but here it would be sidetracking. This post is about herd immunity, and I am more than happy to clarify or further explain what I’ve written here. To continue after having been warned would be offensive and those portions of comments will be edited.

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Scott Roob February 22, 2010 at 3:06 pm

I know how vaccines are suppossed to work. But you have no way of showing that persons who are vaccinated have superior protection against a virus than those that dont get a vaccine, the people that dont get a vaccine could have alreadly devolped the correct immune system response to a particular virus.

Further, it is clear that most people on this planet could improve their immune systems since the food we eat is so nutrionally poor and loaded with carcinogens – which ultimately weaken the immune system – therefore anti carcinogens – like sulforaphane, turmeric and selenium (which is lacking in most peoples diets, and is a vital part of the immune system) – would likely improve the immune system.

Even if one has been vaccinated they still need to have an immune system that is strong to make enough anti bodies, otherwise they would have difficultly dealing with a virus once they come into contact with it and would still become ill. There have been no studies showing vaccinated persons are less likley to become ill – with regards to the flu – against un-vaccinated persons.

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Deb February 22, 2010 at 3:53 pm

There are two very easy ways to show whether people who have been vaccinated have better immunity to a particular virus than those who haven’t. The first is to ask whether the people who haven’t been vaccinated have had the disease or been exposed to it. Now it is always possible that people have been exposed to something and developed immunity without knowing it, it depends on the disease how common this is. But it is overwhelmingly probable that someone who has no memory of being exposed has no immunity – therefore someone who has been vaccinated will almost certainly have better immunity than they do. The other way is more difficult but more certain – take a blood sample and test it. This is done routinely to pregnant women to test for immunity to rubella and toxoplasmosis. If there are antibodies there, the person is immune no matter how they developed it. So it is not a matter of ‘better’ immunity, it is a matter of exposure. If someone has been vaccinated then they have definitely been exposed and will almost certainly have immunity (how certain depends on the vaccine, different ones are more or less effective). If they have not been vaccinated but have had the disease, they will almost certainly have immunity, depending on their individual reaction to the disease. If they have not been vaccinated and have not had the disease, they are very unlikely to have immunity.

It is definitely not clear that most people could improve their immune systems, because our immune systems already work incredibly well. The measure of an immune system is not what you eat – it is how many antigens it stops and how long it keeps you alive. Your immune system stops thousands of antigens every year and only lets a tiny percentage through – dropping the number of infections you feel from 12 for example to 0 would be statistically no change at all.

As for being able to make antibodies – they are just a specialised chemical made by a type of cell. Your body is producing millions of cells and chemicals all the time. If you weren’t strong enough to produce them you would be incredibly ill and probably about to die, in which case the infection would probably make no difference. I’m not a doctor, but the best analogy I can think of off the top of my head is like saying people need to do weights in order to be strong enough to breathe. Yes you use muscles to breathe, but it is a basic body function, not something the average person needs to work on because they are unfit.

I don’t know about flu studies off the top of my head but that would surprise me extremely – it’s the basic testing that’s done before a vaccine is approved, seeing they are approved they have been tested. But even so, we’re not talking about flu but vaccines in general, and there are most definitely studies that show people are less likely to become ill. Just using recent examples, in a measles (edited: mumps) outbreak in New Jersey unvaccinated children were 7 times as likely to become ill. In British Columbia 19 unvaccinated children have whooping cough and no unvaccinated children. In a measles outbreak in Victoria (AU) about 4 years ago over 60 unvaccinated children had measles, no vaccinated children. When I was in school there was an outbreak of rubella – 36 boys and no girls. It was part of the reason that the WA health department decided to vaccinate boys as well as girls, precisely for the reasons of herd immunity I’ve explained here.

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Deb February 22, 2010 at 5:20 pm

By the way, I need to acknowledge and thank you for responding politely. I love polite debate, it is the only way to talk to each other and not just end up in different camps fighting.

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Scott Roob February 22, 2010 at 5:54 pm

“But it is overwhelmingly probable that someone who has no memory of being exposed has no immunity – therefore someone who has been vaccinated will almost certainly have better immunity than they do” I agree, however than doesnt mean that if one hasn’t been exposed to the pathogen that they will be seriously ill if exposed – they could devolp immunity to it rapidly, the speed in which immunity devolps doesnt seem clear to me. Do you know what factors influnece the speed in which immunity is devolped?

Wouldn’t increased levels of immune cells be better, than having less? Alot of people I know become ill many times through out the year, indicating that their immune systems are not strong enough. Also many people die of cancer and many also have yeast issues. If they had stronger immune systems they would be more likely to fight these things off. And we both now that vitamin c, zinc, magnesium, selenium etc improve immune cells levels. Increased immune cells levels may also be the determing factor of how fast immunity is devolped.

Until I see proof in study that these vaccines are needed I wont believe in them, I looked for quite along time for studies comparing vaccinated people against un-vaccinated but I couldn’t find any.

I did find these: http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/129/1/173

http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/abstract/316/13/771

Perhaps if they had stronger white blood cells and T cells they may of delt with it better?

This is also interesting: http://www dot stormfront.org/forum/showthread.php?t=659115 Warning: Stormfront is a white supremacist site. Do not visit if that will upset you.

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Deb February 23, 2010 at 12:08 am

Aaarrgh! I’ve just lost the long reply. Apologies, but it’s midnight here and I will have to come back to it tomorrow.

I have changed one of your links so it isn’t direct, I don’t want direct links to stormfront from my blog.

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Deb February 24, 2010 at 9:11 am

OK, sorry. I suspect we’ve been talking about different things. Immunity is about whether or not you get a disease – if you are immune, you don’t get it, if you aren’t immune you might, depending on the disease. Severity is quite different.

Generally the theory is that if you have been vaccinated you should get a milder dose, but I’m not aware of any studies. It’s based on the fact that vaccination should give you at least partial immunity because your immune system has encountered the antigen before, so it should be able to keep it in check. However reactions to disease are very individual, I’m not a doctor but I know at least some of the factors are genetics, perception and individual idiosycrisy.

Genetics is extremely important in the immune system, one of the ways is through some of the chemicals on the surface of different cells and how they work. In general it is good to have as many different ones as possible, which actually leads to differences in mate selection – we seem to be able to subconsiously smell something to do with the immune system and are attracted to ones that are different to our own! It doesn’t seem to be that some are good and some are bad, it’s a tradeoff – one might help you with one virus but make you more susceptible to a different one.

By perception I mean that how we experience illness is very subjective. Obviously some things like double pneumonia are very bad, but is it better to have chicken spots all over your outer body or have a few inside your mouth, ears and vagina? So from that point of view how sick we are very much depends on our own judgement. We all know people who never take a sick day and others who are off all the time, but that might have more to do with how much they enjoy their job or how indispensible they feel. I’m not saying it’s on purpose, just that it effects how they perceive their illness.

By personal idiosyncrisy I mean how our bodies react. My brother and I once had the same virus. He was hospitalised for dehydration because he was throwing up so much, I came out in the worst case of hives the dermatologist had ever seen. Yet it was tested and was the same virus, our bodies just reacted in different ways (incidentally, who was sicker? – my mother says I was the sickest any of her children has ever been, but I didn’t get hospitalised). The same can happen with severity, some people are going to be hit very hard by particular types of viruses, it’s not a general weakness of immunity it just means they react to that particular type of virus in a really bad way.

I’ve been trying to find out how much our immune system actually deals with, the best I’ve found so far is a really vague ‘thousands a day.’ At that level, even if you got sick 20 times a year (which is incredibly high, the average adult is around 5-10) you are still looking at being effective 99.9% of the time. At that level, it’s almost random chance whether you are sick once or 10 times.

I don’t know anything about yeast, but cancer is a completely different – it is caused by mutations. Certain things like radiation from the sun and some chemicals can cause it, so it’s definitely a good idea to avoid them, but a lot of cancers are caused by old age. If your body divides enough cells over enough time, eventually one of the mistakes is going to get through, and that’s what causes a lot of cancers. So in a way the fact that so many people now die of cancer shows how good our lives are – we don’t die of childhood illnesses and infections but survive long enough to get cancer.

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Scott Roob February 22, 2010 at 5:56 pm

Yes, polite debate is good, we just want to find the best way of living! :-)

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Scott Robb February 23, 2010 at 12:37 am

Its cool, I do that all the time and it is well annoying! :-) I may be changing my stance on vaccines, found some info, but there is are still alot of factors that come into play in the studies and I am not 100% convinced the pharmaceutical companies and doctors are doing there best to raise health awareness and I do suspect there is alot of greed involved with the massive companies.

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Deb February 24, 2010 at 9:25 am

As for companies – I agree, there is a lot of unethical marketing that goes on with the big pharmaceutical companies and it’s definitely a problem when it comes to prescribing. Ironically, I don’t think vaccines are generally part of it (although gardasil has been a major problem). In general, companies would make far more money by treating the childhood diseases – a one-off vaccine costs far less than ongoing medications. In fact that is why the US established the vaccine court to compensate for vaccine injuries – because of the risk of being sued the companies were refusing to make vaccines because there was no profit in them. It was far cheaper, not to mention healthier, for the government to compensate people than to have to pay for the healthcare of everyone getting sick from preventable diseases.

For individual doctors promoting prevention, I think that comes down to the practitioner and time. I’ve had excellent doctors who have discussed nutrition and exercise with me and others who’ve barely said a word and just handed me a prescription. In those cases, it is up to patients to take responsibility and question. But prevention is definitely a large part of medical courses and doctors have been pushing nutrition, exercise, sunsmart etc for a very long time.

I sincerely hope you change your mind, obviously I think vaccines are a good thing and I want that protection for everyone, and you can add to the herd immunity :D

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cass February 23, 2011 at 8:41 am

You have explained nicely how I feel. This stuff weighs heavily in my mind as I try to make a decision.

I applaud Deb for such a great post and great explanation

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Susan K. February 24, 2010 at 7:27 am

What would be your response to the people who say that herd immunity doesn’t really function as you’ve illustrated above in an immunized population, because immunization only grants temporary immunity and most adults revert to a non-immune state anyway? (I am not one of those people, but I have never known how to respond to that argument or whether it is true.)

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Deb February 24, 2010 at 9:58 am

There are a few aspects to this. Firstly, it’s not certain that you do ‘lose’ immunity. Different vaccines last different times, there are usually trade-offs. So in the recent whooping cough problem, what’s happened is they used to use a whole-cell vaccine, which was highly effective but had a higher risk of side effects. So they swapped to a vaccine that was safer but didn’t give as much cover, and unfortunately the virus has mutated. The old Salk oral polio vaccine was the same – extremely effective, but more dangerous. This is why many countries with a polio problem still use it – it is more important for them as a country to use herd immunity to contain the disease than have a safer but less effective vaccine like we use.

Secondly – it is definitely a problem if adults don’t get their boosters. There is a schedule of boosters as well, some like tetanus you are asked when you present at the doctor with a problem wound. There has been a recent campaign for all parents and grandparents to get whooping cough boosters. If people get their boosters then herd immunity works.

Thirdly – one of the ultimate goals of herd immunity is to eradicate diseases. Something like measles will always be with us. But smallpox has been eradicated as a disease – it now only exists as samples in labs. So now the only people immunised against smallpox are soldiers who might face it as a terrorist weapon, the rest of us don’t have to worry anymore. Polio was almost eradicated, but a rumour was started that vaccination was a Western plot to sterilise Muslim girls and people in some African countries refused it, now polio is spreading again. There are now vaccines being produced in Muslim countries but the damage has been done http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19325943.000-stakes-are-raised-in-the-battle-to-beat-polio.html (Thanks to Coran). If enough people have immunity at the same time, the disease will die because it cannot get into any hosts. For this, immunity doesn’t have to be forever, just long enough for the disease to be stopped.

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Sue February 4, 2011 at 7:43 am

Deb you say
“This just proves you don’t understand anything about the immune system. You cannot improve it through herbs, foods or supplements unless you actually have a deficiency of some sort. ”

Really? I am sure there are many people who would say from their own experience that for eg eating healthful foods acts as a preventative in many ways and keeps the body healthy, I mean if we started to eat junk foods we soon know that we become more suseptible to illness. We are told that all the time from various sources. I can’t imagine what you are reading that would lead you to think otherwise.

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Deb February 4, 2011 at 9:09 am

You appear to be mixing up two different types of illnesses. Healthy food, exercise, sleep etc contribute to the lifestyle illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. These diseases are not caused by pathogens and have absolutely no input from the immune system. Many people do feel better when eating well, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the immune system. And unfortunately people’s feelings aren’t a reliable guide, we’re very, very good at fooling ourselves. That’s why we need large-scale epidemiological studies to tease out risk factors and there is a huge amount of debate in nutrition.

The diseases that the immune system protects against are ones like colds or infections caused by viruses and bacteria. Your eating and activity level have absolutely no bearing on your immune system’s ability to fight off an infection – obese people are not at greater risk of catching a cold. They may be more at risk for complications from a respiratory infection, but not for getting it in the first place.

I tend to still keep up with the scientific literature in my own field, and definitely science educational texts and general science in other fields to make sure I’m up to date for my teaching. This type of thing is peripherally related to human biology through things like physiology and histology which I studied in my degree, plus I’ve done a lot of reading on how the immune system works over the last few years as our knowledge has greatly expanded. If you have some scientific literature that shows a link between immune function and diet, rather than health and diet, I’d be interested in seeing it.

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Sue February 4, 2011 at 4:23 pm

I guess that is why many people get frustrated with the compartmentalisation of science, is that it looks at things in separate parts and not at the whole.

It seems that we fundamentally disagree.

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Deb February 4, 2011 at 5:26 pm

I’m not sure how you can fundamentally disagree. The quote was not about general health, it was about the immune system. The immune system cannot be improved by lifestyle no matter what you do, but lifestyle diseases can. With the caveat of genuine deficiencies such as Vit D, which may play a role, but this is not a general rule.

How people feel is subjective, not something science measures. I agree completely that most people will generally feel better when they eat well and exercise. They will most likely be healthier if they have decreased their risk of lifestyle diseases. But it can’t affect their immune system, they still have the same risk of catching a cold and no beliefs can change that. That compartmentalisation has nothing to do with science, it’s how your body works. The immune system has a specific role in keeping invaders out of your body, just like a fence around your property and guard dogs inside. A beautiful, lovingly tended garden will make your property a nicer place to be and more valuable, but it won’t stop a burglar.

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Sue February 4, 2011 at 9:28 pm

Its well known that a person’s state of mind can affect their physical health, if a person is ill and stressed out it can make their recovery longer and more difficult. Quantum Physics has known for years about energy affecting matter, that is one e.g of why I disagree.

And back to your other comment that I originally noted
“This just proves you don’t understand anything about the immune system. You cannot improve it through herbs, foods or supplements unless you actually have a deficiency of some sort. ”

Isnt that the point, we are probably always experiencing some level of deficiency so it is an ongoing process of looking after our health which inturn improves our body’s ability to function well and therin affects the immune system and all of the body’s systems. The body does not work in isolation it works as whole.

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Deb February 5, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Once again, there is a difference between ‘health’ and ‘the immune system.’ The immune system is only a little bit of what goes in to health. Yes, people pushing themselves will often feel awful afterwards – if nothing else if you are not sleeping properly you will get extremely tired and there are physiological consequences. And see my previous comment about why ‘how sick you are’ is completely different to ‘whether or not you get an infection.’ There are genetics and it’s just plain subjective – some people don’t cope as well as others.

As for Quantum Physics[sic] I think you’ll find it’s actually Einstein you are thinking about. It’s general relativity which gives us the equation E=mc2 relating matter and energy. Relativity cannot be reconciled with quantum mechanics, it’s one of (in fact probably THE) biggest problems in physics and tells us that something about our understanding is definitely missing. And Einstein thought quantum mechanics was wrong, so calling it Quantum Physics when you really mean Einstein is a) pretty insulting and b) shows you don’t understand it. Further, c2 is an incredibly big number – matter and energy don’t just affect each other, they are explosive. This is the equation that describes nuclear bombs and the sun. It is most definitely not happening inside bodies, or those bodies would be extremely dead. In fact the earth would probably also be blasted to bits in the force of all the explosions. I’m not certain what you are disagreeing with, because I’m talking purely about the immune system and how likely you are to catch an infection but nuclear explosions is not a reason for disagreeing because they are irrelevant.

As for how common deficiencies are, most of us are completely fine. Even with the worst and most monotonous diet you actually have to work quite hard to avoid nutrients. One of the reasons Vit D is coming up now is because people are working hard to avoid the sun because of skin cancer. And even then the highest number of deficiencies I’ve heard quoted is about a sixth of adults. In fact, the guidelines have just been revised downwards, meaning you need less than they previously thought, so that means less people are actually deficient. Think about it – there are populations that manage to live almost wholly on one single grain, and humans managed to survive winters for millennia before we developed refrigeration and food transport systems. Our bodies only need tiny amounts of nutrients and are extremely good at finding them, unless you have another problem (such as coeliacs disease) you almost certainly do not have deficiencies.

You don’t seem to understand that the immune system works extremely well. Have a look at the numbers in the post – it faces thousands of insults every single day. It is a fantastic system and looks after us incredibly well. It doesn’t need to be strengthened or looked after, it is strong. But like the most intelligent person in the world, sometimes it needs a little while to learn. Your immune system cannot fight a danger until it has identified it and made the weapons, that time lag is what causes infections. The most powerful army in the world would still need time to deploy and fight an invasion, making it stronger won’t change that.

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cass February 23, 2011 at 8:38 am

I love this post.

I am sure I am taking this in a way that you did not intend, but it effectively says “Take one for the team” and I don’t think that there is anything wrong with saying that.

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Deb February 24, 2011 at 11:36 am

Thankyou. And yeah, I do mean it like that – we live in societies and should help each other. We especially should be helping children and sick people, who are generally the ones who are non-immune.

The only bit I’d quibble with is that ‘taking one’ implies that vaccination is risky or dangerous and it really, really isn’t. Nothing’s 100%, but vaccination comes pretty darn close.

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cass February 24, 2011 at 5:26 pm

I understand your quibble, but to mums who are trying to wade through and understand this choice it is may not seem so black and white (Is anything black and white when a bundle of joy is in your lap?).

I also have a quibble, not with you or your blog but at the notion of herd immunity in the first place. It implies the opposite, it selfishly says “Take one for me”. Herd immunity is really where people who refuse to vaccinate rely on others to vaccinate, they won’t do it but expect others to do it… I find that wrong on a moral level.

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Lacie November 10, 2011 at 12:49 am

Wow. Haha. People like you tickle me pink.
“Healthy food, exercise, sleep etc contribute to the lifestyle illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. These diseases are not caused by pathogens and have absolutely no input from the immune system. Many people do feel better when eating well, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the immune system.”
Wowww is all I have to say. From someone who has firsthandedly seen and cured sooo many illnesses– not lifestyle illnesses, mind you, “getting sick”, I suppose you would call it, from colds, childhood diseases, to flus, to cancers — people like you just absolutely blow my mind. What you put into your body on a daily basis has EVERYTHING to do with your immunity. How about study cells and how they change according to their environment? Basically with herd immunity what I’m gathering is that vaccinated people cannot be carriers of diseases, they cannot contract anything and pass it on unknowingly; my 13 month son, however, who is unvaccinated and has never been sick in his life, I suppose he is the one passing on diseases, a break in the fence? Doesn’t really make any logical sense whatsoever to me that children and people that are sick all the time, like 4-5 times a year, have better immune systems than people and children that get sick MAYBE once in 2 years, and it’s always mild. I am not scared of childhood diseases, because contrary to what you may think, they were created to HELP our immune systems. Healthy children handle illness better than immune-compromised (vaccinated) children. It’s just the truth. You try healing things with nutrition and you will succeed and you will be amazed. Although I know you wont, because if it worked your whole scheme of thinking would be thrown off. With the access we have in this present day and age to all the different plants and herbs around the world we could literally all be living in a utopian healthy (not illness free, I believe we need some to build us up) society. You keep taking your big Pharma drugs, your heavy metal vaccines, your GMO laden processed food, and we shall see who lives a happier life:)

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Deb November 10, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Unfortunately, people like you make me sad. Sad that you are putting your son and others at risk because of your lack of comprehension.

As I’ve said before, there are many different aspects to health. There are lifestyle diseases, genetic diseases and infectious diseases. Probably lots of others too and definitely combinations. Your immune system, which is what we are talking about with vaccinations, can only help with certain types. It is not the answer to every headache, joint pain or skin rash. Healthy eating (and there is so much debate over what actually is healthy) and activity will help people with lifestyle diseases. They will not stop you getting measles.

If you have genuinely been diagnosed with cancer and ‘healed’ it, I urge you to see a real doctor and have a checkup. Cancer is a mutation in cells, they cannot be ‘un-mutated.’ There are many things that mimic cancer to lay people, and it is common for cancers to slow or stop, but there are no miracle cures. If there were, people would have made a billion dollars out of them by now.

As for curing other diseases, it really isn’t that impressive. Most are what is called ‘self-limiting,’ in other words if you do nothing most people will get better. This is how alternative medicines make their money – people take something then feel better, they think it was whatever they did rather than just time. The problem is that they aren’t self-limiting for everyone and some people will have terrible sequelae, including blindness, brain damage, birth defects and yes even death. It is for those people that vaccination is important, and it is impossible to predict who they will be. In the recent swine flu pandemic the people most likely to die were young and healthy.

One of the reasons I understand this is because I studied histology (that would be cells) at a university level as part of my human biology degree. As a whole they are not particularly influenced by your food, except in obvious cases like fat cells and as long as there are no major deficiencies. You actually have to work to get a deficiency, even poor diets tend to get most of what they need. We know this because people aren’t dying of scurvy around us. When you digest your food you turn it into a batch of chemicals that are carried around by your blood stream to your cells. The cells have no way of knowing or caring where the chemicals come from, they just take what they need and you store the rest – this is where those fat cells come in – including things like vitamins. That store is what evens things out so your cells get what they need even if you haven’t eaten that particular mineral today.

What you don’t appear to understand about vaccines and herd immunity is that we are talking about one particular disease only, not diseases in general. Unvaccinated people do not automatically carry and pass on diseases – they have to catch them first. So in normal circumstances your son is no more dangerous than any other child. But if a disease that he is not vaccinated for is around it is a different story. A vaccinated child will be exposed, their immune system will recognise it because it’s already experienced it with the vaccine and kill the infection quickly. They won’t show symptoms and there is nothing to pass on. If an unimmunised child is exposed, their immune system will need time to learn about the infection and begin to battle it. During that time the infection will multiply extremely quickly until there is so much they begin to spread it. They will also develop symptoms, some from the disease and some from their immune system battling it. Some of those symptoms such as coughing and sneezing will mean they pass the infection around even further. This is the break in the fence of herd immunity – not a general break, but a particular person who is more likely to catch and more likely to spread a particular disease.

Your misunderstanding of statistics is part of the same pattern of your lack of understanding of risk in general. Your immune system faces thousands of challenges every single day. Whether you get sick 5 times a year or once every two years is the difference between 99.99999999% accurate and 99.99999998% accurate. It’s random chance. If someone genuinely has a compromised immune system then they don’t get sick five times a year – they start to get sick from soil or parrot diseases that most of us have never heard of. The vast majority of us have super extra amazingly strong immune systems, that’s how we have survived.

I certainly don’t agree that diseases have been created. They and we are part of an arms race that has been going on for billions of years. We are certainly adapted to them, but that doesn’t mean they are good for us or necessary to us – exactly what does being itchy and miserable and having blisters all over you do for you? Build character? Vaccines let our immune systems learn and develop without having to go through the misery of being sick. I, for one, don’t see headaches, fevers and rashes as a good thing, even if they don’t lead to something serious. Why do you want your child to be miserable?

As for the ridiculous idea that vaccinated children are immune compromised – if anything they have a more developed immune system because it has learnt about more diseases through vaccination. Look at the current measles outbreaks in the US and NZ – they are unvaccinated children getting sick while the vaccinated aren’t affected. That is the measure of how ‘effective’ your ‘healthy’ children’s immune systems are. They are seriously behind the vaccinated children. You may think it is the truth but forgive me if I ask for a citation before taking it seriously.

As for your assumptions about me, let me tell you a little story. I have a gallstone, a chronic condition linked to some other hereditary things I have going on. Nothing to do with ebil vaccines, just the wrong parents. I have been controlling this gallstone for over 10 years through, wait for it, diet. I have just had a round of tests and it’s time for it to come out, because my gallbladder is now completely non-functional and I’m at high risk of infection. It’s also linked to cancer, and I take that fairly seriously. But in my tests all of my bloods are fine – liver function, cholesterol, you name it I’m normal. And in more than 10 years I’ve never had an infection from it. So yes, I have controlled my health through diet. It has worked but I know its limitations and now I’m going to take the next step in line with what my doctors are recommending. This is true integrative health, where I have been given all the information, made my own choices and used non-invasive and ‘natural’ techniques. But I know that health is complicated, and rather than sticking my head in the sand and demanding a black and white answer, I’m grown up enough to listen to the experts. And I’m quite looking forward to eating pate again, 10 years is a long time.

And in spite of my momentary sadness for your son and any other children you come in contact with, I have a very happy, healthy and satisfying life. I hope you do too, and that your son doesn’t have to face any consequences from your decisions.

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Lacie November 11, 2011 at 6:08 am

Usually I’m not one to leave an argument but I can tell that we have two differences that will keep us from never seeing eye-to-eye. I believe in God, and you believe in Science. Actually, I believe in God&Science, but God is first. I believe that He has a divine plan and injecting my son with formaldehyde, mercury, aluminum, genetically modified yeast, aborted fetus tissue and animal DNA just isn’t in it. Back to your argument on herd immunity though, your theory says that vaccinated children can’t carry diseases that they’ve been vaccinated for, which is not true. Any child can be a carrier of any disease, shot up with heavy metals&monkey kidney cells or not. You may be “grown up” enough to listen to experts, but I’m smart enough to make my own decisions based upon openly available information, regardless of what “experts” say. Because honestly, going to college and having a piece of paper does not make you smart, nor an expert. It means you have been taught biased knowlegde regardless of how many opinions you encounter, everyone is taught the same material. I don’t want black and white material, and I certainly don’t want to stick my head in the sand, I’d fear for the safety of my family as I hid from all these crazy agendas. And obviously you don’t think much of other’s opinions. Closed mindedness is a disease in itself. Vaccines do not build immune systems. MAYBE if they could make them without any harmful potent binding materials, but then there is still the matter of growing them ON something, and anything non-self is toxic to the body when injected, especially animal DNA…it’s just ridiculous. And as for unvaccinated children getting sick other places in the world, how many are dying? And also, how to they eat/live over there? It really is irrelevant. Usually it’s a cycle that occurs in nature. And if you are trying to reverse damage to your body through diet, why are you so hating on it in your earlier comments? You contradict yourself, ma’am. You should try the GAPS diet, just a few months of it and my vaccine damaged adopted sister has started eating and talking after 3 years of silence and G tube. It really is a good and easy program. Health really and truly isn’t as complicated as everyone seems to believe it to be in present day. My son won’t have to face any consequences of my decisions, just as I didn’t and my siblings growing up didn’t. You’d be surprised at what nutrition can do. I will pray for you. And by the way, blaming everything on genetics is certainly the in thing. If you’ve noticed it’s a growing trend. I wouldn’t blame my parents if I were you, I’d stick to nutritional healing. Start with your gut flora and work your way out. Praying for you! :)

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Deb November 11, 2011 at 4:58 pm

There you go with those assumptions and misunderstandings again. God is a supreme creator with some sort of plan for the human race who sets out the rules and occasionally comforts or talks to some people. Science is a method of investigation. They really don’t have much to do with each other at all, unless one of the rules of your God is that people shouldn’t question. Since you appear to be attempting to do that, I’m going to guess not. But unlike your assumptions I’m aware that’s a guess.

Now we get into the bits that are just plain wrong, because vaccines don’t contain aluminium and mercury. They definitely don’t contain aborted foetal tissue – basically you just like throwing scary words around.

Back in the 60s two foetuses were aborted for medical reasons. I don’t know what they were, that would be invading someone else’s privacy. Those two foetuses were used to develop cell lines that are used in all sorts of things because foetal and cancer cells are basically the only cells that will keep growing – adult cells die quickly. Seeing they are mutated and tend to be very abnormal, cancer cells are not as good. The foetal cell lines that have been going for over 40 years now are what is used to grow some of the viruses used for vaccines. To say that vaccines contain foetal cells is like saying that apples contain dirt. They don’t. And they’re never even in the same room as monkey kidneys.

What is your God’s plan for dealing with formaldehyde? Are you supposed to cut out your liver or would that conflict with the rules against killing yourself? Should you be removing it from your blood with dialysis? Because your liver produces more formaldehyde in a day than there is in vaccines, particularly if you eat lots of fruit. This is just another example of the big scary words, but formaldehyde isn’t a scary chemical at all. A carbon double-bonded to an oxygen and two hydrogens, your liver makes it as a normal part of metabolism and your body deals with it without you even noticing.

And are you supposed to stop breathing and eating to avoid the aluminium? You do know that everyone has aluminium in their bloodstream because it’s one of the most common elements and we pick it up everywhere don’t you? And you are aware of the difference between elements and compounds that’s taught in year 8 science, aren’t you? So you understand why I say there is no aluminium and mercury in vaccines.

Then I have to wonder what you mean by ‘being a carrier.’ There is a genuine medical definition of carriers, which usually involves chronic but often asymptomatic infection. People like Typhoid Mary or those with chronic hepatitis B. Do you mean someone who is ill and infectious? Or do you mean a transient subclinical infection? It is extremely unusual to have a disease passed on by someone who doesn’t develop a full infection. It happened recently in Australia with diphtheria but that is very rare. The reason is the way that infections are passed on – there needs to be a certain amount of infectious material to get anywhere. If there isn’t enough to make you sick, there usually isn’t enough to affect anyone else.

Moving on from general anti-vax myths and on to herd immunity, your lack of reading comprehension is showing again. It is certainly possible for anyone to pass on an infection, but for some people it is much less likely. We know and openly admit that immunisation isn’t 100% guaranteed – walking isn’t 100% guaranteed either. But it is a lot better than 0%, which is what you have. In the New Zealand measles outbreak currently happening, the chances of getting sick if you are unvaccinated – 80+%. The chances if you are vaccinated – 3.7% Several of those unvaccinated children have been hospitalised. I don’t know the sequelae they may face – those private medical records again. However I do know a little girl in Germany who caught measles a few years ago in one of their outbreaks has now developed SSPE, and after going through several agonising months as her brain slowly shuts down she will die. And in NZ and Germany they don’t have deprived diets at all. Please don’t try to say they obviously have unhealthy diets because they are getting sick unless you can actually back it up with some evidence and a plausible mechanism. Blaming the victim without any evidence is just plain nasty.

You seem to have some serious envy going on, and I’ll agree with you that going to college (or in Australia, university) does not make you smart. I merely brought it up because you told me to study cells and, well, I already have. And unlike you I’ve actually grown them and looked at them under microscopes and done things with them. Not just read about them on the internet. So while I’m not at all saying I’m smarter than you, I will happily back my own knowledge of cells, and physiology, and digestion, and nutrition, and genetics, and anatomy, and development, against yours.

Basically you think everything I’ve learnt has an agenda behind it. So I’ll ask you a question, since you’re the one making the claim – how do you know that what you’ve read on the internet didn’t come with an agenda? How do you ensure that your sources are accurate? How do you decide which ones to believe when they are telling you mutually exclusive things? I do listen to other people’s opinions, but I have a series of questions to decide how to weight those opinions – it’s called critical thinking. And I’m not sure what opinions have to do with the discussion anyway – science is about facts and evidence, opinions don’t come into it. You have presented several claims, not opinions, that are easily testable and wrong. If these are what you are basing your decisions on, you need to revisit them because you are basing them on myths and horror stories.

You seriously think you can offer medical advice to someone when you obviously didn’t even read the paragraph properly? That’s arrogant as well as ignorant. Knowing that something runs in your family on both sides for several generations isn’t blame and if it’s a trend that doesn’t make it untrue, and controlling a gallstone is not ‘reversing damage.’ Pointing out that nutrition is not a magic cure and has limits is definitely not ‘hating on it’ – it’s a realisation that the world is complicated, more of that non black and white thinking. I’m confident I’m doing the best thing for my health.

I don’t really like soundbites because I think they’re generally unhelpful, but if you are going to claim that ‘a closed mind is a disease’ I’ll counter with – if your mind is too open, your brain might fall out. If you really want to get out of the echo chamber and talk to people who don’t already agree with you, you have a lot to learn about constructing arguments (and paragraphing). I suggest you start with some definitions, especially for words like toxic, carrier, and binding agent. You should also learn a bit of history and listen to some current affairs. Year 8 maths and science would definitely help. And try reading some sites that don’t agree with you, and rather than laughing at them or arrogantly trying to tell them how to run their lives, question your own beliefs. Spend some time concentrating on working out what the writer is actually saying, not how you are going to answer them.

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Lacie November 11, 2011 at 10:39 pm

What the hell do you think they grow these things on, woman?? Lol read the ingredients list on vaccine vials, go ahead! I couldn’t even finish your reply because I officially cannot take you seriously. I am not throwing scary words around, go to your pediatrician and ask to see the ingredients on like the Acel-Immune DTaP (Wyeth-Ayerst) for instance. Aluminym and THIMERASOL which is MERCURY even mercury free vaccines contain < 3 mcg of thimerasol. But seriously, vaccines are still to this day grown on corpse tissue, aborted fetus tissue ( which they claim they can keep these cells growing, they don't need new supplies of aborted fetuses), monkey cells, and cow cells. And if they are never in the same room or it's just a rumor then they wouldn't list it on some ingredients lists. If this system has our best interests at mind, PLEASE tell me why raw milk is illegal when your chances of getting sick are 0.05%, but they are allowed to put CRAP such as maltodextrin, MSG, soy lecithin, ETC, in baby formulas? I read the same medical journals and FDA studies you do, ma'am. Well probablly not the same ones obviously, but from the same source. You are brainwashed, and apparently I am a naive idiot that never reads anything that isn't biased to my direction. Sometimes you need to put your grown up expert science stuff aside and use common sense. Officially can't take you seriously though, it was nice conversing, still praying for you.

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Deb November 11, 2011 at 11:28 pm

Exactly as I described, they are grown on cell lines from foetuses aborted in the 60s – they do not contain cells. How much more demonstration do you need that you aren’t reading properly, when all you are doing is repeating what I’ve just told you as if it’s a revelation? Reading is like paragraphing, necessary for online communication.

Again, year 8 chemistry would tell you that thiomersal/thimerosal is not mercury and the adjuvant is not aluminium, by co-incidence I’ve already dealt with that extremely basic misunderstanding because it comes up so often. Spelling is also useful if you want people to follow your argument.

No, I’m not taking you seriously either because you are making such fundamental mistakes – mistakes in things that 13 year olds are taught. But I didn’t go to your house and start telling you how wrong you are, you came here. It would be nice if you learnt something from all this, but psychology says you probably won’t. Hopefully pointing out the poor thinking and comprehension skills you are using will prompt other people to look at their own thinking.

Rather than even attempting to answer any of my questions you are just repeating the same things over and over and introducing irrelevancies. This post is about herd immunity, the broader discussion is about vaccines and a little bit of nutrition. Bringing in formula suggests you have a set of cards to pull out – once more you are not reading, comprehending or responding, just going through your set list of topics without thinking. Given the level of comprehension you’ve demonstrated here, it may well be true that you open the same papers and look at the words, but unless you are somehow hiding your true abilities you aren’t understanding them. And just to once again (because you obviously didn’t read the first time) point out that I am not saying you are an idiot – reading for comprehension and critical thinking are skills that need to be learned and practised, they are not a demonstration of intelligence. Somehow you’ve either missed or discarded them, I’ve already suggested how you could begin to develop them now.

For anyone else who is reading this the most important question is: How do you decide what is a reliable source? This is the absolute starting point to any information you gather on any topic, you must be able to decide which bits are worth listening to and which bits should be questioned. Then you need to find other reliable sources so you can do that questioning and confirmation.

And when you are reading, concentrate very closely on what is written. Not what you think is written, not on the bits you want to hear, not on the bits you think you have an answer to. Take some time and read every single word to work out what the author is actually saying. Because if you can’t do that you are living in a fantasy world you have constructed, and not the same one as the people talking to you.

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Andy November 18, 2011 at 6:33 pm

Wow Deb, your patience is astounding. On top of that, you’ve crammed a heap of genuinely good and easy-to-understand information into both the article and the ongoing commentary.

Thanks.
Andy´s latest amazing offering ..Meryl Dorey, AVN: The simple things in life…My Profile

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