Lifelong Immunity? With Vaccines, It Depends Vaccines have been wildly successful in taming killers like polio and measles, but some require boosters to stay effective. A few parents wonder if getting sick and gaining a natural immunity is better than giving their children vaccines.
NPR logo

Lifelong Immunity? With Vaccines, It Depends

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Lifelong Immunity? With Vaccines, It Depends

Lifelong Immunity? With Vaccines, It Depends

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


NPR's Nancy Shute reports.

NANCY SHUTE: Unidentified Woman #1: Who's a pretty baby?

SHUTE: As the babies crawl across the basement floor, the moms talk about breastfeeding and lack of sleep. One issue keeps coming up: vaccines.

ANGELA SHOGREN: What am I giving my kid? Like, I didn't know.

KIERSTEN PETRUCCI: To expose so many of these little bodies to so many at once feels not prudent.

VANESSA VOHDEN: I am definitely pro-immunization. However, I feel like we're giving way too many.

SHUTE: Like the other moms there, Angela, Kiersten Petrucci, and Vanessa Vohden are all vaccinating their children. But there's a lot they don't like about that process. They'd like the shot schedule spaced out more so a tiny baby isn't getting four or five shots at once. They wonder if a six-month-old really needs a seasonal flu shot, and Katie Combs wonders if shots are really necessary for less serious diseases like rotavirus and chicken pox.

KATIE COMBS: But I think a natural immunity for a lot of not-serious illnesses such as chicken pox may be better than getting the vaccine.

SHUTE: Dr. Samuel Katz helped invent the measles vaccine, and he says that's a good question, and one with no easy answer.

SAMUEL KATZ: It varies from vaccine to vaccine.

SHUTE: That's because some vaccines are a lot better at getting your immune system to respond than others. Katz says when immunologists design a vaccine, they want it to activate two parts of the immune system: antibodies and cell- mediated immunity. That's what our bodies know how to do naturally when they come across a bad bug. Some vaccines can prompt that immune response, too.

KATZ: We think that's what we've achieved with measles. We think that's what we've achieved with polio.

SHUTE: But other vaccines don't always set off that two-fisted attack, and scientists don't know why.

KATZ: We have vaccines such as the one to prevent whooping cough, and we're seeing right now in California, where they're having a large outbreak, a number of the cases are individuals who've received vaccine.

SHUTE: Anne Gershon is a chicken pox expert at Columbia University Medical Center. She says then you've got to give it another shot - literally.

ANNE GERSHON: We really need boosters of vaccines much more than we thought we ever would.

SHUTE: So in 2006, the CDC added a second chicken pox shot to the recommended childhood vaccines. Gershon says it looks like that's going to keep children from getting sick. She thinks the vaccine won't ever eradicate the virus the way small pox vaccinations got rid of small pox. But she thinks it's still worth having.

GERSHON: I think it's important also to keep in mind with these infections that we look at not only at dying or mortality, but we look at suffering or morbidity, and with this vaccine, we've not only decreased mortality but we've decreased suffering from the virus.

SHUTE: Nancy Shute, NPR News.

INSKEEP: And that's Your Health for this Monday morning.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.