Talk to Patients About: Community Immunity
By Sean Price Texas Medicine January 2020

 Herd immunity – also known as community immunity − is simple: Vaccines protect the people who get them but also anyone those people are near – even those with no immunity – because the illness can’t spread. 

Yet many patients do not grasp this important concept, says Austin pediatrician Ari Brown, MD.

“It needs to be explained,” she said. “I don’t think it’s intuitive.”

In fact, patients’ failure to understand community immunity can endanger this important protection, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center survey. Americans who do not correctly recognize the definition of the term are less likely to understand the benefits of vaccines, the survey found.

Thanks to community immunity, many people who deliberately refuse shots get a free ride on the protection that other people’s vaccinations provide, Dr. Brown says. But such refusals can create vaccine-free “hotspots” that in turn lead to disease outbreaks – like the 2019 measles outbreaks that hit the U.S., including Texas. 

Hotspots are a problem in Texas because it is one of 18 states that allows parents to refuse mandatory school vaccinations for reasons of conscience. (For the latest district-by-district exemption statistics, see


  Tex Med. 2020;116(1):46 
January 2020 Texas Medicine  Contents   
 Texas Medicine  Main Page     

Last Updated On

January 09, 2020

Originally Published On

December 20, 2019

Related Content


Sean Price


(512) 370-1392

Sean Price is a reporter for Texas Medicine and Texas Medicine Today. He grew up in Fort Worth and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin. He's worked as an award-winning writer and editor for a variety of national magazine, book, and website publishers in New York and Washington. He's also helped produce Texas-based marketing campaigns designed to promote public health. Sean lives in Austin and enjoys hiking, photography, and spending time with his wife and two sons.

More stories by Sean Price