Home Insider Articles Vaccinations – Stopping the Spread of Preventable Diseases

Vaccinations – Stopping the Spread of Preventable Diseases

Just a month back, health officials raised an alarm in Yangon, when an increasing number of cases of measles in children were reported in local hospitals. Yangon was not the only city though it reported over half the number of cases , but the country has seen 1300 cases in the first three months of 2019, in contrast to the previous two years’ when the annual number was lesser. This has led to a more aggressive immunization drive that will cover over six hundred thousand children between 9 months and 15 years of age within the next couple of months. The World Health Organization has been advising all countries to ensure measles vaccination coverage of 95% and more to contain the disease with the aim of eventually wiping it out.

The spread of measles has caused alarm even in the US where seven states have reported an increasing number of measles cases. The country has been seeing a steadily increasing number of measles cases since last year. Early in April, the Mayor of New York declared a health emergency and people not vaccinated were given 48 hours to get the vaccine or face legal action. This would stem its spread and cover the gaps left in the immunization program.

Such drastic measures need to be adopted when adults choose to not vaccinate their children, even themselves for a number of reasons. Vaccinations are the only way to protect young children from getting infected by preventable diseases. In the last century, human health has improved and mortality reduced thanks to the science of inoculations, covering young children at the most vulnerable age. The onus of safeguarding the health and well being of people lies with the public health system of every country that gets advice, direction and funding from numerous international organizations like the WHO, UNICEF and others.

The Measles resurgence

After progressively declining due to concerted vaccination drives in all countries, measles has resurged in the last couple of years. Health experts attribute it to the ‘vaccination hesitancy’ phenomenon.

Small children are given the measles vaccine in two stages, the first between 12-15 months and a second dose between 4-6 years, to protect the child for his lifetime. All countries have been aggressively pushing for this and this led to a 75% drop in the number of cases between 2010 -2013. However, the last few years have seen a rising number of cases, 230,000 measles cases being reported globally in 2018, pointing to the inability of governments to ensure sufficient vaccination coverage, for a series of reasons.

How bad is measles? Measles can be life threatening for small children and it is one of the most infectious diseases, the paramyxovirus remaining active in the air for up to two hours, spreading through the coughing, spitting, sneezing or any form of contact with the infected individual. Though initially mistaken to be a common flu, typical symptoms include skin rashes along with fever, cold and cough. If left untreated, the patient’s condition steadily worsens, while also exposing others to the infection. Measles is one of the leading causes of higher mortality rates in children, and the drive to cover at least 95% of the country’s population with vaccinations, is to snip this rate.

Besides measles, children are vaccinated for chicken pox, mumps, rubella, diptheria, polio, tetanus, tuberculosis, meningitis, and even influenza, just to prevent life threatening situations. The number of vaccines available is rather long, some for region specific viruses, but each works as a preventive, albeit not with a 100% success rate.

Immunization or helping develop immunity involves a series of vaccinations that help the body develop antibodies to fight a disease-causing virus or bacteria, and strengthen the immune system. Vaccines inject a weakened form the virus into the human body, which produces antibodies to fight the disease whenever it comes in contact with the virus the next time. The aim is to force the body to create a strong immune response through the body’s natural defense mechanism. The human body remembers these viral encounters and works instinctively to destroy the virus before it can cause the disease. As a result, the infection is warded off. Most vaccines last a lifetime, and those that do not, are given as booster doses.

The result of this is obvious when statistics reveal that 2-3 million child deaths that would be caused by deadly diseases like diptheria and measles are prevented, and 29% of all deaths of children younger than 5 years can be avoided by vaccinating them for preventable diseases.

Should we or should we not vaccinate

Vaccination hesitancy has been growing in the last few years and causing immense damage. The need for vaccinating infants and small children has been questioned, with thousands of parents opting out of the vaccination schedule recommended by healthcare professionals. The recent measles outbreak and its spread, has been attributed to this small segment who did not take preventive action against this and other highly contagious diseases, exposed themselves and hundreds of others to very preventable illnesses. The debate has been raging but such outbreaks may force governments to make vaccinations mandatory. 

Perhaps, parents are intimidated by the long vaccination schedule handed out to them when a child is born, the prospect of repeated jabs in the tiny thigh of the infant, sometimes on both simultaneously, and the mistrust, if this is a money making endeavor by pharmaceutical companies. Doubts about their efficacy, the benefit weighed down by its side effect, not complete immunity, skepticism about authenticity of medicine, insufficient information, are some of the other reasons for avoiding vaccines. A number of people feel vaccines are too toxic and therefore avoidable, and that enough is not known about the human microbiome to understand its reaction to the vaccine. All these combined have led to what is called ‘vaccination hesitancy’.

Sometimes religious beliefs play a role and exemptions from vaccinations are sought. This was responsible for chicken pox infecting 36 children of a school in North Carolina, USA, from an exempted community. This puts a larger section of children at risk and sometimes even the immunized children get infected.

The fear of an adverse reaction which is another cause of concern, is minimal and far outweighs the benefit of the immunization. Once the body develops an immunity then the risk of contracting that diseases is generally warded off. To try and have the body develop an immunity after contracting the disease itself, is dangerous and even life threatening.

For all those averse to vaccinating their children, the list of eradicated diseases proves a point. Thanks to the global outreach of vaccinations for diseases like smallpox, this disease no longer poses a threat to life and health. Personal choices must not jeopardize the health and well being of the community, especially when there are a section of weaker people with chronic conditions, who are at a greater risk. 

Governments work towards improving general health and well being by providing a disease free environment through initiatives for prevention of diseases. But this requires support and cooperation from each citizen to be successful. For the world to become safer, healthier and disease free, vaccinations are an essential first step.