The discovery of vaccines has gone down as one of the greatest advancements of human health in history. They have dramatically reduced the incidences and mortality rates of vaccine preventable diseases for people all across the world. A hundred years ago, it was not uncommon to die from diseases such as diphtheria, whooping cough (pertussis), measles and even the flu. Nowadays, if you are fortunate enough to live in a country that provides you with easy access to vaccines, it is highly unlikely that you will even contract these diseases.
Figure 1: Effect of vaccines on vaccine preventable diseases. Available from: http://www.businessinsider.com.au/why-vaccines-are-so-important-2015-2?r=US&IR=T
However, this is proving to have some consequences. Much of the population in countries with high vaccination rates have not experienced the horror that these diseases can cause. Because of this, it is common for parents to only factor in the often rare adverse reactions that some of the vaccines can cause, when deciding whether to vaccinate their children. Furthermore there is an abundance of fraudulent studies and poorly conducted research available, stating various claims such as “the MMR vaccine causes Autism”, “the DTP vaccine cause Sudden Infant Death Syndrome” and “giving children and infants multiple vaccines will overload their immune system and increase the risk of harmful side effects”. All these factors make it easy for parents to assume that not vaccinating their child is the safer of the two options.
However, looking at the possible risk of side effects alone is not enough; it is important to look at both the risks and the benefits. Below is a summary of what disability some of the common vaccine preventable disease can produce.
Once, measles would infect up to 90% of people by the time they turned fifteen. Of those infected, up to 26 in every 1000 people would die from measles related complications. Then came the vaccine. Measles related deaths plummeted, and are still plummeting, with global measles deaths decreasing by 79% between 2000 and 2015. WHO is even aiming to eliminate this disease by the year 2020.
The measles disease is caused by a virus and typically presents with fever, runny nose, cough and red watery eyes. An inflamed rash appears and can last for up to a week. Complications can also occur and can have lasting impacts, or even lead to death; blindness, respiratory infections, diarrhoea and dehydration, earing infections and brain swelling. These complications typically effect under 5 year olds and over 20 year olds.
Globally, measles still ends in 134 200 deaths a year; that’s 15 deaths every hour! However, there is a way to reduce this figure and aid in eliminating the disease altogether; vaccinate.
Figure 2. Imaging showing the measles rash on a young boy. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/measles/about/photos.html
Also known as whooping cough, pertussis is a bacterium of the respiratory tract that causes uncontrollable, violent coughing. People with pertussis can struggle to breathe during one of these coughing fits, resulting in the “whooping” sound characteristic of the disease. Annually, it is thought that there are 16 million cases worldwide, 195 000 of which result in death.
Below is a video of an infant girl with the debilitating disease (please turn on sound).
Sourced from Mayo Clinic (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3oZrMGDMMw)
- Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Pertussis: Countries. CDC; 2016 [Cited: 25 Feb 2017]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/pertussis/countries/
- World Health Organisation. Fact Sheets: Measles. WHO Media Centre; 2015 2016 [Cited: 25 Feb 2017]. Available from: http://who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs286/en/
- Orenstein W, Papania M, Wharton M. Measles Elimination in the United States. The Journal of Infectious Diseases [Internet]. 2004 [cited 25 February 2017];189(s1):S1-S3. Available from: https://academic.oup.com/jid/article/189/Supplement_1/S1/820569/Measles-Elimination-in-the-United-States
- Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccines: Measles. CDC;2016 [Cited: 25 Feb 2017] Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/meas.html