The world would be much less safe if not for the introduction of vaccines. Vaccines have saved the lives of more babies and children than any other medical intervention in the last 50 years. In recognition of this, Canada celebrates National Immunization Awareness Week April 22-29, 2017.
There is no other single health-related innovation that has had such a profound impact on saving lives than vaccines. A hundred years ago, infectious diseases were the leading cause of death worldwide. Immunization programs today have reduced the number of deaths by infectious diseases to 5%.
Vaccines have helped eradicate smallpox and polio and have basically erased the fear of other infectious diseases from our minds. There is a long list of diseases that can be prevented by routine vaccination and it is up to all of us to ensure that they do not recur. These diseases include diphtheria, influenza, Hepatitis A and B, shingles, human papilloma virus (HPV), measles, meningococcal disease, pertussis (whooping cough), mumps, pneumococcal disease, polio, rotavirus, rubella, tetanus and chickenpox
When you immunize your child you're protecting them against illness and serious harms such as paralysis, deafness, seizures, brain damage or even death. Not only do children need to be vaccinated, many adults are not fully immunized against infectious diseases. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, in 2014, 80% of Canadian adults believed that they had received all of the vaccines required for someone their age, but only 6% had the recommended number of tetanus and diphtheria vaccine doses in adulthood. A recent outbreak of mumps in the Vancouver Canucks is a recent example of how a preventable disease can easily become a problem today.
Vaccines must pass many safety tests before they are ever given to people. After a vaccine is approved for use, its safety is always monitored. It's much safer to get the vaccine than to get the disease. Serious side effects from vaccines are very rare. Vaccines are one of the most monitored and studied health interventions in medicine because they are given to healthy babies and children.
What is herd immunity? Immunization protects us by preventing the spread of disease. As more people are immunized, the risk is reduced for everyone; in particular, those who are most vulnerable such as babies who are not yet fully immunized and those who are living with immune suppressed health conditions.
Some parents are concerned that multiple vaccinations could overwhelm a young child's immune system. This is not true. Vaccines strengthen the immune system and prepare your child's body with the defense it needs to fight disease before the child is exposed to the disease. To be fully protected, it is important to follow the routine immunization schedule and to get all shots on time. Delaying or spacing out the vaccines is not recommended and can be risky. The routine schedule is based on the best science today and is recommended by the Canadian Pediatric Society and the College of Family Physicians of Canada. The routine schedule can be found on the Immunize BC website.
Anti-vaccine campaigns are not based on fact or science. It is important to remember that not everything we read and hear is true. Well-meaning family and friends can pass along information that is inaccurate and it can cause fear and uncertainty. It can also be difficult to sort through health information on the internet, therefore it always best to consult a health professional and ask the questions and voice the concerns that you have about immunization and vaccines.
Immunization has been so successful in eliminating disease that it can be very easy for many of us to feel that infectious diseases are no longer a threat. Let's do our part to ensure that we don't let infectious disease become a serious problem for this generation or the next.
Written by Dr. Paul Martiquet, Medical Health Officer for the Sunshine Coast and Powell River.