Would it surprise you to find out that 100 years ago the leading cause of death was infectious disease? Today, these diseases account for less than 5% of all deaths in Canada. This is thanks to immunization, probably the single most effective health program for protecting people’s health. And to remind us about the importance, National Immunization Awareness Week is April 25 to May 2. The intent of this week is to remind people about their child’s vaccinations, and about their own.
Media attention surrounding immunization tends to invite conversation and discussion, not all of it positive, but at least the subject comes up. Still, not all the relevant information is addressed. There are still questions and uncertainty for many people. A good way to learn more is to have a conversation with your health provider to address any concerns around decision-making.
At its simplest, immunization is the process whereby the body prepares itself to fight disease. A vaccine is the tool that triggers the body’s own defences in advance of facing the actual disease. That is, a vaccine triggers the immune system to produce antibodies and form memory cells which prevent reinfection. Not only do vaccines protect individuals against disease but as more people are immunized, the disease risk for everyone in the community is reduced.
You might ask how important are vaccines to our health? We might answer by considering the effectiveness of vaccines against some of the nearly vanquished diseases of the past century. Consider the incidence of preventable diseases before and after the introduction of a vaccine to prevent them. The highest number of cases per year in five years prior to introduction of vaccine as compared to cases after its introduction provides ample evidence. Whooping cough saw 19,878 cases before a vaccine was available, and only 1,275 afterwards, a reduction of 93%. Measles, in the news so much recently, had 61,370 before a vaccine, and 83 after, a drop of 99%. Chickenpox had 72,343 before, and 464 after. Mumps: 43,671 versus 94. And polio, one of the greatest successes went from 5,384 to none after the introduction of the polio vaccine. (Source: Immunize Canada
Let’s agree for the moment that children should all be immunized against these (and other) diseases. But what about your immunizations? Are you up to date? Should you be getting a booster? In fact, vaccines are not just for kids, they are also important for adults.
The first reason to ask about adult vaccinations is to find out if you are up to date — most adults do not know, but they should. Some of the reasons include: your work or lifestyle bring you into contact with infection; you have a medical condition; you are a caregiver; or you are pregnant or plan to be. The best reason of all, however, is because you want the best protection against preventable diseases.
Whether for a child or as an adult, you may have questions about immunization. Getting the answers is important and Public Health nurses are an excellent resource in your community. Contact Public Health to make an appointment to discuss your concerns, or to learn what you should know.
Dr. Paul Martiquet is the Medical Health Officer for Rural Vancouver Coastal Health including Powell River, the Sunshine Coast, Sea-to-Sky, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.