The International Immunization Awareness Month is a campaign carried out in August annually to emphasize the significance of vaccinating people of all ages, from newborns to the elderly. This observance provides an avenue for educating and reminding people of the importance of vaccines. The campaign also takes a look back at some of the milestones achieved by vaccination in the past century and beyond. Vaccination is essential for the prevention and control of serious infectious diseases caused by harmful organisms such as viruses and bacteria, which in some instances are deadly. Attaining high immunization rates in the population ensures protection of majority of the community from the specific disease, what experts refer to as herd immunity. This offers indirect protection to the few who are not vaccinated for medical reasons.
Immunization, also referred to as vaccination or inoculation, means the action of administering a vaccine to an individual. Immunity means protection from an infectious disease if infected. A vaccine is a product which stimulates the recipient’s immune system to produce immunity against a specific disease. It may be administered via different routes including injection into muscle, oral drops into the mouth, or using a nasal spray. Before a vaccine is approved for use, it goes through months or even years of careful testing by highly trained scientists, overseen by The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make sure it is safe and effective. The two bodies also review its usage once released to ensure no safety concerns are raised.
Like any medication, vaccines can cause side effects which in most cases are very mild such as soreness at the injection site or a low-grade fever, which dissipates in a day or two without long-lasting side effects. Vaccines are made up of different ingredients, each meant to serve a given purpose. The main composition is the organism responsible for the disease, but either killed or weakened to a point it cannot cause illness. The others include preservatives to prevent contamination, adjuvants such as aluminum salts to boost the body’s response, stabilizers and inactivating agents to remove toxins or viruses during manufacturing. Some vaccines such as yellow fever and influenza are made in eggs, hence egg protein is present in the final product. Individuals with egg allergy are therefore not inoculated with this variety. However, there are new kinds now available for these people with minimal risk of allergic reactions.
Who needs vaccinations? Everyone does. Today, governments and most institutions such as travel agencies, school and places of work make it an obligation to be vaccinated against most vaccine-preventable diseases. It is particularly paramount to begin immunization from childhood, as infants and children are more susceptible to illnesses because their immune systems are not as strong. On-time vaccination ensures protection before exposure to the potentially life-threatening diseases. The vaccine-preventable diseases include: tuberculosis, polio, rabies, cholera, typhoid, whooping cough (pertussis), tetanus (lockjaw), measles, mumps, rubella, yellow fever, rotavirus, pneumococcal and meningococcal infections, hepatitis A and B, influenza (flu), chicken pox (VZV) and Human Papilloma Virus (Responsible for cervical cancer). The vaccines are administered in different doses as recommended by doctors. Booster doses may be required to fortify the immune system.
We should keep immunizing until all vaccine-preventable diseases are eliminated. If we stop vaccinating people today, all the progress made in the past decades will be undone. Morbidity and mortality rates have gone down tremendously since the use of vaccines in the 20th century, making certain diseases such as polio rare. Forsaking immunization programs could result in epidemics just like in Japan whereby, after vaccinating ~80% of her population against whooping cough in 1974, they reduced infant inoculation to ~10% which ended up in an epidemic in 1979. It’s much like clearing water out of a boat with a leak and when satisfactory levels have been removed, you throw the bucket away only for the leak to continue and fill the boat with water again. Let us “stop the leak” and champion for immunization against all vaccine-preventable diseases in our communities.