Non-profit organizations (NPOs) along with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other governmental agencies are achieving great strides in improving global health in developing nations through wide spread vaccination campaigns. These formidable NGOs such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, One World Health, the Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI part of PATH) and The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) are leading the charge to provide lifesaving vaccinations and medications to a major portion of the developing world. For those who still sit on the fence regarding the risks and benefits of vaccination perhaps stepping back to look at the big picture will make up your mind.
The World Health Organization estimates that the immunization campaigns now prevent 2-3 million child deaths each year; however, a further 1.5 million may be saved from preventable diseases by extension and further support of their vaccination programs. The frontrunners in this fight are determined to continue their crusade despite budget cuts in the government portions of their funding. Recently, the first Chinese vaccine, for Japanese encephalitis received WHO approval for use in other countries. The global approval of cheaper Chinese vaccines could make the dispersement of life saving vaccines and more broad ranging vaccine campaigns possible.
Another promising vaccine for malaria developed by GlaxoSmithKline is heading towards regulatory approval and licensing. According to WHO, malaria infects 219 million people a year killing 660,000 annually. Recent phase III clinical trials conducted on 15,000 children in 11 African countries have shown that three doses on the vaccine can reduce the occurrence of the disease in young children by half and infants by one quarter. This would represent the first successfully commercialized vaccine against a parasitic disease. Due to the complexity of parasitic lifecycles the vaccine does not produce a 100% protection; however, used in conjunction with other control measures such as mosquito nets and antimalarials it will be a powerful tool in the fight against this daunting disease. GlaxoSmithKline who has been developing a malaria vaccine for thirty years has agreed to produce vaccine at cost, plus a 5 per cent profit margin, if it receives regulatory approval. They would then reinvest the profit margin for further malaria research.
There have been multiple examples of successful vaccination campaigns throughout recent history with the eradication of small pox in 1980, near obliteration of polio (except in developing/war torn areas) and a virtual wipe out of a number of other serious infections particularly in the developed world.
Further support for the effectiveness of vaccination lays in the resurgence of a number of diseases where there has been a reduction in the rate of the associated vaccination in North America and Europe. Several myths with no scientific merit have surfaced and influenced many people to choose not to vaccinate their children in North America and Europe.
One of these myths: that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) may cause or lead to autism has been completely debunked. The original paper from 1998 that reported the results was retracted by the Lancet in 2010. In fact, the researcher Andrew Wakefield was found guilty by the General Medical Council of the UK of dishonesty and flouting ethics protocols. Still the myth lives on, often through uninformed public personalities. This dangerous misinformation from uninformed people is a powerful example of how our media culture can be a threat to bona fide science and public health.
An outbreak of Pertussis (Whooping Cough) in California in 2010 where 9120 cases of the disease were reported were directly correlated to areas where people could opt out of the vaccination. This outbreak marked the largest number of cases reported in California since 1947. The researchers found that people in areas where the exemptions existed were 2.5 times more likely to contract the illness. These results show strong evidence that vaccination was the direct cause for absence of the disease. These outbreaks also make the point that choosing not to vaccinate your child is a significant threat to public health and does not affect only your family. This choice affects the community at large.
We are all in this life vessel called earth together. A pandemic is an ominous threat but it can and has happened. This is not the stuff of science fiction like a zombie apocalypse. Today we face even graver possibilities for rapid circumnavigation of a disease as we humans travel at an ever increasing pace around the world making these tiny pathogens frequent global travellers. Often people may travel prior to any obvious symptoms making detection and screening near impossible. Further, more virulent strains of pathogens are emerging due to evolutionary pressure of antibiotic misuse and an exploding global population.
Vaccines and global herd immunity is one of our best defensive strategies against a global pandemic. Herd immunity happens when a significant enough amount of the population is immune to a disease e.g. through vaccination to prevent effective spread of the disease that could lead to an epidemic. Essentially, it means there are not enough suitable hosts for a pathogen to propagate. The scientific evidence to support the benefits of vaccination are compelling.
The rapid reduction of diseases where NPOs and government organizations are running vaccination programs with the goal of eradication shows a powerful paragon of the effectiveness of vaccines. We are global citizens in a global community and these admirable associations are providing a great service to global health. Vaccines work, period.