THROUGHOUT our lives, we are exposed to a number of viruses, bacteria and other microbes. Some of these microbes benefit us, while others cause diseases that could result in severe illness, disability or even death. Our body’s immune system protects us against several infections by triggering reactions that neutralize harmful microbes and prevent the infection. But it cannot fight certain diseases like the novel Coronavirus. That is where vaccinations play a hugely important role, as in they help the immune system to create antibodies that protect the body from diseases.
The spread of Covid-19 and its effective tackling because of various vaccines again proved that vaccinations are here to stay. As the World Health Organisation marks the last week of April as ‘World Immunization Week’, we look at why inoculations against diseases are not just necessary but critical.
1. Effective protection from dangerous diseases and better health
Vaccines help build our body’s natural immunity to diseases and prevent us from falling ill. Children and adults can be protected from infections in the most effective way through vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US, for instance, recommends vaccinations throughout our life – including those to prevent influenza, hepatitis B and human papillomavirus (HPV).
Vaccines are among the safest medical products. They are rigorously tested and undergo prolonged research before and while being developed to ensure they deliver the intended benefit without harmful side effects.
2. Safety and prevention
Typically, it takes many years to make a vaccine and put it through mandatory trials before getting approval. Further, a vaccine is also monitored for any rare side effects while in use by the health regulatory agencies. But unusually in the case COVID-19, considering the havoc it is causing around the world, over 50 vaccines are in development and up to nine have already been approved.
3. Eradicating diseases and saving lives
Since smallpox and polio vaccines were introduced, these diseases have been eradicated almost completely from around the world. Vaccines for diseases like measles and diphtheria have been successful in reducing incidence by 99.9%. Vaccines prevent up to 3 million deaths worldwide every year.
4. Available, accessible and affordable
Vaccines are viewed as global public goods and immunization is not just effective but also an inexpensive way to protect lives. They are highly cost-effective for disease prevention and public health outcomes. Compared to medical treatment to cure a disease, a vaccine is a simple, affordable and easily accessible solution. National and international health agencies take necessary efforts to increase a vaccine’s access to the public. When a disease turns into a pandemic, vaccines are made available for free, as with the Covid-19 vaccine in many countries.
5. Lower medical bills and higher life expectancy
As the popular adage goes, prevention is indeed better than cure. Serious diseases like rubella, polio, tetanus, etc are preventable, saving people from the painful process of treatment and huge medical bills. It is prudent to get vaccinated early on and prevent contracting such diseases. Protection against several diseases also increases the life expectancy of individuals.
6. Childhood vaccinations secure health and development
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, most childhood vaccines are 90 to 99% effective in preventing disease. The importance of childhood vaccinations cannot be overstated as babies and young children are among the most vulnerable groups to succumb to lethal infections.
Vaccinating or immunizing them strengthens their immune system and helps them stay free of preventable diseases for years or even a lifetime. For instance, the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccines ensure protection for life in a single dose. Without vital vaccinations, diseases would impair the child’s further development and have an adverse effect on them even when they grow up.
7. Protects children and others
If children get the diseases, it could spread to their siblings, friends, classmates and other family members, especially older people. Getting infants and children vaccinated not only protects them but the entire family and prevent the spread of serious diseases.
8. The benefit of herd immunity
Herd immunity or herd protection takes place when a significant percentage of a group (herd) is immune. Vaccination reduces the spread of an infectious agent through pathogen shedding and retards transmission. As a result, the entire community becomes protected and not just those who have been immunized. Because of herd protection, certain diseases can be eliminated even without 100% immunization coverage.
9. Prevention of related diseases
Vaccines are also effective in protecting against diseases related to the targeted disease. For example, the Measles vaccination protects against other diseases like dysentery, bacterial pneumonia, and malnutrition.
10. Enhancing social and economic equity
The burden of infectious diseases is greater on the disadvantaged and vaccines have clear benefits for them. For people living in impoverished conditions, high infant mortality is due to infectious diseases that can be curbed through effective vaccines. Thus, vaccines can reduce mortality, improve quality of life and lead to economic development. For instance, in Bangladesh, the measles vaccine enhanced equity between high- and low-socioeconomic groups.
Modern marvels of medicine, vaccinations are an excellent defense against deadly, contagious or chronic diseases. They make good economic sense and meet the healthcare needs of even the weakest members of society. Through proper vaccinations, the fence around deadly diseases can be closed and the health of future generations is secure from diseases. A vaccination programme is the cornerstone of good public health.
GiveIndia in association with many partners, as part of its India Covid Response Fund-2, last year launched the ‘Vaccinate India Programme’ to reach out to the most vulnerable sections in the remotest parts of the country.
(This article was updated on April 25, 2022)
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Samar is a Marketing Communications specialist and freelance writer. She has a master’s in marketing and creativity from ESCP Business School. She is an avid traveler and likes to write about technology, travel, wildlife and sustainability.