The world would be much less safe if not for the introduction of vaccines, which have saved the lives of more babies and children than any other medical intervention in the last 50 years.
No other health-related innovation 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 have reduced the number of deaths by infectious diseases to five per cent.
Vaccines helped eradicate smallpox and polio and have basically erased the fear of other infectious diseases from our minds. A long list of diseases can be prevented by routine vaccination and it is up to all of us to ensure they do not recur. These diseases include diphtheria, influenza, hepatitis A and B, shingles, human papillomavirus, measles, meningococcal disease, whooping cough, mumps, pneumococcal disease, polio, rotavirus, rubella, tetanus and chickenpox.
When you immunize your child, you protect them against illness and serious harms such as paralysis, deafness, seizures, brain damage or even death.
Many adults are not fully immunized against infectious diseases. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, in 2014, 80 per cent of Canadian adults believed they had received all vaccines required for someone their age, but only six per cent had the recommended number of tetanus and diphtheria vaccine doses in adulthood. An outbreak of mumps among Vancouver Canucks’ players last hockey season is an example of how a preventable disease can easily become a problem today.
Vaccines must pass many safety tests before they are given to people. After a vaccine is approved for use, its safety is always monitored. It is much safer to get the vaccine than the disease and serious side effects 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.
Immunization protects us by preventing the spread of disease. As more people are immunized, the risk is reduced for everyone, in particular those most vulnerable such as babies who are not yet fully immunized and those 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 a child’s body with the defence it needs to fight disease before the child is exposed to it.
To be fully protected, it is important to follow the routine immunization schedule and to get all shots on time. Delaying or spacing out vaccines is not recommended and can be risky. The schedule is based on the best science today and is recommended by Canadian Paediatric Society and College of Family Physicians of Canada. The routine schedule can be found at immunizebc.ca/get-vaccinated.
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 inaccurate information and can cause fear and uncertainty. It can also be difficult to sort through health information on the internet, therefore it is always best to consult a health professional, ask questions and voice any concerns.
Immunization has been so successful in eliminating disease that it can be easy for many of us to feel that infectious diseases are no longer a threat. We should all do our part to ensure we do not let infectious disease become a serious problem for this generation or the next.
Paul Martiquet is the medical health officer for Powell River and Sunshine Coast.