Patricia Daly | April 30th, 2015
Thanks to vaccines, smallpox has been eradicated; parents in the Western Hemisphere no longer worry about their children coming down with polio each summer, as they did in the 1950’s; and today’s medical graduates no longer fear cases of epiglottitis and meningitis caused by Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), as I did in my early years of practice. This week is National Immunization Awareness Week in Canada, and is an opportunity to reflect on one of the greatest achievements in medicine: the development of vaccines.
Global village causes concern at home
Some Canadian parents choose not to vaccinate their children, and feel safe in doing so because of the blanket of protection provided by other children around them who are vaccinated. However, recent outbreaks of measles in Canada, many traced to unvaccinated children and youth who acquired the virus abroad and brought it home, have been cause for concern. These imported cases have exposed pregnant women, infants too young to be vaccinated, and children receiving cancer treatment whose suppressed immune systems put them at high risk from measles exposures. As a result of these outbreaks, there is now greater understanding amongst the public that vaccination is not only critical for our personal protection and our children’s health, but also for the protection of vulnerable adults and children around us.
Developing new vaccines
Some experts say we have developed all the easy vaccines, and now all new vaccines are challenging. Most vaccines are developed by the pharmaceutical industry, and if the disease is rare, or only found in poor, developing countries, they may not want to make the investment – think of Ebola vaccine. Other diseases prove to be a challenge even with large investments; HIV was identified more than 30 years ago, but a vaccine has proved elusive despite massive research efforts.
During this National Immunization Awareness Week, we can all do our part to continue to spread the success of immunizations. A few suggestions:
1. Parents can make sure their children’s vaccinations are up-to-date
a. check here for the schedule of free vaccines: http://www.immunizebc.ca/vaccine-schedules
b. check here for additional vaccines that you can purchase to offer more protection to your children: http://www.vch.ca/media/VCH-vaccines-NACI-2015.pdf
2. Adults shouldn’t forget about immunizations – for example, young adults may need a measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) booster, and shingles vaccine can be offered to everyone aged 50 years and older. Check here for vaccines that are available for free and purchase: http://www.vch.ca/media/VCH-public-and-private-vaccines-adult.pdf
3. All of you planning on travelling outside North America or Europe this spring and summer should visit a travel clinic for pre-travel advice and vaccination: http://travelclinic.vch.ca/
What do you think?
Which vaccine do you think has made the biggest difference in modern society?