As the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic rages through the world taking lives and destroying economies, all are pinning their hopes in the quick development of an effective vaccine. Over the years in the western world we have become complacent with our comfortable and relatively disease-free lifestyle.
Vaccines have regularly been the subject of bad publicity, as news outlets are more likely to pick up publications that mention side effects rather than highlighting the positive effects of vaccines.
Vaccination is proven to be the most effective way to prevent and in some occasions, eradicate diseases. Smallpox is a great example. A deadly disease that killed 30% of those infected and is estimated to have killed up to 300 million people in the 20th century, it has now been eradicated due to vaccinations against it and the last naturally occurring case was diagnosed in 1977.
Measles is another disease that can effectively be controlled and possibly eradicated by widespread vaccination. People seem to ignore the devastation the measles has brought in the past when introduced in unvaccinated populations. Measles killed almost 2/3 of the population when first introduced in Cuba in the 1500s. Today it still is a major reason for death during childhood in certain developing countries, either directly or indirectly by significantly weakening the immune system of those infected.
In today’s developed world countries standard immunizations include Hepatitis B, Rotavirus, Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, H. influenzae B, Pneumococcal, Polio virus, Influenza, Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Varicella, HPV. Variations exist in the schedules and recommendations.
Recent success stories are the introduction of HPV vaccine that has reduced up to 97% the occurrence of pre-cancerous diseases when given to virus -populations (women who have not been previously exposed) and the HiB vaccine for H influenza B, which is proven to prevent more than 95% of invasive Hib infections, which is the commonest cause for bacterial meningitis.
In particular during pregnancy important routine vaccinations include the seasonal flu vaccine – as pregnant mothers are susceptible to more serious flu illness and the vaccine also provides some passive protection to the newborn - and the Diphtheria Tetanus Pertussis vaccine aiming to protect the newborn from the devastating effects of whopping cough (also called Pertussis) to the neonate.
In conclusion, as the world is eagerly anticipating the introduction of an effective vaccine for Covid-19, it is important to recognize the enormous contribution of existing vaccines to our community health and ensure vaccinations continue empowering the word immunity and controlling or even eradicating dangerous infectious diseases.
Dr George Michailidis is Consultant in Obstetrics & Gynaecology & Maternal & Fetal Medicine at Genesis Healthcare Center in Dubai. He specialises in the management of high-risk pregnancies (twin pregnancies, mothers with diabetes etc.) prenatal screening (first trimester /anomaly/3D-4D ultrasound scanning), prenatal diagnosis (CVS, amniocentesis) and counselling.