According to the world Health Organization (WHO), the two public health interventions that have had the greatest impact on the world’s health are clean water and vaccines. Thanks to such pioneers as Janner and Pasteur, A handful of vaccines prevent illness or death for millions of individuals every year.
Less than 40 years ago, smallpox still had devastating effect on communities across the world. A generation ago, polio was one of the world‘s most feared infectious diseases. Through a worldwide vaccination initiative coordinated by the WHO, smallpox has been completely eradicated and, through a similar initiative, global eradication of polio should soon be achieved.
On a worldwide basis, vaccines against polio and typhoid disease have given hope to many countries that may have otherwise been decimated by disease and death. More recently, vaccines for hepatitis have become a major focus for both children and adults in high risk situations.
Millions of people throughout the world have been safely vaccinated against many diseases, having a huge impact on reducing illness and death. But there is still a long way to go. Almost two million children still die each year from diseases for which vaccines are available at low cost. And over 90,000 fall victim to paralytic polio, which could also have been prevented by vaccination. Immunisations, the most cost-effective public health intervention, continues to be under-used.
Invention of vaccines
The 18th and 19th centuries were marked by achievements of great vaccine scientists such as Janner and Pasteur. In fact, 1976 is widely known as the year that “vaccination” was invented, the year when Janner introduced vaccinia (“vaccination” in its true sense). The vaccine was used in various countries in the early 19th century but was first used on a global scale from 1956, when the WHO and others selected smallpox for eradication worldwide.
The last case of smallpox in the United States was reported in 1949, and the last case of smallpox globally was in Ethiopia in 1976. By 1980, Scientists announced that vaccine had been successful at eradicating smallpox from the world.
Since the invention of vaccines, nine major diseases (smallpox, rabies, plague, diphtheria, pertussis, tuberculosis, tetanus, yellow fever) have been controlled to a greater or lesser extent through their use. After World War II, technological improvements led to the introduction of vaccines for major diseases including polio, measles, mumps, rubella and hepatitis B, many of which are still in use today. They have dramatically reduced the burden of death and disease from these infections.
An important recent milestone is the development of combination vaccines, which offer protection against more diseases in a single injection than previously possible. Combination vaccine schedules require fewer injections/visits than previous vaccination schedule creating less anxiety for mother and baby, which in turn makes it more likely for them to go along and receive the vaccine. The DTP a combination vaccine – protecting against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis in one shot – is now commonly used.
Adapted from “Vaccine Specialist Index” 1st edition 2005
Dr. Rafeek Ramzy
Pediatrician & Neonatologist
Member of American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)