Why is Vaccination important?
Vaccination is one of the most
cost-effective available health
interventions, saving more than 3 million lives each year and many million more
from illness and disability. Effective and safe
vaccines, which protect against more
than 20 serious diseases, are currently available and many promising new
vaccines are being developed. Vaccinations can provide protection not just for
the vaccinated person, but for the population as a whole as well. This
phenomenon, called community immunity or
herd immunity, occurs when a large portion of the population is vaccinated,
usually over 85%, depending on the
disease. If global vaccination coverage
was to be increased enough to reach 90% of the population, an additional 2
million lives each year could be saved.
How does a vaccine work?
In response to an infection, some white
blood cells produce
, molecules that help the body react quickly and effectively to the
intruding germs. The first time the body encounters a germ, it takes several
days to make and use all the germ-fighting tools needed to get over the
infection, including the production of antibodies.
After the first infection, the
immune system keeps a memory for
this germ for years, and when the body encounters the same germ another time,
the defense response is both faster and stronger.
Vaccines contribute thus to develop
immunity by imitating an
infection without causing the
illness, and by causing the body to produce the
antibodies and the memory against the
What are the most recommended vaccinations?
The vaccination programmes of most
countries include the same basic vaccines
for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (or whooping cough),
tuberculosis. Over the years additional
vaccines have been added. They include vaccines against
hepatitis B, Haemophilus
influenzae type b, mumps, pneumococcal
rubella, and – in countries where
needed – yellow fever and Japanese
Among more recent vaccines, significant
progress has been achieved in the introduction of Human
papilloma-virus (HPV), pneumococcal
and rotavirus vaccines in the WHO European Region. Twenty-six countries have
recommended or funded use of HPV vaccine
(which is the only vaccine that can prevent a
cancer) for national
Are there risks associated to vaccination?
As once-common diseases become less frequent, fear of the diseases themselves
tend to become overshadowed by vaccine
safety concerns, sometimes fueled by misinformation about
vaccination, says the WHO. Although
there are reports of side effects due to vaccinations, few of them are serious,
and the risk from getting a disease like
diphtheria or polio is much greater than
any risk of side effect from vaccines.
The American Center for Disease Control
(CDC) has highlighted some
misconceptions about vaccination :
- "Diseases were already disappearing before vaccines, because of better
hygiene and sanitation". This misconception is often cited as an
argument against vaccination. Survival rates had indeed been getting better
before the introduction of vaccines, but vaccines brought a dramatic decrease in
the number of cases.
- "The majority of people who get diseases have been vaccinated".
Some vaccinated people will not develop immunity (vaccine effectiveness is
usually 85 to 95%). When there is an outbreak of a disease, the people who are
affected will be those who have not been vaccinated, and those who were, but did
not develop immunity.
- "The diseases that are preventable with vaccines have been virtually
eliminated, and so there is no need for children to be vaccinated
anymore". Vaccination protects not only the person who is getting
vaccinated, but also the people around, more specifically those people who are
the most vulnerable. If vaccination stops, then any outbreak could become
- "Multiple vaccinations at an early age is taxing for a young child’s
immune system and can be harmful." Children are exposed to germs
everyday, and the immune system handles them without getting overloaded.
Available scientific data show that there is not harm for the immune system of
Is there new progress in vaccination?
According to a UNICEF-WHO-WB report (2009) the first decade of the
21st century has been the most productive in the history of
development. On the one hand, new
vaccines are being developed that
could reduce illness and deaths, and on the other, new production methods mean
that cheaper vaccines can be provided for developing countries. About 30 of
these candidates aim to protect against diseases for which there are no vaccines
currently available and public-private partnerships are accelerating the
availability of these new vaccines. New ways of delivering vaccines are also
being developed that do not require an injection, which also facilitates their
What is the world’s global state of vaccination coverage?
Vaccination has led to the eradication
of smallpox, and
poliomyelitis is also almost
eradicated. Immunization currently prevents
an estimated two to three million deaths every year in all age groups from
diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), and
measles. In 2012, an estimated 83%
(111 million) of infants worldwide were vaccinated with three doses of
vaccine. The total number of children who
died from diseases preventable by vaccines
currently recommended by WHO is estimated to about 1.5 million.
In Europe, immunization levels are very
high. Information to the public is an important part of the strategy of the
European WHO regional office to help raise awareness and respond to concerns
about vaccine safety.
In South America, it appears that the interruption of
virus transmission has been achieved but
some countries have reported weakness and failures in their national
surveillance systems and routine
immunization programs. In the United States
in 2012, adult vaccination coverage for
diseases other than influenza was still