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blogpost

The importance of getting children vaccinated

By Anitha Arockiasamy, President, IHHC| November 9th, 2017

The other day, we found an article (dated 26th June, 2017) on the Vaccines Work website that announced, “Two historic steps forward: reflecting on India’s latest immunisation milestones

According to Vaccines Work, “With two historic steps in two months, India’s Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP) has started a national journey to protect generations of children from the world’s biggest killers of under-fives.”

“First, last March, the phased introduction of rotavirus vaccine began, providing protection against a leading cause of deadly diarrhoea.  Then, in May, a similar phased roll-out of pneumococcal vaccine also kicked off — tackling the primary cause of bacterial pneumonia.”

“Together these vaccines will not only help to save millions of lives, but also prevent millions more from being hospitalised.Despite other significant steps in recent years, it is shocking that nearly 1.2 million children still die each year in India before reaching their fifth birthday. Why has my country taken so long to embrace life-saving newer vaccines, which are routinely available in even the poorest countries?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that, “immunisation averts an estimated 2-3 million deaths every year, providing protection from diphtheria, measles, pertussis (whooping cough), pneumonia, polio, rotavirus diarrhoea, rubella and tetanus. Yet, an estimated 22 million infants are not fully immunized with routine vaccines. There is an urgent need to better communicate the health benefits of vaccination and the dangers of not immunizing children.

What does vaccinations/immunisations do?

  • Vaccines help to protect children against a variety of diseases.
  • All vaccines given to children are safe and effective. The only discomfort maybe pain, redness or tenderness.
  • It prevents diseases from spreading. If a child (or adult) is immunised, there is little to risk of an epidemic starting.
  • A prolonged illness can be financially ruinous. Immunisation saves time, money and promotes long term good health.
  • Immunisation has cut mortality rates in children. It has made children healthier and fitter. And it promotes a longer, healthier life span.

How do vaccines work?

All vaccines generally work the same way. In the vaccine, an antigen – something that the body recognizes as an invader – is introduced into the system. These antigens are generally deactivated or incomplete. When the body sees the antigens, it recognizes the antigen as an enemy and creates antibodies – proteins that attack foreign invaders. That way, when the  real virus attempts to enter the body, the appropriate antibodies are created to fight off the virus. Thus making the body immune to the virus.

These antibodies remain in the body for a long time and remember how to fight off the germ or virus. If the real disease should try and attack the body in  future, the antibodies are ready to fight it off before it has a chance to make the person or child sick.

The first vaccination created was the smallpox vaccine. English physician Edward Jenner noted, in 1798, that milkmaids who caught cowpox seemed to be immune from smallpox. He discovered that a small amount of cowpox would teach the body to defend itself from smallpox. Varioulaevacciane, the Latin name for the cowpox virus,  is where the term vaccination comes from. Originally, this term was used only for the smallpox vaccine, but in 1881Louis Pasteur expanded the definition to refer to all vaccinations.

Sometimes vaccines only prevent one disease. Sometimes they are combined to fight off  several diseases, with one shot. The MMR vaccine is one such example: it provides protection against measles, mumps and rubella (or German measles as it’s popularly called).

Before vaccines were created, children died.

In fact, vaccines have prevented millions of unnecessary deaths in the decades after they were created. Some of the most critical and life-saving vaccines are given below:

  • Polio vaccine: There were over 13,000-20,000 cases of paralytic polio, mostly in children, in the U.S.
  • Measles vaccine: It usually killed 450 children each year in the United States
  • H. Influenza: A precursor to meningitis, killed 650 kids each year in the States
  • Pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine: Killed 12,000 children each year (worldwide)

We have a lot more vaccinations now. These include vaccinations for:

  • Diphtheria, an upper respiratory tract infection
  • Hepatitis A and B
  • Mumps
  • Pneumococcal disease
  • Rubella
  • Tetanus
  • Varicella (chicken pox)

Around the globe, the importance of vaccinations cannot, and should not, be underestimated. Vaccination or immunisation has helped prevent thousands of childhood deaths. According to WHO, ‘Immunisation is the process whereby a person is made immune or resistant to an infectious disease, typically by the administration of a vaccine. Vaccines stimulate the body’s own immune system to protect the person against subsequent infection or disease.’

Vaccinations are critical for protecting the world against rampaging epidemics and ensuring that future generations of our children remain safe and protected against some of the most dreaded diseases known to man.

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