Childhood Vaccination Programme

A simple treatment that have become a crucial part of our day to day lives, the childhood vaccination programme works to protect vulnerable children from dangerous and contagious infections. In this article we look at how important this programme, and what exactly it achieves.

What is the childhood vaccination programme?

This programme is one implemented by the NHS to protect children from a number of potentially dangerous, and even fatal, infections. Children are usually more susceptible to some infections because their bodies’ defence system, the immune system, is less developed. Vaccines provide a much needed boost to the immune system, effectively priming it to react to illnesses and infections that, without a vaccination, could be extremely risky.

This programme begins with an injection not long after birth, and in the months following a series of other vaccines will be used to confer protection against diseases like rubella, measles, mumps, polio, diphtheria, meningitis C, and pneumococcal infections. While the majority of the injections that constitute this programme are delivered in the first year after birth, other vaccinations are performed at various points until a child has reached about 18 years of age. Some of the later injections include a treatment against the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a virus that can cause cervical cancer.

What does the childhood vaccination programme do for us?

In places around the world where no childhood vaccination programme is in place, countless children contract and even die from a collection of illnesses that are barely present here in the UK. In this section we look at some of the conditions which this programme has had a dramatic effect on.

Smallpox is a classic example of a condition which, at one point, was a serious epidemic that infected and killed countless people across Europe. Smallpox was highly contagious and presented with severe symptoms, and while some people survived (albeit with significant facial scarring from the pox), in many cases it was lethal. Since the introduction of smallpox vaccination this disease has gone from being a major epidemic to being completely wiped out as of 1980. It is thought that if vaccinations against smallpox had not been invented there would still be as many as 2 million deaths at the hands of this infection every year.

Polio is an incurable disease which affected people all over the world. Caused by an aggressive virus that targets nerve cells, polio caused about 1,000 cases of paralysis a day before its eradication through vaccination. Polio largely affected children who would present with worsening paralysis that could work its way into the muscles of the lungs and respiratory tract. In many of these cases the suffered would then suffocate to death without assisted respiration devices known as ‘iron lungs’. Now however, polio is no longer a concern for children across the globe.

Meningitis C is another condition that affects the nervous system, and vaccinations against this condition started in 1999. Since then the number of Meningitis C infections in people under the age of 20 has dropped by 99%.

Diphtheria is known to have infected 60,000 people in 1940 and killed a staggering 3,283. At around a similar time the whooping cough affected about 120,000 people a year. These infections would cause serious illness, and since vaccinations have been introduced diphtheria has been all but eradicated with the exception of a few imported cases, and the whooping cough has been reduced to about a thousand infections a year.

The impact of vaccines on the health of children in the UK has been absolutely staggering, and thanks to the NHS childhood vaccination scheme infections that were once commonplace are now almost non-existent. This illustrates the importance of vaccination more than anything else.

Despite the rarity of these diseases these days, it is important to note that children’s vaccinations are still extremely important. Diphtheria and whooping cough are rare, but their incidence is kept low because of regular, routine vaccination. If we were to stop vaccinating children against these illnesses they would spread once again. This was proven by the collapse of the vaccination programme in Russia after the splitting of the Soviet Union, which resulted in a widespread diphtheria epidemic.  

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