Vaccines & Eliminating Disease

Vaccination does more than protect individual people from illness and infection. This remarkable treatment can actually be used to gradually eliminate diseases that would otherwise be prevalent in parts of the world.

How can a vaccination be used to eliminate disease?

Vaccines are delivered as part of programmes designed to immunise at-risk populations against contagious and dangerous infections. An example of these programmes is the childhood vaccination programme implemented by the NHS, which builds of a child’s immunity against a body of virulent diseases through a series of vaccination appointments.

Once enough people have been inoculated against a particular illness, the organism responsible for the transmission of that disease (called a pathogen) finds it hard to survive and make its way from one host to another. Past a certain point, the number of incidences of this disease drop to 0, and once this has been achieved a disease can be declared as eradicated by the appropriate health authorities.

Examples of diseases that have been eradicated

Polio is a severe neurological condition that can paralyse children and adults alike (although the vast majority of cases in the past have involved children). This paralysis can be so severe that it affects the breathing system, which means that a sufferer can no longer breathe without supporting machinery.

Polio was so infectious that at one point as many as 1,000 children a day were infected by the causative pathogen. Fortunately the implementation of a vaccination scheme saw incidences of polio drop down until it was finally eradicated in 2002 in most parts of the world.

Smallpox was another extremely virulent disease that spread across Europe, causing widespread sickness, particularly in the 18th century. It was Smallpox, in fact, that drove the invention of the first vaccine at the hands of Edward Jenner. Through a rigorous programme of vaccination smallpox was completely eliminated by 1980.

Future diseases that could be eliminated

In the UK incidences of formerly serious and widespread diseases like diphtheria and whooping cough have been dramatically reduced, and the hope is that with an increase in global vaccination programmes these diseases can eventually be completely eliminated. Similarly the incidence of meningitis C has dropped by about 99%.

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