Vaccination Programmes

An integral part of modern health services, vaccinations are applied in pre-determined programmes designed to ensure that both individuals and communities reap their full benefits. Vaccines are usually delivered as part of carefully constructed programmes, and in this article we look at how these programmes are put together and what they aim to achieve.

Why are vaccination programmes used?

While a single vaccination offered to an individual has many benefits for that person, its effects don’t necessarily translate to better health outcomes for the community as a whole. Vaccines have the potential to dramatically reduce the spread of disease, and in doing so confer their protection against a body of potent illnesses. Vaccination programmes are devised to make full use of the potential protection immunisation can offer a community, and in doing so make the most out of the resources spent on generating these vaccines.

How does a vaccination programme work?

These programmes aim to achieve herd immunity by vaccinating a significant portion of the community. Once enough people have protection from a disease causing pathogen, the transmission of this pathogen rapidly declines, providing ‘herd immunity’ which protects people who have yet to receive the vaccine. Herd immunity is a very powerful effect that can dramatically reduce the incidence of even extremely contagious diseases, and in doing so vastly improve public health.

It also confers protection against a potentially dangerous illness to people who are unable to receive the vaccine. There are a number of medical conditions which mean that the person suffering from them is unable to safely receive certain vaccinations. People receiving treatments for cancer are a good example. One of the side effects of cancer therapies like radio- and chemotherapy is a weakening of the body’s natural defences, and people in such a condition are referred to as immunocompromised. If someone is immunocompromised then they are usually unable to safely take a vaccine because even the weakened version of a virus or bacteria can make them sick.

What vaccination programmes are used in the UK?

The NHS provides a schedule of vaccination for both children and elderly people as standard practice. Other groups at risk of exposure to less common diseases are also offered vaccines if necessary, although these may need to be paid for.

The vaccine schedule for children involves a series of injections during the first year after the birth, and then at various points after that. These injections are vaccines against a number of dangerous conditions that can cause severe sickness and even death in children, including meningitis C, diphtheria, measles, and polio. Teenage girls receive a vaccination against the Human Papilloma Virus which is known to cause cervical cancer on top of their other injections.

Elderly patients are also often at risk and so are provided with yearly flu vaccinations and a single injection against pneumococcal (a type of bacteria) infections at the age of 65 or above.

While following immunisation programmes is optional, it is highly recommended that parents allow their children to be vaccinated as per the NHS’ recommendations. These vaccination programmes are designed to not only protect children from the most potent infections they can be exposed to, but also protect the wider community from the spread of these diseases.

Vaccination programmes and the eradication of disease

Another extremely important goal of vaccination programmes is the eradication of particularly dangerous and virulent diseases. Smallpox is a great example of how this can be achieved. Whereas in the past smallpox was a global epidemic costing countless lives every year, the introduction of a vaccination programme saw incidences of the disease diminish to the point where the disease no longer occurs at all. When this point has been reached the programme is stopped and the disease can safely be declared as eradicated or eliminated.

This isn’t always the case however, and measles is an example of a highly virulent condition which requires a widespread vaccination programme in practice. The hope is however that with increased usage of the MMR vaccine (designed to protect against measles, mumps, and rubella), these conditions can be completely eliminated. It is estimated that at least 95% of children would need to have the MMR vaccine to achieve this.

« How are Vaccines Made? Vaccination & Herd Immunity »