Vaccination use to prevent against disease was first done successfully by Jenner in 1796 when he used cowpox material for vaccination against smallpox. Since then, vaccination and immunisation have been acknowledged as an effective preventive strategy for several communicable diseases and are now being developed for the control of some non-communicable diseases. It is estimated that immunisation currently prevents approximately 2.5 million deaths every year, saving lives from diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough (pertussis) and measles. Mostly the ultimate goal of immunisation is the total eradication of a communicable disease. The benefits of immunisation have had a profound effect on populations, not only in terms of preventing ill health but also in permitting resources previously required to treat the diseases to be redirected to other health priorities. Healthier populations are economically beneficial and can contribute more to society.´
The medical profession denounce any claims that are unfounded and inaccurate with respect to the possible dangers of vaccine administration. Claims such as these have resulted in diminished immunisation rates in some countries. The result is that the incidences of the diseases to be prevented have increased with serious consequences for a number of persons.
The risk of health complications from vaccine-preventable diseases is greatest in those who experience barriers in accessing immunisation services. These barriers could be cost, location, lack of awareness of immunisation services and their health benefits or other limiting factors. Those with chronic diseases, underlying health issues or other risk factors such as age are at particular risk of major complications due to vaccine-preventable diseases and therefore should be targeted to ensure adequate immunisation.
Supply chains can be difficult to secure, particularly in countries that lack coordination or support of their immunisation programmes. Securing the appropriate resources, such as qualified health professionals, equipment and administrative support can present significant challenges. Data collection on vaccine administration rates, side effects of vaccines and disease surveillance can often be difficult to achieve, particularly in isolated and under-resourced areas. Nevertheless, reporting incidents and monitoring disease spread are vital tools in combating global health threats.
Seasonal influenza is a major burden on public health, and is responsible for substantial levels of sickness and death worldwide. The elderly, those with certain chronic conditions, young children and pregnant women are all at higher risk. Many countries use vaccines to help protect against the impact of influenza. Studies show vaccines can be highly effective at protecting healthy adults against influenza illness, can reduce the number of hospitalizations and deaths in the elderly and chronically ill, and may help protect young children, pregnant mothers and their newborn infants.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates influenza has a global annual attack rate of 5–10% in adults and 20–30% in children, and is responsible for 3–5 million cases of severe illness and 250,000– 500,000 deaths annually. In 2003, at the 56th World Health Assembly it was noted that influenza could be responsible for up to one million fatalities each year. In Europe, estimates suggest the virus may be responsible for between 40,000 and 220,000 deaths annually. Data from the US show influenza has been associated with approximately 226,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths annually.
WHO considers vaccination the most effective measure for preventing influenza and its severe outcomes, and immunization is supported by many health authorities worldwide. WHO estimates immunization can prevent 70–90% of influenza illness in healthy adults, and considers ‘safe and effective vaccines have been available and used for more than 60 years’.
To increase seasonal vaccine uptake and protect at-risk groups from the serious effects of influenza infections, physicians should act as role models and get vaccinated. Heath professional’s responsibility is also to inform their patients of the risks associated with influenza infection and the benefits of vaccination. Health professionals themselves can be at increased risk from influenza, through exposure in the community and via infected patients. They also risk transmitting influenza to their patients, as infection can be asymptomatic and dedicated professionals may be reluctant to take sick leave when ill.
WMA Current Policy & Action
- WMA Statement on the Prioritisation of Immunisation
- WMA Influenza Immunization Campaign Protect yourself and those you care for. Get the flue vaccine!
- WHO and UNICEF: The Global Immunisation Vision Strategy (GIVS) 2006-2015
- WHO Global Action Plan for Influenza Vaccines (GAP)
- Center for Disease control