This World Immunization Week, CoMO is raising awareness of how #VaccinesWork for all.
For individuals and communities everywhere to survive and thrive, it’s vital to ensure that all people of all ages have access to the lifesaving benefits of vaccines. With healthcare systems worldwide being overburdened with cases of COVID-19 and researchers rushing towards the development of a vaccine, we can reflect on how vaccines are a public good that allow us to live our lives without fear of contracting a serious disease.
However, the benefits of vaccines can only be transmitted so long as we maintain a high coverage rate and there is growing concern that people will be unable to be immunised during the COVID-19 pandemic. Guidance issued by the World Health Organisation in late March warns that the disruption of immunization services will result in increased numbers of individuals susceptible to vaccine preventable diseases like meningitis. It therefore also raises the likelihood that outbreaks of these diseases may occur. As a result, they recommend that countries maintain essential health services such as immunization wherever possible and develop strategies for catch-up vaccinations post COVID-19 outbreak. We all want to keep safe and support healthcare providers during this time so learning more about how #VaccinesWork for all and how your local immunization services have been affected by the pandemic can help.
#VaccinesWork for all
When we say #VaccinesWork for all, what does that really mean?
Vaccines don’t just protect an immunised individual from disease. When you and most people in a community are immune to a contagious disease, it cannot spread easily. This kind of group protection is called herd immunity (or community immunity). By being immunized, you prevent viruses or bacteria from reaching those who cannot be immunized, such as babies too young to be immunized and adults with weak immune systems.
Licensed vaccines against meningococcal disease have been available for more than 40 years and different ones protect against different causes of the disease, some even inducing herd immunity to confer the benefits of being immunised to the wider community. This is important as 1 in 10 people have meningoccocus bacteria living harmlessly in the back of their throat and nose. People carrying the bacteria may not realise it because they’re not ill but they may unknowingly transmit it to someone else who does experience the disease.
“Meningococcal disease is a rare but serious infection with potentially devastating complications. Children, adolescents, young adults and seniors, and people with compromised immune systems are most at risk of serious illness from the spread of meningococcal disease. Immunization is a safe and effective way of protecting them from illness, but everyone in between must be up to date on their immunizations too. It may be difficult to wade through the immense volume of information about vaccines, but a registered health provider is the best source of information." - Dr. Anne Pham-Huy, Chair of Immunize Canada and a physician specializing in infectious diseases at CHEO, a pediatric hospital and research centre in Ottawa, Ontario
#VaccinesWork for all and throughout your life
Beyond protecting communities, vaccines also help maintain the long-term health of individuals by preventing disease throughout their lives. Routine immunisation in childhood provides protection against diseases that pose a threat to individual and public health. In adulthood, vaccines prevent complications and hospitalizations due to unforeseen illness. This is particularly important to keep in mind because, as we age, our immune function declines (i.e. we have a reduced ability to respond to pathogens).
Therefore, while some may think that meningitis vaccines are only for babies, children and young people, adults over the age of 65 are at particular risk of contracting meningitis. The disease can affect anyone at any time so taking a life-course approach to immunisation protects everyone from meningitis throughout their life.
"Age should not be a determining factor to health promotion and disease prevention. We must collectively combat ageist attitudes, beliefs and practices of society, healthcare providers and the broader policy environment toward healthy citizens and nations." - Dr Jane Barratt, Secretary General, IFA
#VaccinesWork for all by strengthening health systems
Since their conception, vaccines have significantly decreased the impact of disease worldwide, preventing an estimated 10 million deaths between 2010 and 2015. Vaccines have even completely eradicated diseases that once claimed many lives worldwide, such as smallpox and hopefully soon polio. These amazing achievements have reduced the burden on healthcare professionals, allowing them to focus on the treatment of diseases that we don’t know how to prevent yet.
Vaccines also achieve other general health priorities that further support health systems. For instance, vaccines help prevent the dangerous phenomenon of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), an increasingly serious issue that is currently causing up to 700,000 deaths globally a year. By reducing the number of people who become ill and need treatment with antibiotics, vaccines help to stop AMR.
In the midst of the current pandemic, vaccination is more important than ever so that there are less people who are susceptible to contracting a disease and therefore less outbreaks of preventable diseases. Our members and supporters know all too well the devastation meningitis can cause; its rapid onset can take a life in under 24 hours or lead to serious, life-long after effects. Meningitis is always a medical emergency and so prevention – and specifically immunisation - is the best way to combat the disease.
Many of the amazing gains made in public health over the past few decades have been because of vaccines but these hard-won gains need to be protected by maintaining a high level of vaccine coverage. Taking a proactive approach to your health can help relieve the uncertainty we all feel now so find out if you’re still able to access immunisation services at this time. If you can, stay up-to-date or learn when you can catch-up. The good news is that new tools and resources are constantly being developed to help protect us and provide evidence-based information so we can all lead longer and healthier lives.
To learn more:
About World Immunisation Week 2020.
About preventing meningitis.
About Immunize Canada.
About the International Federation on Ageing.
 WHO, https://www.who.int/publications/10-year-review/vaccines/en/  O’Neill J. 2016. Tackling Drug-resistant Infections Globally: Final Report and Recommendations. The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance. London: HM Government
 Image credit: Heather Hazzan, SELF Magazine.