Saturday May 26, 2018

World Immunization Week: Vaccine is the most powerful Public Health Tool

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FILE - A boy gets an influenza vaccine injection at a health care clinic in Boston, Massachusetts, Jan. 12, 2013. VOA
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Six years ago, 194 countries signed on to the Global Vaccine Action Plan, an international campaign to provide children and adults around the world with access to life-saving vaccines.

The goal of the program is to prevent millions of people from getting vaccine-preventable diseases by the time it ends in 2020. The idea is to provide universal access to vaccines to protect people of all ages, from the very young to the very old.

Dr. Flavia Bustreo, is the assistant director-general for Family, Women’s and Children’s Health at the World Health Organization.

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“Immunization and vaccines are the most powerful public health tools that we have currently, “ she said.

Millions of children saved

Bustreo says 35 years ago, 13 million children lost their lives from diseases that could be prevented by vaccines.

She says that number has been reduced to 6 million, but 6 million is still too high.

Today, 85 percent of children are vaccinated against measles and other deadly diseases, but Bustreo says more children need these vaccines.

“We need to have vaccination coverage that is about 90 percent, in order to have what we call the ‘herd effect’ … which means you cover the children who are vaccinated, but also, because of the reduction of transmission of infections, you also cover the children that are not vaccinated,” Bustreo said.

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Final push on polio

Because of vaccines, polio is on the brink of eradication. Polio exists in two conflict zones: in northern Nigeria and along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Last year there were 37 cases. Compare that to the 350,000 cases in 1988 when the eradication campaign began.

There’s a special urgency to vaccinate all children against polio. Dr. David Nabarro has worked on a number of health programs at the World Health Organization and now as a special envoy for the United Nations.

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“The last part of eradicating any disease is always the hardest part,” he said. “If you don’t do it, you lose everything. To do it, you’ve got to really bring all the energy and commitment you can to bear, and it requires a special kind of dedication.”

Vaccines have prevented millions of deaths and countless numbers of children from becoming disabled. By 2020, at the conclusion of the Global Vaccine Action Plan, the U.N. wants to see countries strengthen routine immunizations for all children. It wants to complete the effort to end polio and to control other vaccine-preventable diseases. Also, the goal is to be well on the way in developing new vaccines for other diseases that plague our world. (VOA)

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Parents More Worried About the Vaccines Rather Than the Disease

“Collectively, this factor is driving vaccine refusal and delay,” said Professor Tony Yang, one of the principal authors of the study.

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“I had measles. I had mumps. I had German measles (rubella). I had the chickenpox so I know what those diseases felt like, and it was miserable,” he said
Representational Image, Pixabay

Dr. Paul Offit is an infectious disease specialist and an expert in vaccines. He’s been at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia since 1992. Since then he says not a year has gone by when he has not seen a child die from a vaccine-preventable disease. It’s largely, he says, because the parents chose not to vaccinate their child.

Far from Philadelphia, along the rugged border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, health workers are desperately trying to vaccinate every child against polio so no child will ever again suffer the crippling effects of this disease. If they can complete this task, polio will be a disease of the past.

Offit says the difference between parents in this mountainous border region of southcentral Asia and those in the U.S. is that in Pakistan and Afghanistan, people know the devastating consequences of polio. He says previous generations in the U.S. did, too.

Offit says parents in his generation were also quick to vaccinate their children.

“I had measles. I had mumps. I had German measles (rubella). I had the chickenpox so I know what those diseases felt like, and it was miserable,” he said

Dr. Paul Offit is an infectious disease specialist and an expert in vaccines. He’s been at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia since 1992.
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, wikimedia commons

23 viruses, two cancers

Vaccines can prevent 23 viruses and two types of cancer, and more vaccines are in the works, including one for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Offit is the co-inventor of a life-saving rotavirus vaccine.

But some parents are not getting their children vaccinated. Last year there were more than 14,000 cases of measles in Europe, mostly in Romania. Nearly 40 children died. It exasperates health officials like Miljana Grbic, head of the World Health Assembly in Romania.

“We cannot fight this disease if we do not increase vaccination coverage,” she said. “… But we also have to understand why vaccination coverage is going down.”

For some parents, it’s the inconvenience of the trip to the doctor’s office. Others think good hygiene and nutrition are all children need to stay healthy. Still others believe vaccines can give their children autism, diabetes and other diseases.

Offit says persuading these parents to vaccinate their children is hard.

“It’s hard to compel people to vaccinate against something that they don’t fear,” he said. “And when they don’t fear that, what they’ll do is, they’ll fear the vaccines, and I think that’s where we’re at.”

Vaccine refusal spreads

A study published in BMJ suggests that in the U.S., vaccine refusal is contagious. It spreads from communities with a high number of parents who oppose vaccines to other communities nearby when parents who oppose vaccines talk to their friends and parents of their children’s schoolmates.

“Collectively, this factor is driving vaccine refusal and delay,” said Professor Tony Yang, one of the principal authors of the study.

If they can complete this task, polio will be a disease of the past.
A health worker gives a polio vaccine to a baby girl in Lahore, Pakistan, Monday, April 9, 2018. A Pakistani official says authorities have launched a new polio vaccination drive, aiming to reach 38.7 million children under the age of 5, VOA

Yang, from George Mason University, and his co-authors looked at the number of non-medical exemptions for vaccines from 2000 to 2013. They found these exemptions increased in geographical clusters.

Some governments are now making it harder for parents not to immunize their children. After a measles outbreak, California passed more restrictive laws. Yang says parents trust their pediatricians, so health care providers need to be more pro-active in getting children vaccinated.

Australia HPV work

Despite hesitancy in some parts of the world, some countries are leading the way in promoting vaccines. Australia has provided the HPV vaccine to school-aged girls since 2007.

Also Read: Sitting in Cars or Planes For Long Duration Can Cause Blood Clots, says Study 

The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) causes cervical cancer, the second most common type of cancer in women worldwide. It also causes head and neck cancers and genital warts.

By 2013, a study showed a significant reduction in the number of young women with abnormal cells of the cervix and a 90 percent decline in genital warts in young women.

Cervical cancer takes 20 to 30 years to develop. By 2035, Australia expects to see up to a 45 percent decline in deaths from cervical cancer all because of a vaccine and the government’s policy. (IANS)