This week is World Immunization Week, a global campaign to raise awareness of infectious diseases and to educate the public on the importance of vaccination.
Vaccines are a relatively modern tool, with the world’s first successful vaccine being developed in 1796 for smallpox. Numbers show that when vaccinations steadily increase, rates of death from diseases like measles and polio were vastly reduced.
Measles is a highly contagious disease and remains one of the leading causes of death for young children around the world. Before the first vaccine for measles was introduced in 1963, the disease caused 2.6 million deaths each year. However, between 2000 and 2016, the global death rate from measles was decreased by 84%, falling below 100,000 deaths annually for the first time.
Similarly, cases of polio have fallen 99% since the launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1988, nearly achieving its goal of eradicating the disease entirely.
This illustrates that vaccinations aren’t just important to the people who take them: over time the use of vaccinations can protect entire populations from contagious disease with what’s known as herd immunity, or ‘community immunity’. Vaccines build immunity in individuals by mimicking an infection. The body’s immune system kicks in and learns to fight that particular infection, achieving immunity to that strain of disease.
In larger populations, the number of new infections decreases as individuals are vaccinated and go through this process. It’s more difficult for diseases to spread if more members of the population can’t be infected. This disrupts the wildfire-like spread of contagions and even protects more vulnerable members of the population who aren’t immune yet, like children, or cannot become immune due to medical reasons. This only works if enough people get vaccinated though.
Making the world safer against viruses and bacteria is an important step for the future of our communities, which is why our scientists work so hard to help support immunization around the globe. We hope to play a part in the eradication of deadly illnesses by using our research capabilities to progress current research.
Using mass spectrometry, genotyping technology, DNA/RNA extraction technology, and Next Generation Sequencing, our teams generate a broader understanding of the genetics of diseases, as well as how particular molecules behave and are characterised.
We develop biomaterials that enable researchers to develop vaccines for epidemic diseases such as the Zika and Ebola viruses. Our reference materials are used to prove the quality and purity of medicines, while our microbiology teams have a strong reputation in anti-infective research, as well as antimicrobial surveillance and drug development.
There’s still a long way to go, but in the meantime, visit the World Health Organisation’s website to learn about how vaccines work and how you can help.