The more diseases we prevent, the more lives we save

01 May 2018

With World Immunization Week just gone, it’s the perfect time to talk about the importance of vaccines.

Many agree that vaccinations have had a greater impact on global health than any other human intervention, aside from the introduction of clean water and sanitation.  Vaccines are designed to improve immunity to diseases. Most vaccines are injected,  but some are given orally or nasally, and typically contain a deactivated or weakened form of a disease-causing organism. This weakened version of the organism won’t cause a person to develop the disease, but it does trigger a response from the immune system. Your immune system recognises the disease-causing organism, destroys it, and ‘remembers’ it. So, if your body ever comes into contact with the disease again, even if that time the disease is full strength, your immune system already knows how to destroy it!

Now that we understand how vaccines work, it’s clear how important they can be  for keeping people healthy. So far, the widespread use of vaccinations has led to the eradication of smallpox and has achieved enormous success in controlling a number of infectious childhood diseases, including polio and measles. In fact, childhood vaccination against diseases such as measles, meningitis and pneumonia prevent 2-3 million childhood deaths every year.

A perfect example of the power of vaccines is the story of polio. Polio is a highly infectious disease that has no cure and, in the worst cases, causes paralysis and sometimes even death. The disease can spread quickly through contact between people. Lots of people who catch polio don’t show any symptoms, but they can still pass the disease on to others. In the past, this made polio especially difficult to avoid as you could catch the disease from people who didn’t show any outward signs of being ill. Without a cure, prevention is the most effective way to combat the disease, and so once a vaccine was developed, it was important to vaccinate as many people as possible to stop the spread of the disease. 

And that is exactly what happened. Thanks to the widespread use of polio vaccines around the world since the 1980’s, polio has been almost completely eliminated. In 1988, there were 350,000 cases of people being paralysed by polio. Last year, there were 22. That’s a reduction of over 99%. This shows the power that vaccinations can have – we have almost completely eliminated a disease that modern medicine cannot cure, all thanks to vaccines.

In 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) and its 194-member countries came together to publish an action plan for how to prevent diseases through the widespread use of vaccines. They wanted to offer vaccinations to every person on the planet and prevent millions of deaths from preventable diseases. They also pledged to do whatever they could to help promote new innovations in vaccine medicine – most importantly in relation to their three infectious disease priorities: HIV, malaria and tuberculosis.

At GSK, we are working hard to research and develop new vaccinations to help people protect themselves from disease and illness. We already deliver over two million vaccines to people around the world every day – but we still want to do more.

As well as delivering nearly one billion vaccines every year, one third of the vaccines we have in development target diseases that are most prevalent in the developing world – including all three of the WHO’s infectious disease priorities. We truly believe that if we all work together, everyone – no matter who they are or where they live – can have the vaccines they need to stay healthy.

 

For more information about the work GSK is doing, click here.

For more information about GSK’s commitment to fighting malaria, click here.

Follow this link to learn more about the World Health Organization (WHO).

For teacher resources on vaccines, click here  or here.

 

Questions:

  • Which disease has been almost completed eradicated thanks to the widespread use of vaccines?
  • According to the WHO, which three infectious diseases are the highest priority for new vaccines?
  • How many vaccines does GSK deliver to people around the world every day?

 

More articles like this are coming soon, so you can create quick, real-world links to your teaching.