According to the WHO, childhood vaccines save the lives of four million children a year by providing protection against diseases such as diphtheria, measles, pneumonia, rotavirus, rubella, tetanus and polio.
There are compelling facts about the importance of vaccines for health. According to the WHO, childhood vaccines save the lives of four million children a year by providing protection against diseases such as diphtheria, measles, pneumonia, rotavirus, rubella, tetanus and polio.
However, the risk of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks in America reached its highest level in 30 years in 2023.
Vaccines can be considered – along with water purification – the preventive measure that has brought the most benefits to humanity by helping to protect children against diseases that can cause serious harm or death, especially in people with developing immune systems, such as infants. By stimulating the body’s natural defenses, they prepare the body to fight disease more quickly and effectively.
Prior to birth, babies take from the placenta the necessary defenses to protect themselves against possible infections during the first weeks of life.
But this protection is soon lost, depending on the microorganism in question. Thus, while in infectious diseases such as whooping cough, the immunity transmitted by the mother is maintained for only a few weeks, in other cases, such as measles, it can last up to six months or a year, depending on the child.
This fact determines two very important things: the need to vaccinate children to protect them against known diseases and when they should be vaccinated to maintain their immunity against them.
In April last year, Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), urged the countries of the Americas to urgently intensify routine vaccination efforts, as the risk of outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in the region reached its highest level in 30 years.
Currently, the Americas Region has the second worst vaccination coverage in the world. More than 50% of children who have never received a vaccine in the region are in Brazil and Mexico.
In Europe, meanwhile, the tendency not to vaccinate minors has led to an increase in the number of cases of diseases that had already been eradicated, such as measles.
A study published in Lancet Infectious Diseases concluded that in the first year of pandemic inoculation, the injections saved the lives of 19.1 to 20.4 million people. Without them, about three times as many would have died in 2021 alone, the study notes. Of those averted deaths, 78.2% were due to the direct effects of the vaccine. The rest were due to indirect effects such as reduced disease transmission and less hospital collapse.
Vaccine research, like any drug, begins with a strategic framework, followed by the identification of a target and its analysis with animals in the laboratory, steps that are carried out in the preclinical stage. If the results are favorable, it is essential to advance to clinical development to validate them in humans. All licensed vaccines undergo rigorous testing throughout the various phases of clinical trials, and continue to be evaluated regularly after they are marketed. In addition, scientists constantly monitor information from a variety of sources for indications of adverse effects.
Serious injury from a vaccine-preventable disease is much more likely to occur than from a vaccine. For example, tetanus can cause severe pain, muscle spasms (e.g., of muscles used for chewing) and blood clots, while measles can inflame the brain (encephalitis) and cause blindness. Many vaccine-preventable diseases can kill us. The benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks they expose us to, and without vaccines there would be many more cases of illness and death.
Getting vaccinated – or not – is not only a personal or family decision, but also a responsibility towards society, as it may mean the return of diseases already forgotten in many countries.
Today – as always and more than ever – to vaccinate is to protect.