Who in their lifetime has seen a case of polio or
diphtheria? Even in the health profession, many would say they have not. And
this is a good thing. Many of the diseases that vaccines were created to
prevent are devastating illnesses that used to result in millions of deaths
prior to the availability of vaccines.
A historic review
A study published in the November 28 New England Journal of Medicine gives us some perspective on just
how well our vaccines are working. The study, led by Willem G. van Panhuis, MD,
PhD, at the University of Pittsburgh, used historical data to review how
effective our vaccines have been through the years in fighting seven of the most
pertussis (whooping cough).
100 million cases prevented
Using some fancy math, the scientists estimate that since
1924 vaccines have prevented over 100 million cases of these illnesses. And just
within the last 10 years, 26 million cases of these seven illnesses have been kept
at bay by vaccination programs.
But parents forget (or
Despite these dramatic findings, these researchers from
Pittsburgh (as well as many other health care professionals) are worried about
our future health. Why? Because the general public has forgotten the "bad
old days" when these diseases spread unchecked through populations. And
yet these terrible diseases are real, and they continue to pose a risk. And with
increased numbers of parents now refusing or delaying to get their children vaccinated,
the incidence of some of these diseases, such as polio and measles, has risen
to alarming levels in some places. At present much more unsupported and
half-baked information is being spread about the risksof getting
vaccinated than about the benefits of this lifesaving practice.
This NEJM study is
therefore a good reminder to us all that these diseases are real and dangerous,
and that vaccinations are our sturdiest shield against them.