Science & Technology in Action

14th Edition

The Power of Vaccines

Health Service Executive

Measles infection can lead to long term deafness or intellectual disability and is sometimes fatal. Vaccines can protect people against many diseases including measles, mumps, pertusiss (whooping cough), meningococcal disease, cervical cancer, influenza and polio.
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Lesson excerpt

Vaccination

Vaccination is one of most cost effective healthcare interventions, preventing millions of deaths and saving 750,000 children from disability caused by diseases like polio, haemophilus infl uenza type b and meningococcal infection each year.

Since 2006, with the development of new vaccines against HPV (human papillomavirus), vaccines can now prevent development of precancers of the cervix caused by the HPV virus.

Vaccines, contain antigens, which may be live (MMR vaccine), or non live (meningococcal C), that interact with the immune system and often produce an immune response like that produced by a natural infection, but without having the disease or its complications. Many vaccines provide long term protection against disease by producing immunologic memory similar to that which develops after having the natural disease.

Vaccination has led to the complete eradication of smallpox. Thanks to vaccination fewer children were paralysed by polio in 2017 than ever before, with the polio virus now limited to a few areas in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.

There are 3 different polio viruses. Polio type 2 was offi cially declared eradicated by vaccination in 2015; type 1 has not been found since 2012. Type 3 is the only remaining strain ‘in the wild’.

Vaccines do really work

The graphic below illustrates the dramatic decline in the annual number of occurrences of six diseases that were relatively common in Ireland in the 1950s. Three had effectively disappeared by 2017 and the others were greatly reduced as a result of the widespread uptake of vaccines. The areas of the coloured circles are proportional to the number of occurrences of the diseases. Three of the diseases still have significant annual occurrences because 5% to 10% of the population are still not immunised.

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True or False?

  1. Vaccines are available for all diseases. false
  2. Some diseases are not infectious. true
  3. Vaccination prepares the body’s immune system to resist a specific infectious disease. true
  4. Herd Immunity develops when 50% of the population are vaccinated against a disease. false
  5. The risk of getting cervical cancer is dramatically reduced by vaccination. true
  6. It is not possible to completely eradicate an infectious disease. false
  7. When the uptake of vaccination is low the risk of outbreaks of disease increases. true
  8. Vaccination has greatly reduced the incidence of many infectious diseases in Ireland since the 1950s. true
  9. In Ireland there has been a large increase in cases of measles in 2018. true
  10. Different strains of influenza appear each winter and so a different vaccine is required to confer immunity. true