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What would happen if we stopped vaccinations?

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by Tyrone Jack 09.APR.10

Vaccines – which protect against disease by inducing immunity, are widely and routinely administered around the world based on the common-sense principle that it is better to keep people from falling ill than to treat them once they are ill. Vaccinations is considered to be one of the most cost-effective health interventions. Vaccinations have an advantage in that they can be delivered with very high coverage even in the remotest of areas, thereby preventing disease, disability and death in these marginalized populations.{{more}}

In the SVG, vaccination programs have eliminated or significantly reduced many vaccine-preventable diseases, including: Measles, Polio, Hepatitis B, Pertussis (Whooping Cough), Pneumococcal, Rubella (German Measles), Varicella (Chickenpox), Diphtheria, Tetanus (Lockjaw) Mumps. However, these diseases still exist and can once again become common and deadly-if vaccination coverage does not continue at high levels, or Herd Immunity is not maintained.

Vaccine-preventable diseases have many social and economic costs: sick children miss school and can cause parents to lose time from work. These diseases also result in doctor’s visits, hospitalizations, and even premature deaths. Let’s look at a few:

Polio

Polio virus causes acute paralysis that can lead to permanent physical disability and even death. Before the polio vaccine was available, cases of paralytic polio were reported regularly in the SVG. These annual epidemics of polio often left many of the victims – mostly children – in braces, crutches, and wheelchairs. The effects were life-long. In 1988, the World Health Assembly unanimously agreed to eradicate polio worldwide. As a result of global polio eradication efforts, the number of cases reported globally has significantly decreased.

Stopping vaccination before eradication is achieved would result in a resurgence of the disease in the SVG and worldwide. It is estimated that regionally, there will be 3 deaths per 1000 population and the loss of 6 disability-adjusted life years (DALY), (a time-based measure that combines years of life lost due to premature mortality and years of life lost due to time lived in states of less than full health). Effectively, over 300 deaths would occur in SVG yearly and 600 years disability-adjusted life year would be lost

Measles

Before measles immunization was available, nearly everyone in the SVG got measles, and up to 20 percent of persons with measles were hospitalized. Seventeen percent of measles cases have had one or more complications, such as ear infections, pneumonia, or diarrhea. Pneumonia is present in about six percent of cases and accounts for most of the measles deaths. Persons with measles can develop encephalitis (swelling of the lining of the brain), resulting in brain damage. More than 90 percent of people who are not immune will get measles if they are exposed to the virus. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), if vaccinations were stopped, each year about 2.7 million measles deaths worldwide could be expected. In the SVG, widespread use of measles vaccine has led to a greater than 95 percent reduction in measles compared with the pre-vaccine era. If we stopped immunization, measles would increase to pre-vaccine levels. It is estimated that regionally, 6 deaths per 1000 population and 13 disability-adjusted life year for every population thousand are averted annually i.e >600 deaths and 1,300 years disability-adjusted life year are saved in St. Vincent & the Grenadines annually.

Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

Before Whooping Cough immunizations were available, nearly all children in the SVG developed whooping cough. Cases of Whooping Cough were reported each year, with many – Whooping Cough related deaths.

Whooping Cough can be a severe illness, resulting in prolonged coughing spells that can last for many weeks. These spells can make it difficult for a child to eat, drink, and breathe. Because vomiting often occurs after a coughing spell, infants may lose weight and become dehydrated. In infants, it can also cause pneumonia and lead to brain damage, seizures, and mental retardation. If we stopped vaccination, Whooping Cough would experience a massive resurgence. It is estimated that regionally, 132 deaths per 1000 population are averted and as many as 366 disability-adjusted life year are saved for every thousand in the population.

Rubella (German Measles)

Up to 90 percent of infants born to mothers infected with rubella during the first trimester of pregnancy will develop congenital rubella syndrome (CRS), resulting in heart defects, cataracts, mental retardation, and deafness. Due to the widespread use of rubella vaccine, CRS is virtually a condition of the past. If we stopped rubella immunization, immunity to rubella would decline and rubella would once again return, resulting in pregnant women becoming infected with rubella and then giving birth to infants with CRS.

Diphtheria

Diphtheria is a serious disease caused by a bacterium. This germ produces a poisonous substance or toxin which frequently causes heart and nerve problems. The case fatality rate is 5 percent to 10 percent, with higher case-fatality rates (up to 20 percent ) in the very young and the elderly. Although diphtheria is rare in the SVG., it is still a threat. Diphtheria is common in other parts of the world, and with the increase in international travel, diphtheria and other infectious diseases are only a plane ride away. It is estimated that regionally, 8 deaths /1000 population are averted and as many as 8 disability-adjusted life year are saved for every thousand in the population.

Tetanus (Lockjaw)

Tetanus is a severe, often fatal disease. The bacteria that cause tetanus are widely distributed in soil and street dust, are found in the waste of many animals, and are very resistant to heat and germ-killing cleaners. People who get tetanus suffer from stiffness and spasms of the muscles. The larynx (throat) can close causing breathing and eating difficulties, muscles spasms can cause fractures (breaks) of the spine and long bones, and some people go into a coma, and die. Approximately 20 percent of reported cases end in death. It is estimated that regionally, 19 deaths per 1000 population is averted and as many as 17 disability-adjusted life year are saved for every thousand in the population.

Mumps

Before the mumps vaccine was introduced, mumps was a major cause of deafness in children, which occurs in approximately 1 in 20,000 reported cases. Mumps is usually a mild viral disease. However, rare conditions such as swelling of the brain, nerves and spinal cord can lead to serious side effects such as paralysis, seizures, and fluid in the brain.

Serious side effects of mumps are more common among adults than children. Swelling of the testes is the most common side effect in males past the age of puberty, occurring in up to 20 percent to 50 percent of men who contract mumps. An increase in miscarriages has been found among women who develop mumps during the first trimester of pregnancy. We cannot let our guard down against mumps. Mumps is highly communicable and it only takes a few unvaccinated to initiate transmission.

Let’s make no mistake, resurgence of many of these infections has occurred primarily in Eastern Europe where there were lapses in public health vaccine vigilance following the collapse of the USSR with devastating effects. Vancouver is trying to contain a measles outbreak sparked when foreign travelers visited for the Olympics, carrying two different measles viruses from Asia. So far, measles has spread to 16 people in Vancouver, half of them are in one large unvaccinated household. The parents rejected vaccination.

Must the lives and livelihood of Vincentians be subjugated to the desire of the Thusians to use controversies as a communication tool in their transparent strategy to draw attention to their fledging religious sect? Who is their “god” in this falsehearted religious strategy?

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