We’re protected from infectious disease by our immune system, which destroys disease-causing germs – also known as pathogens – when they invade the body. If our immune system isn’t quick or strong enough to prevent pathogens taking hold, then we get ill. We use vaccines to stop this from happening. A vaccine provides a controlled exposure to a pathogen, training and strengthening the immune system so it can fight that disease quickly and effectively in future. By imitating an infection, the vaccine protects us against the real thing. Vaccines:
- Protect us from dangerous diseases. In some regions or populations, dangerous diseases are constantly present (endemic) – but even in developed countries with accessible healthcare, vaccines are critical to stemming the spread of infectious disease such as measles.
- Protect children and the elderly. Our immune systems are strongest in adulthood, meaning that young children and the elderly are particularly susceptible to dangerous infections.
- Protect the vulnerable. If enough of a population is vaccinated, infections can’t spread from person to person, which means that everyone has a high level of protection – even those who don’t have immunity. This is known as herd protection (or herd immunity). It’s important because not everyone can be directly protected with vaccines – some people are unresponsive to them or have allergies or health conditions that prevent them from taking them.
- Help us control epidemics. In a world of denser cities, increased international travel, migration and ecological change, the ability of emerging infectious diseases to spread and cause devastation is increasing.
- Help limit drug resistance. Medicine relies on being able to treat infectious diseases with antimicrobial drugs, such as antibiotics, but overuse and misuse of these drugs is leading to infections becoming resistant to them.
Vaccines are our most effective health intervention. They prevent an estimated 2–3 million deaths worldwide every year. But, a further 1.5 million lives could be saved annually with better global vaccine coverage.
The BC Lung Association supports BC and Canadian immunization policies. For those looking to inform themselves we recommend consulting the websites of well-respected agencies, like Immunize BC.