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Vaccinations – Overcoming the Myths

17 April 2019 | 8 mins read | Vaccinations – Overcoming the Myths

In 1980, after a 14-year global campaign, smallpox was finally eradicated. The disease had plagued humanity for at least 3,000 years, killing millions, but thanks to the power of vaccinations and the Smallpox Eradication Programme (SEP), its tyranny has come to an end.

People have been vaccinating themselves against the disease since 1000 AD.

Evidence of the use of smallpox inoculations has been found in China, Africa, and Turkey, before spreading to Europe and the Americas. The practice was only made widespread in Western civilization by Edward Jenner, whose original methods eventually resulted in the eradication of smallpox.

By the time the mid-20th century came around, vaccine research and development was bustling, and vaccines for diseases like the highly-contagious polio were created.

There is little doubt in the medical community of the positive effects vaccinations have on us as a community, yet recently, World Health Organization (WHO) listed the growing trend of choosing not to vaccinate as one of the year’s top 10 threats to global health.

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If the solution to a preventable health problem like disease exists, why then has there been a recent surge in, what the World Health Organization (WHO) has termed, a “vaccine hesitancy”?

Back to basics – what is immunization?

Immunization is when a person is made immune or resistant to an infectious disease, like polio or measles, typically through a vaccine.

Vaccines stimulate the body’s own immune system to protect the person against subsequent infection or disease.

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Why do we need vaccinations?

Immunization has been repeatedly proven to control and eliminate life-threatening infectious diseases. The benefits of immunization include:

  • Prevention of between 2 and 3 million deaths every year
  • Being one of the most cost-effective health investments, with proven strategies that make it accessible to even the most hard-to-reach and vulnerable populations
  • Having clearly-defined target groups, allowing it to be delivered effectively through outreach activities
  • No major lifestyle change is required
  • Increased life expectancy by protecting against diseases, infectious or otherwise

Despite this, you may be wondering, given the rapid development of our world and the increasingly adequate levels of hygiene, sanitation, and clean water, is there even still a need for vaccination?

Yes, there is.

Vaccines are necessary. Good hygiene, sanitation, clean water, and nutrition are not enough to stop infectious diseases. If the optimum rates of immunization are not maintained, the diseases prevented by vaccination will return.

For the sake of public health and safety!

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In fact, some communities in Europe and the US are already experiencing waves of measles outbreaks.

In August 2018, Italy’s government overturned the compulsory vaccinations for children, to the shock of the scientific and medical community. The distrust of vaccinations in Italy can also be traced back to more misinformation in the form of a now overruled court ruling that linked the MMR jab to autism.

Measles are also making a comeback globally. According to WHO, there has been a 50% increase in cases across 183 countries from January 2018 to January 2019. This increase has been attributed to the lack of immunization in developing nations and the spread of misinformation in developed countries.

Shying away from vaccinations affects the larger community.

Widespread vaccination produces a phenomenon known as “herd immunity”. As long as around 90% of the community are immunized, the immunized diseases will disappear entirely, even those unvaccinated are safe.

However, the infections can reappear and threaten the community if the percentage of vaccinated people falls below what is necessary to enact herd immunity.

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Why are some people afraid of vaccinations?

A falsified research paper

Why do certain groups feel so strongly against vaccination?

Perhaps the answer for this hesitation or even outright refusal to vaccinate can be traced back to a study released in the UK in 1998 by former British doctor and researcher Andrew Wakefield.

In this paper, originally seen as credible due to its publication in a highly respected medical journal, Wakefield and 12 other authors claimed a link between the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccination and autism in children, sparking widespread fears of vaccinations and causing parents to reject immunization for their kids.

Despite the subsequent retraction of this paper 12 years later, it was too late – the fears were already cemented in a portion of society. Immunization rates have dropped, and disease outbreaks are rising.

In the media

Today’s widespread media coverage of influential anti-vaccination voices have also played a part in instilling fears of vaccination in people.

Celebrities and political figures who have come out against vaccination are reported on for their controversial comments, more than figures who support vaccinations, amplifying the argument against vaccination. And this coverage goes hand-in-hand with the rise in misinformation regarding vaccinations.

Social media platforms like Facebook and Youtube have come under fire for their role in the spread of vaccination-related misinformation.

In February 2019, it was revealed that a search of the word “vaccine” on the world’s largest online marketplace, Amazon, produced results dominated by anti-vaccination content.

Some have attributed this to the poor design of algorithms that are unable to distinguish quality information from misleading information. Nevertheless, the effects are harmful.

And all this has occurred despite repeated studies and extensive research from the medical and academic community. In the largest study ever on the MMR vaccine, Danish researchers have uncovered the unequivocal fact that there is no link between the MMR vaccination and autism.

So, what vaccinations do we need?

Broadly speaking, the vaccinations you need depend on the country you live, and the places you intend to travel to. Some countries may have a compulsory vaccination programme, while in others, it is up to the individual to decide.

Vaccinating children against a variety of diseases protects them and allows them the full experience of childhood. These diseases are serious, or even potentially fatal, and include diphtheria, measles, polio, and whooping cough.

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Traveling is an exciting experience so don’t let preventable local diseases put a damper on your trip. These are some just suggested vaccines to take before traveling but as always, be sure to check with your doctor.

  • Cholera
  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis E
  • Japanese encephalitis
  • Meningococcal disease
  • Rabies
  • Tick-borne encephalitis
  • Typhoid fever
  • Yellow fever

At the end of the day, whether you are traveling or if you just want to protect you and your family against serious diseases, finding information on vaccinations requires careful consideration of the content you come across. Fact check the articles you read properly and take advice from sites with more legitimate sources.

You can also refer to more authoritative sites like WHO and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or healthcare professionals in your area for more information on what vaccinations you should get.

How Halza helps

As you’ve read, vaccinations are important for keeping harmful infectious diseases at bay. But there are also many different types of vaccinations you need to get. If you have kids, keeping track of their vaccinations is also a handful.

To make remembering all these vaccinations and booster shots easier, look no further than the Halza app. The app’s newest feature, Vaccinations, allows to you record any vaccinations you have already gotten and those you have yet to get. Having a record of the date you had the shot and the lot number of the vial is also great for medical emergencies or incidences that might occur.

Store, track, share your medical data with Halza. Available in 20+ languages, the app is also perfect for if you find yourself overseas and in need of medical assistance.

Sources: History of Vaccines – WHO, 2, 3, 4 – VaccinesNCBI CNN, 2

Klaryssa AugustineMarketing Copywriter

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