World Immunization Week, observed the last week of April each year, was created by the World Health Organization (WHO) to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against disease and highlight the collective action needed to bring vaccine information and access to all.
Vaccination is an essential protection mechanism against numerous diseases. Vaccines have been used for decades as protection against viral illnesses, many of which can be lethal. Modern vaccines are safe and effective, and each year, they save millions of lives that otherwise might be lost to vaccine-preventable diseases.
The blog post reviews the importance, history, and evolution of immunization as well as reviewing vaccine programs in Canada and Saudi Arabia.
The History of Vaccines
The first vaccine was developed in 1796 in England. A doctor named Edward Jenner observed that dairy workers who were exposed to cowpox seldom contracted smallpox during outbreaks. Jenner applied material from a cowpox sore to an uninfected boy, who experienced mild symptoms from the exposure. After that, Jenner applied material from a smallpox sore to the boy. He was unaffected. This process led to an understanding of how viruses can be related to one another, as well as how immunity can be conferred.
Over the next century, scientists built on the knowledge gained from early vaccinations and began to develop vaccines to prevent common illnesses such as measles, mumps, rubella, polio, and tetanus.
Many governments recommend a schedule of childhood vaccinations designed to protect people into adulthood. The recommended vaccination schedules for Canada and Saudi Arabia include vaccines to prevent diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles, mumps, rubella, meningitis, certain types of pneumonia, and hepatitis B. Both nations also advise that individuals get certain vaccines as adults, such as annual vaccines against influenza, vaccines to prevent shingles, and COVID-19 vaccines.
According to the WHO, over 90 percent of Saudi children receive childhood vaccinations. Canadian children receive vaccinations at slightly lower rates, with certain vaccines only having coverage rates of 85 percent. The lower rates of vaccination in Canada may be driven in part by vaccine hesitancy among some parents.
The success of vaccination programs is unmistakable. In Canada, only five cases of diphtheria were reported in 2022. Before the introduction of the diphtheria vaccine, the country saw over 9,000 cases per year.
New Vaccine Research
The COVID-19 pandemic gave rise to the first mRNA vaccine to gain approval for use. The new technology proved effective at preventing severe disease and death from COVID-19, and pharmaceutical researchers are building on that technology. Firms are currently studying possible mRNA vaccines for conditions including Zika virus, malaria, RSV, pneumococcal disease, and shingles.
So-called cancer vaccines are likely to come to market in the next several years. Pharmaceutical firms are seeking approval for new mRNA-based personalized cancer vaccines (PCV) for the treatment of melanoma. When used in combination with immunotherapies, the vaccines reduce the risk of recurrence or death by 44 percent, according to clinical trials.
To learn more about the benefits of vaccines and what vaccines are available, explore our courses on vaccination today.
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