Protected together - Vaccines work!

  • Sister Gillian Price FC

A visit to a local RSPB reserve in the sunny weather turned up a range of birds flown in from the south that were 'giving it their all' singing to establish territory and attract a mate. The terns, warblers and even the cuckoo are back. And the birds that have over wintered here are also on the move north to their breeding grounds.

People too are taking Spring breaks north and south, but I read in the Daily Telegraph that some are returning with more than they bargained for. The paper reported that in the UK there have been more than 250 cases of measles this year. Health officials suspect the rise is because of unvaccinated holidaymakers returning from countries in Europe where there has been a large outbreak of measles. In 2017 measles cases increased four-fold, with more than 20,000 people affected and 35 people dying. In February 2018 alone there were a total of 1 456 measles cases were reported in Europe with four people dying from the disease. (Monthly Measles and Rubella Monitoring Report). Measles is a highly infectious viral illness that can be deadly; however it can be prevented by the vaccination. The World Health organisation describe the 2017 four fold increase in measles as a 'tragedy' while the World Health Organisation director for Europe said:

"Every new person affected by measles in Europe reminds us that unvaccinated children and adults, regardless of where they live, remain at risk of catching the disease and spreading it to others who may not be able to get vaccinated."

This Tuesday sees the start of 'World Immunisation Week (24 - 30 April), the theme this year being, 'Protected Together - Vaccines work'. It is a time to celebrate how much progress the world has made in distributing life saving vaccines and saving millions of lives. The week also aims to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against disease.

I was lucky in that I received the polio vaccine as a child, my older cousin, however caught the disease as the vaccine had not yet been developed. Many who survived polio as children are now living with painful and debilitating 'post polio syndrome' but the good news is that Polio cases have decreased by 99.9% and we are close to eradicating it. I am proud that in August 2017 the UK pledged £100 million for polio eradication meaning that this will help immunise 45 million children against polio each year until 2020. To put that into context that is 80 children a minute who might not have been immunised without the UK's support.

Vaccine programmes save 2 - 3 million lives each year which makes it one of the most cost effective public health initiative. UK aid has helped immunise 67.1 million children against preventable diseases through its support for GAVI, the vaccine alliance. This has an economic outcome as well, as every $1 invested yields a $16 dollar return.

At his own invitation on 30 April 2016 Pope Francis met with 9,000 members of Rotary from around the world. He thanked Rotary for its efforts to end polio and urged members to continue their vaccination campaigns.

More recently too Pope Francis emphasised the Church's concern for health care in his message for the World Day of Prayer for the Sick (2018) when he said: "In countries where health care systems are inadequate or non-existent, the Church seeks to do what she can to improve health, eliminate infant mortality and combat widespread disease. Everywhere she tries to provide care, even when she is not in a position to offer a cure."

But there are still more than 19 million unvaccinated or under-vaccinated children in the world, with 1 in 10 children receiving no vaccines at all. The freedom of movement of the world's birds demonstrates how disease anywhere is disease everywhere - Like the birds disease does not respect borders. Quite apart from being the 'morally right thing to do, it is also in our best interests to eradicate disease as we saw in the recent Ebola crisis. In fact UK aid funded a new vaccine against Ebola which prevented a potentially huge outbreak in the Congo. All of which says that, 'Aid works'!

For more information see: World Health Organisation -

Tags: Vaccination, Sister Gillian Price FC,

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