To appreciate the concept, the existence, and the importance of immunization, it is vital to consider the history of immunization. When I think of its history, I instantly think of smallpox, Dr. Edward Jenner, cowpox, milkmaids. Unethical is another word that comes to mind with regards to the experiment, but that might be a discussion for another article. Edward Jenner, a doctor in England, injected James Phipps, an eight-year-old, with pus from a cowpox lesion on a milkmaid’s hand. Jenner based his experiment on his observation that milkmaids infected with cowpox displayed immunity to smallpox. His experiment was successful because, in the most basic sense, vaccinia virus (cowpox) antigens are cross-reactive to variola virus (smallpox) antigens. Individuals infected with variola virus a.k.a. smallpox virus presented with a fever and progressive skin rash. While 30% suffering from the disease died, the survivors lived with permanent scarring and some were left blind. Smallpox, now an eradicated virus, caused the last endemic in 1977 in Somalia. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommended cessation of the use of the vaccine in 1979 as it served its purpose.
Poliomyelitis (polio) is another such disease that highlights the significance of immunization. Individuals (usually children) infected by poliovirus present with fever, headache, and limb pain. Of those that do not recover, the virus causes paralysis and (in 5-10%) death. The WHO started a campaign, Global Polio Eradication Initiative, in 1988 to eradicate polio. The wild poliovirus has three strains. Type 2 wild poliovirus was eradicated in 1999, Type 3 in 2012. Africa announced its successful triumph over wild poliovirus recently on August 25th of 2020. Pakistan and Afghanistan remain the last two countries to have Type I wild poliovirus still persistent. While scientists do their best to find ways to prevent suffering and organizations do their best to spread awareness, the social responsibility of citizens plays a significant role in the effectiveness of the vaccine.
Herd immunity is a model that enhances the efficacy of a vaccine. Herd immunity is achieved when a certain percentage of the population attains immunity to a disease (via vaccine or previous exposure to the virus) limiting the spread of diseases. Vaccines are generally not recommended for individuals with poor or compromised immune systems such as babies, pregnant women, cancer, or organ transplant patients. Since they are unable to make use of vaccines, it becomes the responsibility of those that are able, to get immunized to prevent spread to the vulnerable population. The concept of herd immunity can be applicable in our current state of pandemic. While researchers and scientists work to find a vaccine for coronavirus, it is our responsibility to do our best to limit the spread using masks, proper hygiene, and social distancing. Once there is a vaccine available to the population, it will again be the population’s responsibility to make use of it.
Alexandra Minna Stern and Howard Markel, & Kennedy, A. (n.d.). The History Of Vaccines And Immunization: Familiar Patterns, New Challenges. Retrieved August 29, 2020, from https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/full/10.1377/hlthaff.24.3.611
Guglielmi, G. (2020, August 28). Africa declared free from wild polio – but vaccine-derived strains remain. Retrieved August 29, 2020, from https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02501-3
Herd immunity. (n.d.). Retrieved August 29, 2020, from https://apic.org/monthly_alerts/herd-immunity/
Poliomyelitis (polio). (n.d.). Retrieved August 29, 2020, from https://www.who.int/health-topics/poliomyelitis
Roos, D. (2020, March 17). How 5 of History’s Worst Pandemics Finally Ended. Retrieved August 29, 2020, from https://www.history.com/news/pandemics-end-plague-cholera-black-death-smallpox
Smallpox. (2014, January 13). Retrieved August 29, 2020, from https://www.who.int/biologicals/vaccines/smallpox/en/
Smallpox. (2017, July 12). Retrieved August 29, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/smallpox/index.html