Vaccination - the cornerstone of good public health
Today (Tuesday, 26th of April), the HSE is marking European Immunisation Week 2022 which takes place every year in the final week of April. The theme for this year is ‘Long Life for All’ which aims to reinforce the importance of equitable and expanded access to vaccines, to contribute to a long and healthy life for everyone.
For nearly two centuries, vaccines have helped make the world safer – from the very first vaccine developed to protect against smallpox to the newest vaccines used to prevent severe cases of COVID-19. Vaccines protect us as individuals and help us protect each other as members of the global community.
Reflecting on nearly 200 years of vaccination programmes in Ireland Dr Lucy Jessop, Director of Public Health, HSE National Immunisation Office says: “Vaccination is one of the most cost-effective health interventions available, saving millions of people from illness, disability and death each year. The WHO says a comprehensive vaccination programme is a cornerstone of good public health in any country.
“The current National Childhood vaccination programme offers vaccines to protect against 13 infectious diseases. However, there have been government funded Public Health vaccination programmes in Ireland for almost 180 years when the Smallpox vaccine was first made available. We have had on-going research worldwide into vaccination to prevent death and disease for almost two centuries.”
A quick history of vaccines in Ireland
- Smallpox vaccination was made compulsory for all children born in Ireland from 1863. After the introduction of smallpox vaccine deaths from smallpox began to fall, the last reported death from smallpox in Ireland was reported in 1907. WHO declared smallpox eradicated worldwide in 1980.
- Tetanus/diphtheria vaccine was introduced in 1940’s. In 1938 there were thousands of cases of diphtheria in children with 318 deaths reported. Once vaccination was introduced, deaths from diphtheria began to fall year on year. The last death notified from diphtheria in Ireland was in 1967. Nevertheless deaths from diphtheria still occur in unvaccinated children in Western Europe and other countries.
- Salk (polio) vaccine was introduced in Ireland in 1957 to protect against polio, a disease which has devastating consequences including death and disability. A few years after introduction of universal childhood vaccination, polio infection was almost eliminated. The last reported Irish case of polio was in 1984. However, over 7,000 people still suffer from post-polio syndrome in Ireland and cases of polio still occur in other parts of the world.
- Several vaccines to prevent meningitis have now been added to the immunisations schedule including haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib vaccine) in 1992, meningococcal C vaccine in 2000, pneumococcal vaccine in 2010 and meningococcal B vaccine in 2016. In 1999 there were 536 cases of meningitis caused by meningococcal infection. More than 100 cases of meningitis caused by haemophilus influenzae type b were reported most years before introduction of (haemophilus influenzae type b) Hib vaccine in 1992. Cases of meningococcal meningitis have dropped more than 80% since these vaccines were introduced. Meningitis cause by haemophilus influenzae type b is now very rarely seen.
- In 2010 HPV vaccine was introduced for girls to prevent cervical cancer and in 2019 this was extended to include first year boys to protect them against cancers and genital warts caused by HPV virus. Countries where there is a high uptake of the HPV vaccine in those aged 12 to 13 years of age are seeing a huge drop in the number of cancer in vaccinated women.
- The rotavirus vaccine was introduced in 2016 to prevent severe diarrhoea in children. As a result reported cases of rotavirus infection fell by more than 70% since the introduction of the vaccine.
Dr Lucy Jessop, Director of Public Health, HSE National Immunisation Office concluded, “Almost 200 years of vaccination campaigns delivered to millions of people have greatly reduced the burden of infectious diseases that killed and maimed children and adults in Ireland. It is important to remember that though the vaccination programmes were so successful many of the diseases are only a memory and with the exception of smallpox, these diseases have not gone away. Vaccination remains as important as ever to protect children.”
See www.immunisation.ie for more information and see hashtag #LongLifeForAll on social.
Last updated on: 26 / 04 / 2022