Old diseases make a comeback

Old diseases make a comeback

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In today’s world, the spread of news and false news is faster than the speed of light. Social messaging apps like WhatsApp end up being an anchor for the spread of such messages. The United States recently witnessed a surge in news and social media posts on anti-vaccines. 

Although the penetration of this news is yet to gain momentum, some people have already started believing it and are currently refusing to vaccinate their kids. This has paved the way for certain old diseases that were once very controlled and on the verge of eradication to resurface in the community.

Owing to the spread of anti-vaccine news, many schools in Mumbai are not allowing health officials to vaccinate their students. The situation in New Delhi is no different, wherein the latest reports suggest that thousands of children have missed out on vaccinations. 

The main reason behind these diseases coming back is a decrease in what is called ‘herd immunity’ of the community. This refers to a state wherein a high percentage of people in the community are vaccinated. Thus, there are only a few people who can be potentially infected and the possibility of the spread of that disease is very negligible in that community. Herd immunity works for those diseases that are highly contagious. 

Another reason is the waning immunity in children as they grow old and missing the recommended booster doses which makes them susceptible to these infectious diseases. 

Myths

One of the primary reasons associated with fear of vaccination is AEFI—which stands for Adverse Events Following Immunization. It is any untoward medical occurrence following immunization, which does not necessarily have a causal relationship with the usage of the vaccine.

Few vaccines may produce some undesirable side-effects, which are mostly expected, mild, and clear up quickly and can be managed well with adequate prior education and simple fever and pain medicines. The majority of events thought to be related to the administration of a vaccine are actually not due to the vaccine itself- many are actually coincidental events, others (particularly in developing countries) are due to human, or programme, error.

A case in the west wherein a child had died following immunization led the anti-vaxxers to kickstart the anti-vaccination movement. Additionally, some people also opt-out of vaccination due to certain religious beliefs.

One of the common myths around vaccination is that it causes autism. This myth came to fore after a British medical journal published that the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine was causing autism in British kids. The paper was later discredited due to multiple procedural errors and violations. The hypothesis, however, has lingered for decades now. A plethora of studies have been conducted since then and none has found any substantial link between vaccination and autism.

While in some cases, natural immunity does provide a lot of benefits, if you get a macro overview—the scenario is much different. Contracting a disease, getting sick, and developing resilience towards the disease may work in some situations and make sense if there was no vaccine available to prevent that particular disease and not otherwise. For instance, contracting measles, you have one in 500 chance of death after battling the symptoms, however, the number of individuals who face allergic reactions from the MMR vaccine is only one in a million.

Babies can’t handle so many vaccines: On the contrary, the immune system in infants is stronger than you think. Given the number of antibodies in their blood, they have the potential ability to respond to more than 10,000 antigens/vaccines at a single time, theoretically. So, it is absolutely all right for babies to get vaccinated with multiple vaccines at a time.

Vaccines are one of the strongest citadels of medical science. History has it, life has been challenging and brutal for children and adults before vaccines and the number of deaths and illnesses that vaccines have prevented cannot be overlooked. 

(The writer is Lead Paediatrician and Clinical Strategy Lead- mfine)

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