Monday, 23 February 2015

Millions of lives have been saved by vaccines

I have something my kids don’t have. And what I have is something I hope and pray they will never, ever have to have.

It’s a scar from a vaccination for smallpox.

If you are under 30, you probably will never have that scar. That’s because smallpox was declared eradicated globally in 1980. There are small stocks of smallpox which exist in highly secure labs, but as a disease it has been removed from the earth.

How?

Vaccination.

I was less than a year old when I had my first smallpox vaccination. I was vaccinated again on entry to school (Quebec not accepting a certificate from an Ontario doctor) and again when I traveled overseas in the 1970's. I still have the certificates.

Because my mother was a nurse I received every vaccination possible. My mother believed in their effectiveness and wanted to keep me healthy.

I appreciate that.

I did the same with my own children. They had all their required vaccinations and more. When I found out that my drug plan at work covered them for the chicken pox vaccine, we had them receive it. My kids never had chicken pox and, I hope, never will.

Many years ago I knew a funeral director who had suffered from polio as a child. He had done well, relearning to walk with braces. He lived a long and full life. But he was one of the last people I knew who had had polio. I had that vaccination as a child, too. That was one we liked. It was a sugar cube with a pink liquid.

In 1988 the World Health Organization , UNICEF and The Rotary Foundation, assisted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, pledged a global effort to eradicate polio. North America was declared polio free in 1994. Today, Nigeria has been polio free for six months. Unfortunately war in the Middle East, Africa and Asia has resulted in outbreaks in Syria, Somalia and Iraq.

Ongoing vaccination of children is essential. Pakistan accounts for 90% of the world’s cases of polio. Unfortunately there is resistance to vaccination programs in that country. Distrust and ignorance have caused significant resistance to polio vaccination. Seventy five polio workers have been killed since December 2012.

Which brings me to the point. We have a measles outbreak in this province. It needs our undivided attention.

Most seniors are not at risk. Anyone born before 1957 or who has had the MMR vaccine has immunity. It is our children who are at risk.

The good news is that we have high levels of vaccination in Grey and Bruce. Our kids are largely protected, although we could be exposed, as may have happened with a group who went to the “Acquire the Fire” festival in Toronto.

The one thing parents can do is to have their children vaccinated and keep their vaccinations up to date. Polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, mumps, measles and other illnesses can all be prevented or mitigated by vaccination.

If you have concerns, talk it over with your doctor. If you want information, our local health unit can give you good advice on their web page.

On the floor of the atrium of our health unit building is a tile mural showing the major developments in public health over the last few centuries. It includes the development of the microscope, pasteurization and vaccination.

Diseases which once killed millions are now nothing but a memory. Let’s keep it that way by protecting our children.

Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.