The evolution of medicine has brought with it higher life expectancy and reduced disease susceptibility. Human beings are safer from diseases now more than ever before. The advent of innovative technology in the form of vaccines and fresh research means that the difference in conditions between now and a hundred years ago is itself stark. In fact, around 1919, the Spanish Flu had broken out and would terrorise and wipe out large swathes of the global population. Throughout the history of mankind, no one factor has contributed to early death than the disease. Right from prehistory through to the 21st-century breakout of Ebola, we are often challenged by newer and tougher ailments that threaten the fabric of our society.
Through the 20th century, multiple breakouts threatened to transcend international barriers and become epidemics. To counteract this, scientists and medical researchers decided to bring the concept of vaccination, first formally noted by Edward Jenner, to the mainstream. The work of Louis Pasteur paved the way for vaccines to be developed for cholera, anthrax, and perhaps, most famously smallpox. The smallpox vaccine is heralded as a true success story. A global campaign to vaccinate against the disease resulted in complete eradication. The polio vaccine has had a similarly successful effect, though it hasn’t quite eradicated polio yet.
The use of vaccines need not be restricted to just fatal illnesses. In fact, they are often used to counter the effect of ailments like measles or mumps. Children, of course, are most susceptible and via their interactions in school, these isolated diseases can often spiral into larger problems. According to Prof. Wendy Parmet of Northeastern University, “The requirement that children be vaccinated before enrolling in school or daycare is one of the most effective tools we have for preventing outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles.”
In the politically charged climate of today, when even vaccines are being resisted in the name of religion, we must ensure that the spread of misinformation is stopped. Not unlike climate change deniers, there is a small, yet fanatic lobby that opposes vaccinations on grounds that they cause autism. This link, of course, has been discussed by extensive research. Yet, these reservations persist. Most damningly, doubtful parents are stopping their children from being vaccinated and in the process, putting their lives in danger. As responsible citizens, we must fight against this disinformation and ensure, at least at an individual level, that the people around us are vaccinated and safeguarded form diseases.