Today, vaccines are available to help protect against over 20 infectious diseases, and as a result, many previously common diseases are considered rare or even eliminated in large parts of the world.
The discovery that started it all—the first successful vaccination of a child against smallpox by Edward Jenner in 1796—has led to the elimination of smallpox worldwide, in part due to a targeted elimination program spearheaded by the World Health Organization (WHO) after its formation in 1948. The last recorded case of smallpox was in 1977, the year after I was born.
Going back just one generation to my parents, polio and pertussis (whooping cough) were still the cause of substantial child mortality and morbidity globally in the 1940s and 1950s. However, today polio is eradicated in many countries. Whooping cough cases are still recorded today, but deaths are rare, and strategies such as the vaccination of pregnant women ensure that newborns are protected until they can receive vaccination themselves.
The tremendous vaccine news for 2023 is that we are very close to having approved vaccines for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) after a research journey of over 50 years. RSV is a respiratory infection that almost everyone has come into contact with by the age of 2 and has high hospitalization and mortality rates in some infants and older adults. The availability of this vaccine is hoped to reduce mortality and the burden on healthcare resources during the winter season when it is more common.
Despite advances, significant burden of disease owing to vaccine-preventable disease still exists, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. This can be due to high pricing, difficulties in supply, and lack of cold chain process for those vaccines that need it, all contributing to vaccine inequity. Moreover, the rise in vaccine skepticism has encouraged an environment of misinformation and distrust, which is a particular challenge for us in our role as communicators.
Download the full article for an exploration of the landscape and expert advice for developing communications that dispel myths and drive the uptake of vaccines.