by Ilene Risk, MPA
For most people, the COVID 19 pandemic is the only mass-scale viral event they have ever experienced in their lifetime, but epidemics and pandemics have been occurring since 3000 B.C. collectively wiping out billions. The Black Death killed over half of Europe’s population and polio crippled or killed thousands of children. While scientists and doctors have provided precautionary recommendations to slow the spread, vaccines are the only tools that have ever significantly controlled or ended these diseases in a significant way. Here are seven diseases that were put in their place thanks to vaccine breakthroughs.
Polio became an epidemic in the early 1900’s, primarily affecting children and causing permanent deformities, paralysis, and death. Since it was transmitted primarily through water contaminated with infected feces or from person-to-person contact, outbreaks were higher during the warmer months. Thus, people avoided swimming and boiled water for the most basic of needs. The polio vaccine was first used in 1955 and the last polio case was reported in the U.S. in 1979 – one of the diseases eradicated in the U.S. due to vaccination.
If you are over the age of 40 you will remember your parents always warning you about stepping on a rusty nail. As tetanus was contracted from metal scratches or punctures and could lead to muscle stiffness, lockjaw, or death, even pricking your finger on a thumbtack triggered worry. The good news is that for decades it’s been commonplace for infants to begin receiving the DTaP vaccine regimen starting at around 2 months old and finishing between 4-6 years to protect them for life against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough) – alleviating the fret about an accidental scrape on an old door hinge.
We are all too familiar with our annual flu shot to protect ourselves against 4 deadly flu strains, including H1N1, also known as Swine Flu. What’s not commonly known is that the 1918 influenza pandemic infected more than 500 million people and killed 675,000 of them in the U.S., and 50 million globally. Because of the flu vaccine, influenza deaths in the U.S. now range between 12,000 – 61,000 annually – still concerning but 90% less than in 1918.
This preventable disease can live within you for the rest of your life and cause major liver damage and cancer. A 3-dose regimen of the hepatitis B vaccine started shortly after birth can protect you, and especially mothers from unknowingly passing it on to their children, which has led to many fewer cases in adulthood.
Mumps, Measles, and Rubella.
Mumps, measles, and rubella are all highly contagious but also equally preventable. The MMR vaccine protects people from all three. In the 1980’s there was a resurgence of mumps in youth because routine vaccinations were not mandated or recommended. However, once the two-dose recommendation was implemented, cases went from 5,700 in 1989 to fewer than 300 cases in 2004, demonstrating that vaccines are effective in preventing disease.
Vaccines vs Disease-Acquired Immunity.
Vaccines are the best way to stop a pandemic and limit the suffering and death caused by the disease. The Bubonic Plague ravaged the world for several years and killed an estimated 25 million people, or up to 60% of the population in Europe along from 1347 to 1352. This is an example of how long it can take for a pandemic to end on its own without vaccines.
None of us want to endure five more years like 2020. Fortunately, we have the huge advantage of living in a time when science has been able to quickly produce a safe and effective vaccine against COVID and other deadly diseases. Because of our long history of research, development, and testing of vaccines, we don’t have to ‘wait it out’ for five more years and endure millions more unnecessary tragedies.
This is our shot. Let’s take it.
This site provides helpful facts from Utah’s top doctors and scientists, and information to help you schedule your vaccine appointment.