Dr. Charmaine Enns
In the past 50 years, vaccinations have saved more lives than any other health intervention.
Vaccines are very safe, safer than therapeutic medicines and far safer than the consequences of the diseases that they protect against.
They are also highly cost-effective. For example, for every $16 invested into providing the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine to children, a life is saved. This can be compared to other effective public health interventions such as driver and passenger air bags, which cost $61,000 per life saved, or smoke detectors in homes at $210,000 per life saved.
But vaccines are not just kids’ stuff. Adults need them, too.
While some vaccines provide lifelong protection after a short series of shots, certain vaccines need booster doses, most notably tetanus, which should be received every 10 years. Other vaccines are only routinely recommended once one becomes a senior.
Young adult women are now being offered the HPV vaccine, which protects against 70 per cent of the causes of cervical cancer.
Unlike other vaccines, the influenza vaccine is given annually. This vaccine is formulated each year based on the types of circulating influenza viruses that are causing the most serious disease.
Response to the vaccine is best in healthy individuals and only partially effective in people who are frail, elderly or have significant chronic diseases. This is why it is so important for healthy people who live with or care for those most at risk of severe outcomes from influenza also get the vaccine.
If you are travelling abroad, going back to college, pregnant, entering into a health-care profession or have any chronic underlying health conditions, you should ask your physician or call your local public health unit to find out which vaccines are recommended for you.
The best reason to get vaccinated is that it protects you, and it protects the people around you. This is an important concept because vaccinated individuals become a ring of protection around the most vulnerable people in our families and communities, such as infants and children, the elderly and those with chronic diseases.
Vaccines have been a powerful tool to reduce disease, disability, death and inequities for people of all ages and in all places. But they can only work if people continue to be vaccinated. Are you up to date?
Dr. Charmaine Enns is medical health officer for Island Health.
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