Infectious diseases were the most common cause of death in the past. Around 1900, 65, 000 children died each year from whooping cough, diphtheria and scarlet fever. Today, such deaths are, thank goodness, the big exception. In addition to the improvement of the socio-economic conditions and the increasing availability of antibiotics, vaccinations have contributed to this.
The immediate goal of vaccination is to activate the immune system against certain invading pathogens and prevent disease:
- Severe infectious diseases in which there are no or limited treatment options against the pathogen. For example, hepatitis B, polio (poliomyelitis), rabies, diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis A in adults.
- Possible serious complications in infectious diseases eg encephalitis (measles encephalitis) with a lethality rate of 20-30%.
- Possible serious illnesses in high-risk patients eg influenza vaccination in the elderly and persons with specific underlying diseases.
- Infectious diseases that can cause serious harm to the child during pregnancy (eg rubella) or childbirth (eg chickenpox).
Collective protection of the population
In addition to the protection of the individual against pathogens that are transmitted from person to person, many vaccinations have yet another effect: they lead to a collective protection of the population. This prevents the occurrence of epidemics and protects people who can not be vaccinated for medical reasons. With high immunization rates, chains of infection can be broken and pathogens eliminated regionally and eventually eradicated worldwide. In a disease such as tetanus, whose pathogen in the intestine of animals and thus also in the soil occurs and therefore can arise after each contaminated wound, there is a protection only for people with current vaccination. Even a surviving disease of tetanus does not guarantee immune protection - only the regular vaccine is able to. Large-scale international vaccination programs have so far eradicated smallpox worldwide and subsequently discontinued vaccination. In polio (poliomyelitis) this is also achieved in most countries of the world and also in Europe. Before the vaccine was introduced, polio in Germany was still responsible for thousands of deaths and disabilities. Since the polio pathogen is still circulating in some developing countries and therefore carries the risk of introduction, further vaccination is needed. The diphtheria has largely lost their terror by consistent vaccination. These successes of vaccinations have led to many people today being unaware of the dangers of infectious diseases. Often it is not known that the pathogens of measles, mumps and whooping cough are still widespread in our country. Increasing travel also increases the risk of importing infectious diseases.
A vaccination imitates the natural processes in the immune system of the infected. The body's own immunological defense systems are used by administering killed or severely attenuated pathogens in order to build up immune protection. A renewed contact with the same pathogens then no longer leads to an infection or at least no longer to the disease. Depending on the vaccine, this protection can be life-long or must be reactivated by booster vaccines. The measles-mumps rubella vaccine, according to current scientific knowledge, produces lifelong immunity in almost all vaccinees. Against diphtheria and tetanus, however, the vaccine protection must be refreshed every 10 years, against the ever-changing influenza virus even annually.
Infants and toddlers
In infectious diseases, infants and young children are particularly at risk. To build an early immune protection, most of the recommended vaccinations should therefore be started in the 3rd month of life. According to current recommendations of the Standing Committee on Immunization (STIKO), children should have a primary vaccination against tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough (pertussis), polio, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenza type b by at least 14 months and at least once against measles, mumps and Rubella (MMR) and chicken pox be vaccinated. The 2nd MMR vaccination should take place until the end of the second year of life. By using combination vaccines, infants can now be effectively protected against nine infectious diseases with just seven injections! Modern vaccines are effective and well tolerated. Undesirable serious side effects are rarely seen. However, with low rates of morbidity achieved, even very rare vaccine complications are becoming a widely discussed problem for society. For this reason, in many countries people with vaccine-critical attitudes sometimes receive a lot of media attention. Unproven theses or rumors about alleged harmful vaccines (autism, diabetes, MS) can make the vaccination strategy significantly more difficult and lead to setbacks in the elimination of certain diseases. The most common reason for not vaccinating is forgetting or false contraindications like commonplace infections. Information on vaccination questions can be given by your family doctor, pediatrician and your health department. Source: Robert Koch Institute