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World Immunisation Week is celebrated globally from 24 April to 30 April to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against disease.
With the theme, ‘Vaccines bring us closer’, the 2021 campaign urges greater engagement around immunisation globally to promote the importance of vaccination in bringing people together and improving the health and wellbeing of everyone, everywhere throughout life. This is particularly pertinent as we collaborate on the global COVID-19 vaccine rollout program.
Kristine is the director of the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS), paediatric infectious diseases specialist at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead and Professor at the University of Sydney. Kristine offered her insights on the importance of immunisation while reflecting on her own experiences and what the 2021 World Immunisation Week theme means to her.
Immunisation is an incredible way of preventing disease, saving lives and keeping people healthier. I think it is often underrated, as the outcome of immunisation is healthier people, living longer and prosperous lives with the absence of vaccine preventable diseases.
Of course, the impact of immunisation can be hard to measure but we know that childhood immunisation, for example, currently saves around 3 million lives a year and has the potential to save even more as we roll out new vaccines and reach those who unfortunately do not benefit from the most basic vaccines.
There was a pivotal moment for me in the early 1990s when I was completing my specialist training in paediatrics and before I had even decided to work in infectious diseases. At the time, I was working on the paediatric ward at a small community hospital and a 4-year-old girl was admitted with measles. While this little girl made a swift recovery, she had proceeded to walk around the ward and unknowingly infected other sick children there, including some who were too young or too unwell to be vaccinated. A number of those children who were unknowingly infected fell critically ill as a result.
This was at a time in Australia when coverage rates for measles vaccine were only around 50-60% and awareness of measles as a contagious disease and availability of a highly effective vaccine was low in the community. At the time, I remember thinking that situation could have been easily prevented had the patient and those around her been vaccinated against measles.
At that time, I realised how important vaccination was and what incredible science it is. It is so much more effective to prevent disease than treat it once it has already occurred.
It is very pleasing to see that in Australia we now have met the target of 95% immunisation coverage with 95.09% coverage for 5-year olds.
I would say to both trust and support the science of immunisation. It is sometimes easy to be swayed by an individual opinion or a memorable media headline when indeed there is an enormous amount of scientific thought in both developing the vaccines and evaluating their benefits and risks once they are rolled out.
I would encourage the public to ensure they are getting and following the best possible scientific advice. Try to be part of the process – ensure you have your questions answered and be open to engaging in discussions and committing to vaccination as a way of staying healthy and well. We know vaccines not only save millions of lives each year but have also helped us eradicate smallpox and brought us very close to eradicating polio.
We rarely, if ever, see tetanus and other types of bacteria that can cause meningitis. This all through immunisation and let’s keep going!
The theme for World Immunisation Week 2021 is very poignant at this time in the global pandemic when we are seeing suffering and tragic loss of life around the world caused by a virus that is now able to be managed by vaccination. We are in a race against time to both develop and roll out vaccines to enable us all to live in less fear of the virus and be together as families and communities.
I think we will look back on this time and be so grateful of the science and technology we had in place that enabled us to develop these vaccines in a record time and to be able to deliver them.
The 2021 theme is also a reminder of how once we do have more of the population immune to SARS-CoV-2, we will be able to be closer again and spend much needed time with family and friends, and interact with people we haven’t been able to for a long period of time.
NCIRS, Kids Research, Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network, Cnr Hawkesbury Rd & Hainsworth St, Westmead Locked Bag 4001, Westmead NSW 2145 Tel (612) 9845 1433 | Fax (612) 9845 1418 | ABN 53 188 579 090
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