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Value of Vaccines 2020

The power of community immunity

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Dr Tonia Thomas DPhil

Vaccine Knowledge Project Manager, Oxford Vaccine Group

Unlike typical medicines, vaccines have the incredible superpower of protecting whole communities rather than just the individual. This is vital for protecting vulnerable people in our communities, such as cancer patients.

We are acutely aware of the devastating impact cancer can have on a person and their family. But we often fail to relay that some cancer treatments can severely weaken the immune system.

While many of us are forthcoming with fundraising and support campaigns for cancer patients, we must also remember to donate the invaluable power of community immunity.

Herd immunity

Community immunity (or ‘herd immunity’) is achieved when enough people in the community are vaccinated against a disease, rendering it unable to spread.

For example, measles requires 95% of people to be vaccinated to ensure that it cannot spread if introduced to the community.

In the UK, we are close to this for the first dose of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, but, for the second dose, we have only reached a level of 86.4% (2018-19).

By choosing not to protect ourselves and our communities, we are endangering the lives of those who are not fortunate enough to have this choice.

Now, the vulnerable people in our communities are at risk. Accounting for approximately three people in every 100 among us, this includes those undergoing cancer treatment, those with autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis or rheumatoid arthritis, and those living with organ transplants or HIV.

These people are already struggling with life-long conditions, and now they are also at risk of contracting measles and other infectious diseases.

Worse still, these individuals are more likely to develop complications, need hospital care, and are more likely to die from infections.

As well as protecting this 3% of people, vaccines protect those who are temporarily vulnerable to infections, like babies who are too young to be vaccinated, pregnant women, and the elderly.

The societal benefits of choosing to vaccinate

As a society we must realise that those of us who are healthy have the privilege of choosing whether or not to be vaccinated, but at a cost to those around us.

By choosing not to protect ourselves and our communities, we are endangering the lives of those who are not fortunate enough to have this choice.

Babady, N. (2016). Laboratory Diagnosis of Infections in Cancer Patients: Challenges and Opportunities. Journal of Clinical Microbiology, 54(11), pp.2635-2646. | Files.digital.nhs.uk. (2019). Childhood Vaccination Coverage Statistics England, 2018-19. [online] Available at: https://files.digital.nhs.uk/4C/09214C/child-vacc-stat-eng-2018-19-report.pdf [Accessed 9 Feb. 2020]. | Varghese, L., Curran, D., Bunge, E., Vroling, H., van Kessel, F., Guignard, A., Casabona, G. and Olivieri, A. (2017). Contraindication of live vaccines in immunocompromised patients: an estimate of the number of affected people in the USA and the UK. Public Health, 142, pp.46-49.

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