This World Immunisation Week, 24-30 April 2024, the World Health Organization (WHO) is celebrating the role that vaccination programmes across the world have played in the last 50 years.

In this blog, Dr Sam Ghebrehewet, Head of Vaccination and Immunisation at Public Health Scotland, reflects on this year’s WIW theme ‘Humanly Possible: Saving lives through immunisation’. He also emphasises the importance of ensuring the successes in using vaccines to prevent diseases continue in the face of global challenges.

Vaccinations have played a transformative and vital role in protecting the health of people across the globe over the last 50 years.

Through the widespread introduction of immunisation programmes, we have eradicated smallpox globally, are on the brink of defeating polio, and have significantly decreased the prevalence of diseases like diphtheria and meningitis, which once claimed countless lives. Thanks to these programmes, more children than ever before are growing into healthy adults, contributing to stronger, more resilient communities.

Despite this progress, we face challenges that threaten to reverse these gains. In the last few years, the COVID-19 pandemic, economic downturns, and mis-and dis-information have all contributed to a troubling decrease in vaccine uptake rates. The decline in uptake rates not only undermines the effectiveness of existing vaccination programmes but also jeopardises the health of those who are most vulnerable.

Scotland, like much of the modern world, is intricately connected to the health of other global populations because of trade and travel. When vaccination rates drop globally, the risk of reintroduction of preventable diseases increases, even in regions like ours that have high vaccination coverage. This also underlines why it is so important to get all the appropriate vaccinations before travelling abroad.

This year alone, Europe and other parts of the UK have experienced a concerning rise in measles cases, primarily due to lower uptake of the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine. In many cases, people have travelled abroad and then acquired measles in the country they are visiting before returning to the UK.

Measles can be a very serious condition, causing pneumonia and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and can affect people of any age if they have not been vaccinated. While Scotland has seen few cases recently, the threat remains, particularly among those who have not completed the two-dose vaccination schedule – both doses are essential for full protection against measles.

One of the key objectives of the WHO’s World Immunisation Week is to encourage each of us speak out on the impact of vaccinations. The power of vaccines is immense – they save lives, they prevent illness, they contribute to children having the best start in life and offer other vulnerable people the prospect of a healthier future.

It is more important than ever that we, as a society, advocate for and participate in our national immunisation programmes. Each vaccination not only protects the individual but also contributes to the broader goal of herd protection, which protects those who can’t get vaccinated due to medical reasons.

If you or your children have not yet received your vaccines, I strongly encourage you to do so. It is one of the best and simplest ways to ensure you are protected against a range of serious diseases. The last 50 years have shown us the incredible benefits that vaccines provide. Let’s ensure that this progress continues.

Find out more about the vaccinations that are offered in Scotland on NHS Inform.

Find out more about this years' World Immunisation Week

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Last updated: 24 April 2024