Alberta's immunization program

Alberta's immunization strategy

Alberta Health and Wellness has developed a 10-year immunization strategy to increase immunization rates in Alberta. Improving immunization rates will lead to fewer cases of vaccine-preventable diseases.

Why immunization programs and vaccines

During the early 1900’s infectious diseases were the leading cause of death worldwide. Now, as the result of immunization programs, vaccine-preventable diseases cause less than five per cent of all deaths in Canada. This accomplishment makes vaccines one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th century. They are the cornerstone of child health programs and have significant value in protecting the health of the elderly and other individuals with lowered resistance to disease.

  • Vaccines prevent disability and death and control the spread of infectious diseases within communities. They are still considered to be one of the most cost-effective health interventions.

Vaccines are safe and are continually monitored for safety and effectiveness. When new vaccines are introduced, they are well researched and tested. Health Canada undertakes a rigorous approval process before approval is granted for each vaccine. The risks of complications and serious disease from not immunizing are far greater than the risks of a serious reaction to a vaccine.

Vaccines are successful in decreasing the incidence of disease. Many of the once common and deadly vaccine-preventable diseases are now controlled. As a result of immunization programs, smallpox has been eradicated globally. Before a polio vaccine was available, there were epidemics of paralytic poliomyelitis (polio) in Canada causing up to 20,000 cases in some years. Following the introduction of the polio vaccine in 1955, the number of cases dropped by 99 per cent in 12 years. In Canada, the last case caused by a wild poliovirus was reported in 1988.

  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) disease was once the leading cause of life-threatening, serious infections in babies and young children. Since the introduction of the Hib vaccine for babies in 1988, the number of cases of infection caused by Hib has dropped by 99 per cent.
  • Immunizing elderly individuals with the influenza vaccine is approximately 50–60 per cent effective in preventing hospitalization and pneumonia and up to 85–95 per cent effective in preventing death from the complications of influenza.

However, despite these successes, vaccine-preventable diseases are still with us; bringing increased visits to the doctor, missed days from work, hospitalization, disability and even premature death. When immunization coverage rates fall, epidemics of disease occur.

  • In Ireland when measles immunization rates dropped to around 76 per cent, measles soared to more than 1,200 cases in the year 2000, as compared with just 148 the previous year. Several children died in this outbreak due to complications from measles disease.
  • Between 1990 and 1995 due to a drop in immunization rates, over 100,000 cases of diphtheria with 1,200 deaths occurred in Russia and Ukraine. Previously, Russia had only a few cases of diphtheria each year and no deaths. Diphtheria toxoid came into routine use in the 1930s, but even today diphtheria remains a serious disease. About one person in 10 with diphtheria still dies in spite of medical treatment.
  • In Japan, pertussis vaccine coverage dropped from 90 per cent because of public concern over two infant deaths that followed DPT immunization. Prior to the drop in coverage there were 200 to 400 cases of pertussis each year in Japan. From 1976 to 1979, following the marked drop in vaccine coverage, there were 13,000 cases of pertussis with over 100 deaths. Similar situations occurred in the United Kingdom and Sweden when their immunization rates dropped or programs were stopped. Once Sweden restarted pertussis immunization programs, the number of reported cases fell once again.Immunization programs have been so effective that many of us have not personally experienced the fear caused by the threat of these diseases. Complacency about the importance of immunization is a growing concern. In Alberta we need to celebrate our past success and protect our future. We need to ensure vaccine availability and continue to inform Albertans about the dangers of infectious diseases and the benefits of vaccines.

Sources

  • Canadian Immunization Guide, 7th Edition, 2006
  • Your Child’s Best Shot: A Parent’s Guide to Vaccination, Canadian Paediatric Society, 2002

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