Although Australia is advancing under a deadly flu season, one can find comfort in the fact that almost 95% of five-year-old Australian children are almost completely immunized against deadly childhood diseases, according to the latest report.
Globally, vaccination coverage has reached about 85%, making this a remarkable achievement that deserves emulation at all levels.
Child killer diseases preventable for vaccines covered by the standard include diphtheria, poliomyelitis, pertussis, tetanus and the virus that causes infantile meningitis, the type Hemophilus type B influenza and the virus of Hepatitis B. Other vaccines included in the program include mumps, measles and rubella viruses.
Viral cells attack the cells of the immune system. Image credit: esplode / Shutterstock
Universal infant immunization
Universal immunization for childhood is widely promoted as a simple, safe and effective way to prevent these diseases in children before they are exposed. The immunization works by not only protecting the individual receiving the vaccine, but also by inciting a phenomenon called the herd or community immunity. This is defined as the production of resistance to the spread of communicable diseases within a population from the presence of immunity to the disease in question in a high percentage of individuals within the population. Therefore the immunization helps the entire population once coverage rates are reached and is maintained at a sufficiently high level.
Community immunity confers a type of protection that is particularly important for newborns, the elderly, those for chemotherapy, those with a weakened immunity and those who are sick and who cannot be immunized, but who are at increased risk of infection. However, the immunity of the herd does not protect the individual from vaccine-preventable diseases, as does immunization, and should not be promoted as an alternative to immunization.
All vaccine-preventable diseases cannot be protected by herd immunity, as tetanus, for example, comes from environmental spores of the tetanus bacillus rather than from other people. For these diseases, individual immunization is the only way to ensure that the child is protected.
How immunization works
The immunization works by presenting a weakened form of the molecules on the virus or the bacteria that produce these diseases in the body before it is exposed to real germs. The presence of these molecules, called antigens, induces an immune reaction in the body, which manifests itself with mild fever, tenderness and other mild local or systemic reactions. This is followed by storage of the memory of these antigenic data within the immune system, within memory cells or B lymphocytes.
Faced with this infection, the body quickly kicks in a highly specific and powerful defense mode, as B cells that store relevant information multiply and turn into antibody factories. These churn out specific antibodies, protein molecules that recognize and bind to the antigen on the specific bacteria against which the body has been immunized. The bound antibody helps other immune cells to neutralize and rapidly destroy invading microbes and to contain the infection before the person becomes ill. In most cases the individual is totally unaware of having been exposed to the infection, due to the speed and effectiveness of the immune reaction.
B cells, also known as B lymphocytes, are a type of white blood cell of the lymphocyte subtype. They work in the humoral immunity component of the adaptive immune system by secreting antibodies. Credit Image: VectorMine / Shutterstock
Australian model: worthy of emulation
Quarterly data from Australia shows that almost 95% of five-year-olds received complete vaccination this year. The coverage is even higher, at almost 97%, among indigenous children at five years. Victoria and Tasmania are regions with exceptionally high rates of complete immunization. More and more children are completely immunized at one, two and five years across the country.
The importance of this uniform pattern of coverage is most appreciated when compared to countries like the United Kingdom, which have high vaccination rates on a national basis, but with significant pockets of poor vaccination coverage. This leaves ample room for contagious diseases to spread and produce local or regional outbreaks, as happened with measles in 2013, in Wales. This is because a non-immunized person in these areas who is exposed to measles, for example, is likely to come into contact with many other non-immunized persons and transmit the disease.
Australian federal health minister Greg Hunt praised the results, saying: "The latest figures show that the vast majority of parents listen to the message about the benefits of vaccinations and I am pleased that our public health campaigns and vaccination programs protect everyone the Australians. "
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