The Infectious Spread of Vaccines

Sydnee Iannoli

One of the biggest steps forward in the medical world, vaccines save millions of lives by killing and preventing the growth of harmful bacteria and illnesses.

According to Business Insider, in 1796 when vaccines were invented, the scientist Edward Jenner injected material from a cowpox virus into an eight-year-old boy in hopes to provide the protection needed to save people from deadly outbreaks of the related smallpox virus. It turned out to be a success. The eight-year-old was inoculated from the disease, and it was the first ever vaccine. Vaccines work by using adaptive immunity, which means that after someone is exposed to an illness, their immune system grows to learn how to best fight off the sickness and be prepared to fight back if attacked again.

Without vaccines, about 42,000 of the 4.1 million children born in the United States in 2009 would have passed away as children. For that same group of 4.1 million kids, researchers estimate that vaccines have prevented and will yet prevent 20 million cases of disease. These statistics alone are a  considerably big, and those are only estimated for kids born in one year in one country. 

Business Insider also reported that between 1900 and 1979, the smallpox virus killed about 300 million people and crippled millions more– which happens to be even more deaths than those that occurred in all wars and conflicts in the 20th century combined. By 1979, vaccination programs have eradicated smallpox all around the world. Without these particular programs, people would still be suffering and dying from the disease today. We’ve seen massive reductions in infections and diseases from other awful illnesses as a result of vaccines too. Polio has also been erased in much of the world, although few pockets of the disease do persist in places where it’s hard to implement vaccination programs or where parents refuse to give their children vaccines. In the U.S., smallpox is very far from our only vaccine success story. We’ve also had a 98% reduction in cases of other vaccine-preventable diseases including measles, mumps, rubella, and tetanus.

Vaccines also happen to save millions of dollars. Business Insider stated, to treat someone who is already sick from now preventable illnesses is extremely expensive, and the sicker they are, the worse those costs can be. Diseases that also can disable or kill people can require lifelong treatment. Not only is that treatment expensive, but disability and death also can greatly reduce or eliminate lifetime earnings. Take, for example, that same group of 4.1 million kids mentioned earlier that were born in the U.S. in 2009. Researchers predict that the vaccines they will receive will save $13.5 billion in health treatment costs and almost $70 billion when thinking of other costs to society, such as lost productivity in careers. Vaccines decrease this cost monumentally and also save millions of lives.

Annual vaccines for kids already save up to 3 million lives per year around the globe. The pneumococcal, rotavirus, and hemophiliacs influenza type b vaccines, just three of many vaccines, are expected to help prevent around 102 million illnesses and 3.7 million deaths between 2011 and 2020. Measles vaccinations reduced cases in the European Union by 90% between 1993 and 2007. Vaccinations cut rubella infections in that same region by 99% between 2001 and 2010.

Vaccines have been proven to work, and they’re safe. However, there are some places that have yet to have full access to them, and some diseases can’t be vaccinated against yet. If currently available vaccines were to be accessible all around the world, both the lives and money-saving benefits of them would be extended to all. And as vaccines are continued to develop for other deadly diseases, those benefits can go even further. Access needs to be expanded to everyone, but people also need to keep getting the vaccines they have access to as well. After all, as multiple researchers write, “vaccines that remain in the vial are 0% effective.”