Vaccines and Public Health

In the year 2000, nearly 600,000 people worldwide died as a result of infection from measles, a disease that most in the United States pay little attention to anymore (unless it closes Disneyland!). After a concerted effort to increase worldwide distribution of the measles vaccine, that number decreased to 122,000 in the year 2012, a reduction of nearly 80%. This type of drastic impact is common throughout the 20th as vaccines have been introduced to fight preventable disease transmission.


In 1796, Dr. Edward Jenner discovered that he could infect patients with a very mild cowpox and that would prevent them from contracting smallpox, a much more lethal infection. This was a critical moment in the progression of medicine, particularly when we look at what had happened in the 16th and 17th centuries. Records from Europe indicate that almost 1 in 3 children died before reaching the age of 15 as a result of either dysentery, scarlet fever, whooping cough, influenza, smallpox, and pneumonia. As European explorers and settlers moved to the Americas, the diseases that they brought with them nearly wiped out the native peoples, a tragedy that is difficult to comprehend and was a result of these people not having natural immunity because they had never been exposed to these diseases. (https://www.publichealth.org/public-awareness/understanding-vaccines/)


As we fast forward to the 20th century, as late as 1950 there were well over 500000 cases of smallpox worldwide. As the vaccine was distributed to affected locations, smallpox was essentially eliminated by 1978 (https://ourworldindata.org/smallpox). Throughout the early 1900’s, parents lived in fear that their child would become infected with polio and become paralyzed or die. The introduction of Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine helped to reduce the number of cases of polio in the United States from 57,879 in 1952 to 72 in 1965, truly a modern day miracle (https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/reported-paralytic-polio-cases-and-deaths-in-the-united-states-since-1910).


It's important to reflect on the role that vaccines have played in helping our world become healthier and have a higher standard of living as each person makes their decision about the COVID vaccine. While no vaccine has proven to be perfect, a graphic recently released by Intermountain helps to illustrate how effective the COVID vaccine is:



In addition, Intermountain shared the following on their Facebook page: On average, vaccinated patients that are admitted for COVID-19 are 20 years OLDER than unvaccinated COVID admissions and have double the number of baseline health problems. Of all the unvaccinated COVID admissions, 43% are less than 50 years of age and 20% have NO baseline medical conditions.


As a public health professional, I urge you to consider the personal and community-wide benefits of getting vaccinated against COVID. It has proven safe and effective. The Pfizer vaccine has received full approval from the FDA. Vaccines have demonstrated their incalculable worth over the past centuries and will help us defeat this pandemic today.