September 21st, 2018

To Your Health: Vaccinations can prevent illness and much worse

By Gillian Slade on November 13, 2017.

One of my earliest memories, perhaps because it was so emotional and filled with fear, is of my mother explaining why I needed to be vaccinated against diphtheria and why the needles I feared so much simply had to be done.

If I remember correctly there were a series of three injections, a week between each. It was my mother’s story of a little girl’s death from diphtheria that struck a chord with me about how important this was.

Nowadays we talk as though there is no threat from these terrible illnesses because we have vaccines. Not many of us have travelled to other parts of the world where children are dying because they were not vaccinated.

It all seemed so far removed from us — until the announcement this week that a case of diphtheria was diagnosed in the Edmonton area.

In 1921 about 15,000 Americans died from diphtheria. That was before vaccines. In the 10 years between 2004 and 2014 there were only two cases of diphtheria reported in the U.S.

There is a five to 10 per cent chance of death among adults diagnosed with diphtheria but it can go as high as 20 per cent in children and older adults.

Between 1990 and 1998 the former Soviet Union countries reported more than 150,000 cases of diphtheria and 5,000 deaths representing the largest diphtheria epidemic reported globally since the 1950s when immunization began on a large scale.

There are vaccines now to protect against measles, diphtheria, tetanus, cellular purtussis, polio, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, human papillomavirus and influenza.

Vaccines are helping to decrease the incidence of disease.

Ireland noticed a dropped in immunization rates for measles, to around 76 per cent. The number of measles cases grew from 148 cases in a year to 1,200 cases. Some children died.

The outbreak of SARS in 2003 showed how easily disease can spread thanks to international travel.

Vaccine-preventable diseases in our community result in an increased number of visits to doctors, people missing time from work, people being admitted to hospital, lasting disabilities, and in some cases death.

Here’s to protecting yourself and your loved ones, and To Your Health.

To Your Health is a weekly column by Gillian Slade, health reporter for the News, bringing you news on health issues and research from around the world. You can reach her at or 403-528-8635.

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