No wonder the craze for “booster shots” has spread like wildfire, from African kids in Uganda and Uganda to Canadian, American and European schoolchildren, including babies and toddlers – and, sometimes, anyone over the age of three.
According to Canadian Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor, the all-in-one step involves a standard dose of two separate vaccines, specifically the H1N1 and pneumococcal conjugate vaccines, along with a booster shot of two at least of the B strain of chickenpox – which has mostly been eliminated in the developed world, but which, in parts of Africa, is endemic. This year, too, the African nations of Nigeria and Somalia, armed with global community funding, are launching a vaccination campaign for four of the most deadly childhood diseases – Hib and diphtheria, and two subtypes of measles – at the same time: a week before this fall’s World Health Organisation World Health Day (29 September).
One of the reasons vaccination rates are important around the world is because some diseases are just simply endemic: there are no known ways of preventing them any more, so parents should seek to reduce the risk of potentially fatal illness in their children through vaccination.
But why just four at a time? By the time the WHO set the blanket vaccination campaign in train, all five diseases were being managed safely and largely preventable. The three types of measles are better controlled because they aren’t spread from person to person, and have lost considerable of their virulence due to the concerted efforts by multi-country vaccination campaigns since the 1960s. A restored sense of calm in places like Africa can be more likely if individuals avoid innoculating friends, family and neighbours, and don’t let co-ordinated multi-country efforts suffer.
Next month, when the Canadian health minister (who happened to be born in Rwanda) and UN health ministers will discuss the prospect of a new global health target to eliminate all types of vaccine-preventable childhood diseases, I hope that the 10th goal on the agenda is “include children with unimmunised status in all public and private health care and childcare settings and populations”.
That’s the goal just barely advocated by Dr Seth Berkley, the director of Gavi, the global vaccine alliance. In early June, in the US, Gavi warned that “there’s growing evidence that global immunisation rates could drop to just 78% in the world’s poorest countries by 2030”. That would be catastrophic in countries where pandemics are still unpredictable and where reducing exposures to virus and bacteria is hard to do.
Sign up for the SocietyGuardian newsletter