Vaccines are the single most important means of preventing serious illness from infectious diseases among any given population. They protect you, the people around you, and the wider community. Vaccines are produced with the ultimate goal of disease elimination and eradication. This article will take you through a series of vaccine-preventable diseases and how the vaccination programs are deployed around the world.


A very serious infection, diptheria is caused by bacteria, Corynebacterium diphtheria. It is known to make individuals very sick. The disease can prove fatal for one in ten individuals who contract it, as the thick coating that nests in the back of the throat or nose blocks the airway. It can also lead to significant heart problems.

Thankfully vaccines have come to the rescue and mass vaccination has led to a massive decline in the number of cases. Instances of the diseases saw a 90% decrease between 1980 and 2000. Vaccines are administered from a very early age – with doses given within the first six months, a pre-school booster and a further booster given in the early teen years. When travelling to other countries another jab may be required if the last one was more than ten years ago.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B can be a very serious disease, yet can go under the radar for those with the infection as infants and young children tend to not display any symptoms. For those who do get symptoms (such as a fever, loss of appetite, and tiredness), they will usually not appear for three to four months after getting the virus. What makes hepatitis B so dangerous is the damage it causes to the liver, and can even cause liver cancer.

The vaccine protects individuals from serious disease. It is given as three separate doses – the first given shortly after birth, another after one to two months, and the last given before the baby turns 18 months old. Countries like the UK and Sweden have not introduced widespread immunisation as the low circulation of hepatitis B among their populations make it difficult to justify the cost. This approach is frowned upon by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Human papillomavirus

There are more than 100 types of human papillomavirus (HPV) and 85% of people will get it in their life. There are a few which are deemed ‘high risk’ because of their link to certain cancers – namely cervical, anal and genital. While they offer up no symptoms, these types of HPV are found in 99% of cervical cancers. With this in mind, girls going into adolescence are prioritised in vaccination programs worldwide – at a time before there is a high risk of them catching an HPV. The vaccine is administered through two separate injections, six months apart.

Measles, mumps and rubella

Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) are three highly infectious conditions that are easily spread between unvaccinated individuals. The symptoms of the illnesses can be very unpleasant, but the importance of getting vaccinated stems from the fact they can lead to more significant health issues. These include meningitis, hearing loss and problems during pregnancy. The MMR vaccine is administered to babies and young children, with the first dose being given at one years old and the second after three.


Most common among babies, young children, teenagers and young adults, meningitis has the potential to be extremely serious. It is an infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. Without treatment, bacterial meningitis can be fatal – whereas viral meningitis will usually go away on its own. The former, when not treated quickly enough, can cause all kinds of complications including visual or hearing issues, memory and balance problems, epilepsy and even can lead to individuals having to lose limbs.

There are vaccines that will protect against certain types of meningitis. The most common is the MenB vaccine to defend against infection from bacteria known as meningococcal group B. This is given to infants in three doses at eight, twelve and sixteen weeks. The MenACWY vaccine is also open to individuals up until their 25th birthday. This protects against other meningococcal groups; A, C, W, and Y.


Nowadays tetanus is very rare in countries that offer widespread vaccination. England only saw four cases in 2019, while the US only averages about thirty a year. It is caused by bacteria commonly found in soil and in the manure found in animals such as horses and cows. If this bacteria were to enter the body through a wound then they can quickly multiply. Symptoms include lockjaw, sweating, muscle spasms and a rapid heartbeat. This almost always results in the individual being hospitalised in an intensive care unit (ICU).

Various tetanus vaccines have meant that 86% of children worldwide are protected. They are administered through various vaccination programs around the world – with most receiving a vaccine, and multiple boosters, in their first year of life.


Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial infection that is spread through inhaling droplets in the air from the cough or sneeze of someone who’s infected. It causes a persistent cough, night sweats, tiredness and fatigue. The most contagious type of the infection is known as ‘pulmonary TB’. This will only spread through prolonged exposure. The vast majority of healthy individuals can rely on their immune system (or antibiotics) to kill the bacteria and return to full health. However, for others, without treatment it has the potential to be very serious.

The Bacille Calmette-Guérin vaccine is commonly used to offer protection against TB. In most countries, this is only recommended to individuals deemed ‘at risk’, in areas with high rates of TB, and healthcare workers.

The importance of vaccination

Vaccines have proven to save millions of lives around the world – up to three million a year. They are single-handedly the most effective means of preventing infectious diseases. With enough people vaccinated, some have become completely eradicated. Take smallpox, a disease seldom talked about nowadays, the last recorded case was in 1977 due to vaccination uptake. Other diseases, like measles and diphtheria, have been reduced by up to 99.9% since the introduction of their vaccines. With a number of diseases ripping through parts of the world, we can only hope and wait for new vaccines to be developed.