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The power of vaccines cannot be underestimated. Take, for example, Poliomyelitis, which was a significant problem 70 years ago – and is now close to becoming a disease of the past. Not that long ago, smallpox was completely eradicated through the use of a vaccine.
As the world celebrates the imminent arrival of several COVID-19 vaccines, we might ask how many diseases are preventable by vaccines as of 2020.
There are 29 infectious diseases that are vaccine-preventable and recognized by the World Health Organization. Included in that 29 are what most people know as the main vaccine-preventable diseases like diphtheria, hepatitis B, measles, and more. Vaccines prevent millions of deaths each year and have even helped eradicate some diseases from communities. The disease list on the World Health Organizations site includes:
In fact, vaccines have also helped curb the occurrence of certain types of disease in animals as well. Diseases prevented by vaccines in animals include:
Health care providers often encourage vaccines because of the tremendous impact immunization has on community health and the prevention of illness. From flu shots to immunizations for tetanus, most people have had or will have some type of vaccination in their lives. However, not every disease can be curbed with immunization.
Of the 361 generic infectious diseases that affect humans, only 62 (17%) are preventable by vaccines. Over 100 of the remainder are caused by fungi and parasites – from malaria to scabies, and from ringworm to candidiasis. The process of developing vaccines against these kinds of pathogens is more complicated than working with viruses or bacteria, but scientists are making good progress.
Other notable diseases awaiting vaccines are caused by viruses, such as HIV, Chikungunya, Norovirus, and Zika virus, and bacteria – syphilis, leprosy, and bacillary dysentery. These diseases affect many millions of people each year, incurring significant treatment and care costs for those affected and for society as a whole.
The good news is – most of these diseases already have vaccines in development. Preventing any one of the mentioned diseases would be a huge success and help ease the global strain on healthcare professionals, supplies, and equipment.
The burden of proof and regulation of vaccines can take years of evidential trials, funding allocation, and medical board approval (FDA in the United States), which make progress appear painfully slow. But these processes are necessary to ensure that putting it into our bodies is safe and effective.
We remain grateful for the hard work of scientists in developing vaccines to keep us safe.