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Importance of herd immunity

It can be uncomfortable to contemplate the ongoing impact of preventable diseases on the health of people in the developing world. So the news that India has not had a confirmed case of poliomyelitis in the past three years is heartening — a testament to the success of immunisation programmes there. The World Health Organization is set to certify the region as polio-free.

Positive effects of vaccination must be highly visible to people who live in the region. The phenomenon of “herd immunity” against diseases like polio among vaccinated communities is something that people in the developed world — especially younger generations — probably find hard to appreciate.

When serious diseases (any of the ones, say, in the UK childhood vaccination schedule) no longer resonate in the public consciousness, you can see why people might become complacent. Add in some misinformation and a media storm, and some people’s fears about the safety of getting their children immunised will trump any understanding of the importance of herd immunity. Links between pandemic H1N1 influenza vaccination and narcolepsy cannot help the cause. But then the Welsh outbreaks of measles demonstrate what can happen if enough people “opt out”.

It is education and reassurance that the public needs, and pharmacists could consider it a professional duty to ask any parents with whom they speak whether their family’s vaccinations are up to date. But what if these parents have doubts? Are you able to address their questions? Communicating risk is important — but it is well acknowledged that doing so effectively is more difficult than it sounds.

If keeping your CPD up to date is a new year’s resolution, consider reflecting on vaccination — on how well equipped you are to explain its importance and risks.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.11132897

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