Vaccination

CC BY-SA 3.0, HZI / Manno

The development of immunisations is considered to be one of the most significant medical achievements of the 20th century. Smallpox for example has been eradicated since the late 70s as a consequence of a successful worldwide vaccination programme. As early as in the late 18th century, the English physician Edward Jenner proved that an infection involving the cowpox virus – which are comparatively harmless for humans – could protect them from genuine smallpox. He is thus considered the founder of active immunisation. By administering weakened or dead pathogens, or fragments thereof, the immune system of the vaccinated individual is stimulated to form antibodies. Conversely, passive immunisation involves the administration of previously prepared antibodies. These “post-exposition-prophylaxes” are given to patients, for example, after they have been bitten by animals suspected of being infected with rabies.

One of the latest success stories could be the vaccine VSV-ZEBOV developed in the summer of 2015 which protects against the Ebola virus. In a clinical trial in Guinea with over 4,000 participants, the vaccine has offered a 100 percent protection. The WHO describes the development as "extremely promising". That could mean the end of the epidemic in West Africa, says the WHO.

The direct link between vaccination and disease control can be observed very well in Germany.“Oral vaccination is sweet – infantile paralysis is terrible” – this slogan was used in the Federal Republic of Germany as an advertisement for poliomyelitis oral vaccination. As proof of its great success, the number of those infected in Germany decreased, according to data from the Paul Ehrlich Institute, from more than 5,600 in 1961 to less than 300 in the first year after the introduction of the vaccination. Nowadays, Germany, as well as the rest of Europe, is considered to be polio-free and the vaccine is one component of a combination immunisation. In 2014, only Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan remain polio-endemic. Where infantile polio has not yet been conquered, it continues to be administered in liquid form. Consequently, no new needle is required for each individual to be vaccinated, nor are specifically-trained medical personnel necessary. This is ideal in regions of the world in which the nearest hospital can be a few hundred kilometres away.

© HZI / Hallbauer-Fioretti

This is also the case for a kind of vaccination which is currently being developed by researchers at the HZI:  The vaccine is in this case administered as a nasal spray. This means the immune reaction can take place directly in the nasal mucous membrane, where many pathogens would also enter into the body later on. This form of vaccination needs no painful “prick” of the needle, which is feared by many and can even cause them to shirk vaccinations altogether. This vaccine fatigue is problematic, as only a high number of vaccinated individuals among the population leads to a so-called “herd immunity”. Pathogens can hardly be disseminated further, thus there is also protection for those who weren’t able to be vaccinated and for those whose vaccinations failed, e.g. individuals with pre-existing diseases or immune-defects, or children prior to vaccination.

(Dr Birgit Manno)

Further Information: 

Information regarding the Bundeszentrale für gesundheitliche Aufklärung (BZgA) on the topic of vaccinations
Recommendations by the Ständige Impfkommission (STIKO) at the Robert Koch Institute
The operation of vaccination described by "Technology, Entertainment, Design"
Interview of the “Helmholtz Gemeinschaft” with Gérard Krause regarding vaccinations

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