The world’s public health officials are hoping the message out of Africa is heard loud and clear – vaccines work, and they work well.
On Wednesday, the continent celebrated as the World Health Organisation declared it polio-free, leaving only Afghanistan and Pakistan left to eradicate the disease.
But the announcement is set to a growing backdrop of vaccine uncertainty as apprehension towards a potential COVID-19 cure grows – and public health experts are worried.
Africa has not had a single case of wild polio since 2016 after an effective vaccine program eradicated the virus.
Global public health officials are hoping this sends a clear message to anti-vaxxers that vaccines work.
“This shows that vaccines work and they work well,” said Professor Margie Danchin from Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.
“But there has been huge disruption to vaccine uptake around the world.”
COVID-19 has also made it hard for children to receive their routine vaccines adding to the alarm, she said.
“Eight million children have not had their routine vaccinations because of the disruption of COVID-19,” Professor Danchin said.
This cohort of children who have not had their routine vaccinations, mixed with the growing number of ‘vaccine hesitants’, could create a public health disaster – and the only way to combat it was making sure communities had the right information, she said.
“This is an extraordinary public health milestone. Vaccines do work, but we need that widespread uptake.”
The number of Australians that are increasingly concerned about vaccinations, largely a potential COVID-19 vaccine, has alarmed health experts across the country.
But ANU’s Professor Megan O’Mara said this is in part due to the effectiveness of Australia’s vaccination programs.
“In the past, we had high levels of vaccine uptake, for things like measles and polio, whooping cough, those kinds of diseases that would kill children in the 1940s and ’50s,” Professor O’Mara said.
“So now there are people who wonder if immunising their child is worth the risk because they’re not exposed to those diseases.”
The key thing Australians need to understand is that those diseases never went away, we’re just protected from them, she said.
“Without a vaccine for COVID-19 we can still design drugs that will prevent the virus from causing a terrible infection, but we will have to watch out for it,” Professor O’Mara said.