Quite Prickly

Adding to Axel’s last article, we just received our new drugs formulary and very reassuringly the pharmaceutical industry has made big strides in improving your health by adding 2,500 new medications over the course of the last four years. That is more than one a day, so a daily trip to your pharmacy should become part of your routine to check what is on offer.
But this month’s subject is an old one, however in a new light: childhood vaccinations.

I still suffered from all the childhood illnesses, but fortunately the immunisation programs in developed countries now have been in existence for decades. And that’s why we have become ungrateful – vaccination fatigue that is. Back at the beginning, immunisation was a blessing: measles left one in a thousand children permanently brain damaged and polio left the same number with some form of paralysis. Whooping cough killed babies and rubella caused enormous birth defects in unborn ones. Diphtheria killed 5 to 20% of the sufferers; not to speak of tetanus, which killed at least 50%. Mumps can cause sterility in men, if contracted after puberty, but also a lot of lesser-known complications.

And finally meningitis in babies has virtually disappeared from the paediatrician’s menu. We take it for granted not having to deal with all those illnesses, because still a sufficient number of children are being vaccinated to prevent major outbreaks and outcries and suffering. Back then every mum knew (about) a child having suffered serious complications. (Now we dutifully gorge on expensive chickenpox and cervical cancer vaccinations, which up to now only have been shown to line the pockets of the manufacturers; those vaccines are only known to be effective for relatively short periods, they don’t do away with smear tests and may delay the infection with chickenpox into adult age, when it can be deadly.)

After a drastic decline of those childhood illnesses (in the USA for example measles cases of yearly three to four million dropped to less than a hundred) and with improved laboratory tests it became apparent that the lifelong immunisation may not last a lifetime for some of those illnesses.

Some countries have therefore started to recommend childhood vaccinations in adult age. It is needless to say, that there is no agreement amongst the experts, but it is a particular shame that the NHS does not give any recommendations at all, considering the hype about Tamiflu, flu vaccination and cervical cancer vaccination. Vaccinating against the old childhood illnesses, after all, is cheap and the vaccines have been proven for many years.

It is well known that tetanus should be vaccinated against every ten years, but also a booster against diphtheria should be given on a ten yearly basis. Here in Spain, there is now only a combined vaccination available for both illnesses. Polio only needs to be considered if one goes to areas where polio is common. It is virtually eradicated in the western world and the acquired immunity may be sufficient for most people.
Whooping cough seems to be a lot more common in adult life as previously thought. The symptoms may be very different to typical childhood symptoms. Any cough lasting longer than two weeks could be suspicious. Vaccination recommendations vary wildly, but a good compromise seems to be a jab as a teenager, in midlife and after the age of 65 years, even for people who have had whooping cough when younger. MMR vaccinations do last a lifetime; no controversy there. Worldwide, however, there are still more than 150.000 people dying of measles each year.

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