One hundred years ago, infectious diseases were the leading cause of death worldwide. In Canada, they now cause less than five per cent of all deaths thanks to immunization programs across the country.

National Immunization Awareness Week, celebrated from April 23 to 30, is a time to celebrate the important role vaccines play in protecting our health.  “Vaccines are among the most successful and cost-effective public health tools available for preventing disease and death,” says Risa Ledray, Saskatoon Health Region Immunization Program Manager. “As more people get immunized, everyone’s risk for disease is reduced.”

Infants are particularly vulnerable to many vaccine-preventable diseases and their complications. For example, infants who are too young to be fully immunized can become seriously ill if they come in contact with an under-immunized adult who is sick with even a mild case of influenza or whooping cough.

“Today, both children and adults can be protected against more diseases than ever before because of advances in medical science,” Ledray says, adding that some diseases like smallpox have been eradicated worldwide because of vaccination, and others like polio have been eliminated from Canada and many other countries.

“Polio is a great example of a disease that was once feared across Canada, but thanks to vaccination, Canada has been polio-free since 1977,” says Ledray.

But children in Canada and around the world are still getting many vaccine-preventable diseases like measles and whooping cough.

In the past year, there have been 111 cases of whooping cough in Saskatoon Health Region. Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by bacteria spread by direct contact with droplets from the nose and throat of an infected person.

“Pertussis is a very serious disease in infants under 12 months of age,” says Dr. Johnmark Opondo, Saskatoon Health Region’s Deputy Medical Health Officer. “It can lead to breathing difficulties, hospitalization and sometimes death, even with treatment.”

Vaccination is the best way to prevent pertussis and is given to children through the DTaP vaccine (diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis) at two, four, six and 15 to 18 months of age, and again at four to six years of age. Children in Grade 8 should get a booster dose of the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) vaccine, and adults should talk to their medical provider about receiving Tdap when they are due for their 10-year adult tetanus and diphtheria booster.

The message that Ledray wants everyone to remember from National Immunization Awareness Week is that immunizations are safe, effective and beneficial to people of all ages.

“Make sure you and your loved ones are protected – get vaccinated,” she says.

Vaccine quick facts

  • In 1988, polio was prevalent in 125 countries, but today it is endemic in only two countries: Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  • Immunization averts an estimated two to three million deaths globally every year from diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis and measles.
  • From 2000-2014, the measles vaccine prevented an estimated 17.1 million deaths.
  • About 50 per cent of infants with pertussis – also known as whooping cough or the 100-day cough – are hospitalized.
  • Influenza vaccination is an important primary prevention strategy in elderly adults. In years when the seasonal influenza vaccine is well-matched to the circulating strain, elderly patients have a lower incidence of pneumonia and influenza hospitalizations and mortality.

For more information on immunization, click on the links below:

Fact Sheet: World Health Organization
Infographic: Vaccines Work
Video: How Vaccines Work
Website: Immunize Canada