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Value of Vaccination

The first vaccine was administered in 1796 when Dr Edward Jenner successfully prevented a young boy from contracting smallpox.  Less than 200 years later, vaccination eradicated this devastating disease, which used to kill an average of three in every ten people that contracted the disease. 

Since then, we’ve also eradicated the cattle disease, rinderpest, and have almost succeeded in assigning polio to the history books, with cases reduced from hundreds of thousands a year to mere double digits. ,  Vaccines have also been developed for many other diseases too, from rabies to influenza.  

It’s easy to see why some scientists argue that vaccines have made the greatest contribution to global health of any human intervention, aside from clean water and sanitation.5 They currently prevent 2-3 million human deaths year and save countless more animal lives.  Yet, global animal vaccination rates remain far too low and animal health, livelihoods and food security pay the price.  

We take a look at four of the many reasons why the animal sector must strive to improve global vaccination rates:

Global food security 

We have more mouths to feed than ever. The current world population of 7.6 billion is expected to reach 8.6 billion in 2030, but already, many people live in hunger, including 17 million children that suffer from severe acute undernutrition.  What’s more, demand for animal products is rising as populations increases.  

Vaccines have never been more important to our food security. Without them, productivity would decline and certain types of livestock farming simply wouldn’t be viable, as vaccines allow animals to intermingle or spend more time in open pasture without risk of catching certain diseases. 

Protecting livelihoods 

When the virus rinderpest was rife it wiped out entire herds with a fatality rate of 80% and contributed to continent-wide famine and poverty, which is why when it was eradicated in 2011 it was hailed at the greatest veterinary achievement of our time.  In Africa alone, it saves communities an estimated USD $920 million per year.

Today, around 70% of the world’s rural poor rely on livestock.  Their precious, but often vulnerable, income relies on the eggs, milk, meat and other animal products their livestock produce. Vaccines help safeguard this for developing, as well as developed, countries. 

Fighting antimicrobial resistance (AMR)

As pathogens become resistant to antimicrobials, once routine illnesses rear their heads as potentially fatal infections. The ramifications are huge with current global estimates of annual deaths from AMR at 700,000 and this is projected to rise.  Vaccines, alongside responsible use of antimicrobials, sensible animal husbandry, and the development of new treatments are crucial in this fight. However, what sets vaccines apart is that they are one of the most effective forms of prevention. By preventing disease altogether, we can reduce the need for antibiotics during the life of an animal.

Protecting the health of humans, as well as animals

Many major human diseases are zoonotic. For example, Rift Valley Fever (RVF) can cause devastating disease in both domesticated animals and humans and most human infections result from direct or indirect contact with the infected animals. Vaccinating livestock is critical in controlling this disease, like many others, as there is no human vaccination available. 

Prevention is always better than cure 

For all the strides we have taken in animal health, there are still many cases of disease, fatality and unnecessary use of medication, caused by infections which could have been vaccinated against. 

Vaccines work best when they are used widely within a population, helping reduce the ability of a pathogen to infect others and sometimes eradicating it entirely.  For example, 95% of human rabies cases are caused by bites from infected dogs, yet by vaccinating just 70% of dogs in at-risk areas, experts say we could eradicate the disease entirely.  

By encouraging a prevention-first approach, rather than a reactionary one, we can improve overall animal health and wellbeing, whilst reducing incidence of disease and costs for food producers, as well as pet owners. 

So, this World Animal Vaccination Day (20th April) let’s take a moment to celebrate the successes of vaccines and consider how we can communicate them even more effectively to animal owners and colleagues, alike.

Take a look at our interview with veterinary vaccines expert, Anna-Maria Brady, on the hurdles to vaccination in the animal sector.