The Science of Immunisation
‘The science of immunisation: questions and answers’ is a new booklet produced by The Australian Academy of Science and endorsed by the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and the Australian Medical Association.
The purpose of this publication aims to address confusion created by contradictory information in the public domain regarding immunisation.
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Vaccines work by stimulating the body’s defence mechanisms (the immune system) against infection. Vaccines mimic and sometimes improve on the protective after an actual infection. The great advantage of immunisation over natural infections is that immunisation has a much lower risk of adverse outcomes.
The body’s immune system begins developing before birth. Newborns are usually protected against many, but not all, serious infections by antibodies from their mothers (maternal antibodies). This protection usually only lasts for about four months.
An effective vaccine protects an individual against an infectious disease and its complications. But an important feature of immunisation is that it brings benefits not only for the individual who receives the vaccine, but also for the entire population through a phenomenon called herd immunity. This occurs when a significant proportion of individuals within a population are protected against a disease through immunisation. This situation offers indirect protection for people who are still susceptible to the disease, by making it less likely that they will come into contact with someone who is carrying the pathogen.
Community immunisation programs provide Cost-effectiveness to society when measuring the benefits (cost and quality of life) that result from preventing illness, disability and death, and then comparing them with the costs of vaccine production and delivery to the population.
The Science of Immunisation addresses the issue of vaccines being linked to other conditions, namely Autism. The original suggestion that the MMR vaccine might be linked to autism was made in 1998, when a research group proposed that the attenuated (live) measles virus in the vaccine infected the intestine. The leader of the research group claimed this led to inflammation that resulted in lower absorption of nutrients needed for normal brain development, the outcome being developmental disorders such as autism.
Many comprehensive studies subsequently ruled out this suggested link by showing conclusively that rates of autism are the same among children who have and have not been vaccinated. Ultimately, the original report was shown to be fraudulent, and was retracted by the medical journal that published it.
‘The science of immunisation: questions and answers’ was prepared by a working group of eight members co-chaired by Professors Tony Basten AO FAA FTSE and Ian Frazer AC FAA FRS FTSE. The document was also reviewed by an oversight committee chaired by Sir Gus Nossal AO CBE FAA FRS FTSE.
Endorsed by the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and the Australian Medical Association