Jean-Pierre BAYLET, Country Head – Sanofi Pasteur, India and South Asia
Imagine waking up in the morning to know that while you were asleep, a virus attacked your baby’s central nervous system, robbing your child of the ability to walk! Unfortunately, for the longest time in human history, what we know as polio was a legitimate fear of millions of parents. Imagine waking up one day with high fever, chills, headache, body pain and vomiting. After getting treated for these symptoms, just when you start feeling better, a rash appears on your face, later spreading to hands, forearms, and the rest of your body. The rashes later develop into abscesses filled with fluid and pus, which would break open and scab over, eventually falling off and leaving pit mark scars. Through all this, you would be cut off from society so that you don’t spread this infection. For thousands of years, a large number of people contracted and suffered from this disease – what we know today as small pox. In fact, the global death toll from smallpox during the 20th century was estimated to be around 300 million.
In 1967, the World Health Organisation set up a plan to fight smallpox, and it was declared eradicated in 1980. On the same model, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched in 1988. In the 2020s, polio may well become the second human disease to disappear.
So, what can change the course of history? Vaccines! The presence of this one discovery ensured that children, across the world, enjoy a carefree childhood and lead a healthy life. According to the WHO, between 2010 and 2015, vaccines prevented at least 10 million deaths, and protected more from illness.
It is therefore, a no-brainer when the question of whether to vaccinate or not arises. The question that I would ask instead is – can I trust the quality of vaccine being given to me or my child? While this should be true for everything related to health, it is especially important in the case of vaccines. Vaccination consists of introducing an agent i.e. bacteria, virus, or molecule into the body. The agent has no ability to make you sick but still has the ability to induce an immune response. The body remembers this immune response when you are naturally attacked by the ‘said’ agent and protects you from it. In short, a vaccine is a biological product whose purpose is to protect the healthy people who receive it and hence, has to be held to the highest standard of safety.
At Sanofi Pasteur, 70 per cent of the manufacturing time is spent on quality checks. Prior to their approval by the health authorities, our vaccines are tested extensively to ensure they are effective and safe. Once in use, they are also continually monitored for safety through our pharmacovigilance system. This is crucial, as like any biological product, every batch of vaccine will differ in efficacy if not tested for consistency and quality.
So next time, when you are given a choice to vaccinate, don’t ask whether it’s worth it or not. What you should ask is – has the vaccine been amply tested for safety and efficacy? When you know the answer to this, you will know that there is no bigger gift than vaccination you can give to your loved one.