Vaccines changed the world … and they’re as important as ever
Vaccination has quietly shaped human and animal health over the past century. With World Rabies Day upon us, it’s a perfect time to reflect on how they’ve improved our lives, writes Maria Zampaglione.

Do you remember parents telling their children to be careful when they see a dog or a fox with foam around the mouth?

It wasn’t just a fear of the dog itself, but what might result from the bite. They were fearful of rabies, which can affect both animals and humans.

People have been trying to cure rabies for many centuries. In fact, as far back as AD23, Roman author and philosopher Pliny the Elder advised sufferers to insert the ashes of the ‘hair of the dog that bit you’ into the wound.

Thankfully, since 1880 we’ve had a vaccine, and have made huge progress in the intervening years in fighting this terrible disease.

One prominent example is Mission Rabies, which aims to vaccinate dogs in communities where the rabies risk is high. So far, the charity has vaccinated 377,999 dogs in countries spanning Indian, Tanzania, Malawi and Uganda  – this approach has and will save countless lives.

But we must keep looking at the next frontiers for vaccines, and how we can best use them to safeguard both human and animal health.  

In pig production for example, the biggest threat is not from foxes with rabies, but several pathogens in the environment that can infect pigs and lead to respiratory and intestinal disease.

Some infected pigs can also transmit the disease to their piglets, and some can even die before birth, which has a huge impact on farmers.

These pathogens are a real challenge because they continuously adapt, and can be resistant to some forms of treatment. The potential for resistance means preventing these diseases with a vaccination will always be preferable to treatment later on.

The continuous research and development of vaccines means the life of the pigs and farmers has been made much easier.

Hopefully, these diseases will become a distant memory in time, but let’s not forget the essential role vaccines play in safeguarding animals, people and livelihoods.

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