Vaccinations have controlled many of history's worst illnesses, and they could do the same for COVID-19

Posted at 2:42 PM, Dec 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-22 19:06:41-05

It's been almost two years since COVID-19 made its way into Nueces County.

Since then, three variants have threatened the Coastal Bend, and each variant has seen a corresponding increase in vaccination rates.

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There's a reason local and global health-care professionals said they continue to insist people get vaccinated. Vaccinations have almost eliminated many of history's most dangerous illnesses, and they say it could do the same for COVID-19.

"Once you get infected, you have to be able to clear the virus," said Corpus Christi-Nueces County Public Health District Local Health Authority Dr. Srikanth Ramachandruni earlier this month. "If you don’t have a good immune system, like sometimes (the) uncontrolled HIV population, in the sense of if they’re not taking HIV medication, their immune system is down. They cannot clear the virus properly."

READ MORE: Local doctor says Omicron likely in Nueces county

This is why Omicron was allowed to go unchecked in South Africa, he said — the higher instance of uncontrolled HIV.

While HIV is one of the more extreme instances of chronic illness, other more familiar illnesses also can leave someone with a lowered immune system.

"We have very high rates of unvaccinated people in our county, lots of comorbidities," he said. "Diabetes, obesity and everything, so that also puts our county at high risk."

Vaccinations have neutralized many of the world's most historically virulent illnesses — polio, smallpox, measles, and meningitis, among others — by strengthening the patient's immune system so the virus is unable to replicate and mutate. It's why Ramachandruni also said it's crucial for vaccination to become a global priority.

"If everybody gets vaccinated around the world, then (it) ultimately boils down to our country not getting anymore variants," he said. "And that’s the reason why we should, you know, we should probably think about this global equity as a tool to prevent these variants coming on.

"This is (the) entire world we need to be thinking about."

Vaccines managed suppress smallpox — a sickness Driscoll Children's Hospital Medical Director for Infectious Diseases Dr. Jaime Fergie says likely dates back to ancient Egypt — to the point where it was declared eradicated in the United States in 1949. The last case of it was detected in Bangladesh in 1975.

"We don’t give vaccines for the smallpox anymore," Fergie said in October. "That is one of the greatest successes in history in terms of medicine – the eradication of an illness; the complete eradication of an infection. That is extraordinary."

Having done his medical training in Venezuela, Fergie saw a number of viruses ravage hospitals because of a lack of resources.

"For example, measles. Measles was more prevalent in South America than in United States because it took a little bit longer for the vaccines to get there," he said. "Measles-mumps-rubella were more prevalent."

The creation of the MMR vaccine and immunization, one shot in a whole battery of immunizations infants now must have before turning 2 years old, is all-but eradicated from the United States.

"MMR, we have brought those numbers down by 99 percent," he said. "All the cases we used to have in the United States of MMR almost now disappeared. Perhaps we still have a little bit of mumps, but the measles/rubella is extremely uncommon."

And he said another childhood rite of passage is headed in the same direction.

"In 1995, we were the first country in the world to use the varicella vaccine, and since then the cases of varicella have almost completely been eliminated, so that was a tremendous success," he said. "An illness that people almost consider a part of growing up is now almost gone, thanks to the vaccine. The varicella vaccine – that was extremely good."