Use of Vaccines to Eradicate Infectious Disease


Smallpox and Rinderpest have been eradicated by vaccines, and polio is likely to be a third. The key elements to a successful programme include the need for a technically suitable but not necessarily perfect vaccine, good understanding of the disease and its transmission, willingness to adapt approaches, adequate surveillance mechanisms, political and societal commitment and funding. The programmes so far have been drawn out over decades so the commitment must be long term. The tools to eradicate measles and rubella are already available, and programmes in South America provide proof of principle. Other diseases such as malaria or yellow fever may be more problematic, and certain diseases such as tuberculosis and AIDS are intractable to vaccination at the time of writing. Other strategies not dependent on vaccines may be applicable. The programmes are expensive but less so than living with the burden of preventable disease.

Key Concepts

  • Eradication by vaccination has technical requirements to do with the disease and the availability of adequate vaccines.
  • It requires political and societal commitment and flexibility of approach.
  • It is a longā€term effort extending over decades.
  • There are diseases that could be eradicated with existing tools.
  • Not all eradication efforts require a vaccine.

Keywords: transmission; vaccines; eradication programmes; political commitment; smallpox; Rinderpest; poliomyelitis; funding

Figure 1. Poster produced by WHO in mid‐1978, publicising the reward for finding a confirmed case of smallpox. Reproduced with permission form the World Health Organisation.


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Further Reading

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Minor, Philip D(Oct 2015) Use of Vaccines to Eradicate Infectious Disease. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0026479]