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Thousands of deaths prevented by vaccinations

PhD research on the impact of vaccination programmes in the Netherlands
21 August 2018

Vaccinations help, concludes University of Groningen PhD student Maarten van Wijhe in his thesis entitled The public health impact of vaccination programmes in the Netherlands. Van Wijhe investigated national vaccination programmes against diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps and rubella and concluded that between 6,000 and 12,000 deaths had been prevented among children and young adults born between 1953 and 1992.

Maarten van Wijhe
Maarten van Wijhe

Van Wijhe collected a large amount of data on mortality, illness and government spending right back to the start of the 20th century. He used statistical analyses to find out ‘what would have happened if we had not had those vaccination programmes’. By answering this question and comparing the results with the actual situation, he was able to determine the extent to which vaccination programmes have made a difference. His research mainly focused on the 20th century and vaccinations for diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps and rubella.

Drop in mortality rates

The number of deaths from infectious diseases that could have been prevented by vaccinations started to fall even before vaccination programmes were launched. However, the programmes did play a role in the prevention of infant mortality. According to Van Wijhe, 6,000 to 12,000 deaths were prevented among those born between 1953 and 1992.  This is due, in large part, to the administering of vaccinations against whooping cough and diphtheria. Vaccination programmes have also greatly reduced the number of reported cases of illness: by 50% for rubella up to 90% for polio. Government spending on these programmes rose from € 5 million in 1957 to € 93 million in 2014, primarily due to new and more expensive vaccines. This expenditure is still only a fraction of the total spending on health care.

Monitoring vaccination programmes

In his doctoral thesis, Van Wijhe concludes that vaccination programmes have saved many lives and prevented much suffering. Nevertheless, the PhD student believes that we must realize that the effectiveness of vaccinations, and particularly their impact on mortality rates, is not a given. Monitoring the effectiveness of vaccination programmes and highlighting their contribution to public health remains essential.

On 14 September, Maarten van Wijhe will defend his thesis, entitled ‘The public health impact of vaccination programmes in the Netherlands - A historical analysis of mortality, morbidity, and costs’, at the Faculty of Science and Engineering at the University of Groningen. You can find Van Wijhe's thesis here.
Last modified:09 July 2019 3.10 p.m.
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