Five ‘forgotten’ vaccines that can save your life

Five ‘forgotten’ vaccines that can save your life

The importance of vaccines: throughout history, many diseases have been brought under control thanks to large-scale vaccination policies

The crucial importance of vaccines against Covid-19

Vaccination against Covid 19 has been what has prevented real massacres in the past year, although the low adherence of some citizens to vaccination has led to a very high and avoidable number of deaths, as well as suffering from the disease and hospitalization in medical and intensive care.

Unfortunately, the presence of incorrect information on the subject, with a blatant distortion of the scientific evidence, has in a way favoured the accentuation of personal fears towards the vaccine.

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The information on the episode involving the AstraZeneca vaccine, for example, jeopardised the perception of the safety of other vaccines against Covid but, in the end, the strength of the scientific evidence prevailed and it was possible, through some specific channels, to keep people’s adherence to vaccination protocols high.

A spirit of global sharing was not present, as nationalistic policies prevailed that prevented the equitable distribution of the vaccine in all parts of the world, fostering further problems such as the emergence of viral variants in some geographical areas that had poor vaccine coverage.


To understand the magnitude of what has happened in the last two years, it is important to look back at some of the milestones in recent history.

Before 1900, the most accidental and deadly diseases were infectious ones.

As hygiene and sanitation improved between 1800 and the early 1900s, these diseases lost fundamental elements of their transmission in our geographical context.

Thus, high-income countries saw a reduction in the impact of these diseases, whose proportional mortality in 2000 was about 0.9%, compared to a proportional mortality for cardio-cerebrovascular diseases of 43-45% and 25-27% for cancer.

In contrast, in low-income countries, infectious diseases continue to be the first proportional cause of death.

Five 'forgotten' vaccines that can save your life
Five ‘forgotten’ vaccines that can save your life

Since the Second World War, with the improvement of sanitary conditions, vaccines and antibiotics have been distributed to the general population, which completely changed the prognosis of infectious diseases and allowed for an increase in life expectancy and, hence, ageing, with the inevitable development of chronic diseases.

When the Covid-19 pandemic appeared, high-income countries were not ready to handle an infectious disease characterised by high contagiousness.

One Health, vaccines must be for all

The concept of One Health, i.e. health that is unique to humans, the environment and animals, is more crucial today than ever before, since viruses such as monkeypox or Covid-19 originate from spillover phenomena, i.e. from species transitions that are the consequence of a close link between humans and animals in certain geographical contexts.

A link that, if left unchecked, can lead a virus of one animal species to adapt to a new host.

For example, influenza viruses tend to change their structure in birds, pigs, and humans, with the appearance of viruses (e.g. avian or swine flu) that take on characteristics such that the human defence system is unable to cope with them in the best way.

Throughout history, in fact, many diseases have been brought under control thanks to large-scale vaccination policies.


It is important to mention smallpox first, since we are talking about monkey pox at this time.

The smallpox vaccine is the only one in the history of medicine that has enabled the eradication of an infectious disease that affected millions of people.

This is a vaccine that has not been administered to the population in Italy since the mid-1970s.

In 1980, the World Health Organisation declared this disease eradicated.

A virus very similar to smallpox is the monkeypox virus (monkeypox) that has been talked about for a few weeks.

This virus was already endemic, i.e. constantly present, in West and Central Africa.

The first case in the UK was registered in a person who had stayed in Nigeria; a few days later, two more cases were identified that were unrelated to the first reported case.

These and other data show that transmission has taken place in different parts of the world, which is currently growing strongly, but we are not facing a pandemic situation similar to that of Covid-19.


Another key vaccine was that against polio.

This disease is still present in Afghanistan and Pakistan and has terrible effects.

The virus is acquired by the faecal-oral route, basically by eating and drinking food and water contaminated with faeces containing this virus, which reaches the intestine and, from there, the central nervous system, creating paralysis of the limbs and, sometimes, of the respiratory muscles, resulting in death.

In poorer countries, where the circulation of the virus was very high, those most affected were children who, being less careful about hygiene, came into contact with the virus more easily and risked complications.

Since the mid-1950s, two vaccines have been introduced: one, so-called ‘inactivated’, i.e. made up of the virus killed in the laboratory, and the other, so-called ‘live’, obtained by modifying the virus in the laboratory to the point of making it incapable of causing the disease but able to stimulate the immune system to produce an effective response.

These two vaccines have brought about a radical collapse in the incidence of this disease, partly thanks to active policies involving associations, until the disease has almost disappeared globally.


Again, mention must be made of the vaccine against hepatitis B, a disease of a viral nature that mainly affects the liver and is transmitted parenterally.

This vaccine, administered to people systematically since the early 1990s, has radically changed the natural history of this disease.

In Italy, since 1991, it has been indicated for infants in their third month and for certain categories of the population (e.g. healthcare workers).

The effects of this vaccine have been extraordinary: this type of infection causes an inflammation of the liver that tends to become chronic and over time can turn the liver into a fibrous mass (cirrhosis), and increase the risk of developing cancer.


The fourth vaccine is little publicised but essential.

It is the one against pneumococcus, a bacterium that has the capacity to affect all age groups but, in particular, causes severe infections in children and the elderly.

The consequences of this infection are pneumonia, meningitis, infection of the blood, and infection of other parts of the body (middle ear).

The presence of a vaccine capable of protecting us is crucial for survival and improving people’s quality of life.

This bacterium is not unique, but there are many types (so-called serotypes) that have a different geographical distribution and different characteristics, leading to different complications.

In this case, vaccines developed over time have included some of the antigens of the serotypes (actual ‘pieces’ of these bacteria): the so-called 7- or 13-valent vaccine offers protection against seven or thirteen of the most disease-causing serotypes in the world.


Finally, mention must also be made of the vaccine against tetanus, a serious neurological disease caused by a bacterium that infects humans through wounds and is characterised by painful muscle spasms that can impair lung function and lead to death.

The tetanus vaccine, made compulsory in Italy since 1938 for the military, since 1963 for certain professional categories considered most at risk of infection, and since 1968 for children in their first year of life, is an effective preventive tool against this disease.

The story of these ‘forgotten’ vaccines represents the battle still waged by scientists around the world against the spread of viruses and bacteria dangerous to mankind, including Sars-Cov-2 responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is only through proper scientific communication that misinformation and misinformation can be countered, and the anti-vaccine narrative that has characterised the debate in recent years combated.

The vaccine remains, therefore, a necessity and salvation for mankind at all times.

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