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Out of the hands of milkmaids

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From cowpox virus to global disease eradication, a winning strategy we must fight to protect

In 1914, the year this Journal was founded, there were 59 324 cases of diphtheria and 5863 deaths due to this disease in England and Wales. Mass vaccination was introduced in 1942, and by 1957 there were only 37 cases and four deaths.1 The situation was relatively similar in Australia. By May 2011, only one fatal case was reported in Australia, in an unvaccinated individual who contracted pharyngeal diphtheria from a friend who acquired the disease overseas.2

If I had known of the perils of being a child when I first set foot on this earth, I might have asked for a raincheck — such were the perils from infectious diseases.

In my first years, I dodged the diphtheria bullet and then I was vaccinated. During my childhood there was only triple antigen vaccine, covering diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus. Thus, inevitably, I contracted measles, mumps and chickenpox.

I remember being very sick with measles. So were my two sons, who were born in the 1960s. However, it was not until I was confronted with the situation of a close friend of mine, whose younger daughter contracted subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, that I really saw the impact as the family struggled to cope, watching the terrible decline in an intelligent, ebullient child.…