IT’S ONLY a pin prick. But vaccinations – those little syringes full of clear liquid- have become one of the triumphs of the NHS, which is gearing up in earnest for its 70th birthday this summer.

If you were born at the start of the NHS in 1948, you could never have imagined receiving a vaccination against shingles; and it would have seemed like science-fiction to have a vaccination to protect against cancer.

However, as Keith Williams, spokesman for the Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group points out, shingles vaccines are now routinely given to people in Dorset aged 70 and it has been ten years since the HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccination was introduced to protect girls from cervical cancer, the most common cancer affecting women under 35 in the UK.

“A huge amount of work was done in Dorset prior to the introduction of the HPV vaccination in 2008, to make sure the girls themselves and their parents were aware of its’ importance,” he says.

Nurse Zoe Bowen was instrumental in the success of the first year and recalls: “The introduction of the HPV vaccine was a massive leap forward. It was the first vaccine against any form of cancer and overall the reception was very positive, with around 90 percent of those eligible receiving the jab in the first year.

“Looking back now it was an incredibly busy time but it was extremely worthwhile and will no doubt save a number of lives over the years to come.”

Since then thousands of girls have received the vaccination, with around 90 per cent of those eligible receiving the vaccination in Dorset during 2016/17.

Vaccinations are thought of as a recent health development but, says Keith, it’s over a thousand years since a primitive form called ‘Variolation’ was used in China to try to protect people against Smallpox.

“Thankfully things have moved on since then and whilst we no longer insert powered scabs into people’s noses to protect them - they really did that! - the science remains essentially the same,” he says. “Vaccines are substances that make the body produce antibodies to fight a disease, but they are modified to do this without you suffering the harm that comes from actually being infected by it.”

Vaccines have been around in modern form since the late 1700s, being widely available around two decades before the NHS was formed, and they worked even then, dramatically reducing the number of deaths from whooping cough and tuberculosis.

Following the NHS launch in 1948, vaccines began to be offered for free and the nation began to feel the benefit.

“Previously smallpox vaccination was mandatory, but also had to be paid for, even for those in the workhouse or with very little income,” explains Keith.

The basis on which the vaccines were offered also changed when the NHS started, with patients being given better information about the pros and cons and more choice over whether to accept them or not. This partnership between patients and the NHS, based on openness, honesty and ‘informed consent’, still forms the basis of the UK immunisation programme which has been protecting people from a wide range of diseases including measles, tetanus, rubella and meningitis C ever since, says Keith.

Thanks to the success of the vaccine programmes, some diseases have even disappeared in the UK, including polio which paralysed and even killed its victims – many of whom were children. Smallpox, against which the World Health Organisation (WHO) launched a vaccine in 1956, has been completely eradicated; and measles is next on the hit list.

Some diseases, however, outsmart the medics and vaccines against them need to change every year. That’s why it’s so important for the over-65s to have the flu vaccine, says Keith.

And if you’re one of those for whom even a tiny pin-prick feels too much, there’s good news there, too!

“Delivery methods are developing,” says Keith. “Vaccines such as that for rotavirus in children are given orally, flu vaccine for children is given via a nasal spray, and future developments are in progress looking to find more ways of doing this.”

However, a ‘through the skin’ delivery system dubbed the ‘gene gun’ and ‘micro needle’ vaccine patches are not yet available on the NHS.

In the meantime, Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group hopes we’ll all take the time to check our vaccinations are up to date to protect ourselves and others. More information on this from