August is National Immunization Awareness month. Immunizations (vaccinations) help prevent dangerous and sometimes deadly diseases and have contributed to an increase in life expectancy in the United States as well as the world. Vaccines reduce the risk of infection by working with the body’s natural defenses to safely develop immunity to disease. Despite the fact that many of these diseases such as polio and diphtheria are becoming very rare in the United States, vaccine-preventable infectious diseases remain a major cause of illness, disability and death.
Are vaccines effective? Prior to 1963 when a measles vaccine became available, up to 4 million people in the United States were infected each year, 48,000 were hospitalized, 4,000 suffered swelling and infection of the brain and 500 died. Due to mass vaccination, measles elimination was documented in the US in 2000. Now two doses of the measles vaccine are approximately 97% effective in preventing the disease after being exposed to the virus. There has been a more than 99% decrease in mumps cases in the US since the mumps vaccination program started in 1967.
However, recently we have seen a decrease in children receiving the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. As a result, measles and mumps cases are on the increase. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) from January 1 to June 17, 2017, 108 people in 11 states were reported to have measles. During the same time frame, 44 states reported 3,562 cases of mumps to the CDC. In the first 3 months of 2017, Colorado reported 60 cases of mumps which is more than 3 times the number of cases reported in all of last year.
Because of the effectiveness of the US vaccination program, most parents have never seen first-hand the devastating consequences that vaccine-preventable diseases can have. Vaccines are among the most cost-effective, preventive services and is a powerful defense that is safe, proven and effective. Immunization is one of the best ways parents can protect infants, children and teens.
Everyone needs immunizations, not just children. There are currently 17 vaccine-preventable diseases across the life span. Some vaccines wear off over time and some, like the flu vaccine needs to be administered every year. As you get older, you may be at risk for other diseases due to your age, lifestyle, job, travel or health conditions. The shingles vaccine is an example of one that is given to people age 50 years and older, because the risk of developing shingles increases as we get older.
To learn more about immunizations and see what vaccines you or your children may need, visit the CDC page at https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/vaxwithme.html. Discuss with your health care provider any concerns you have.
Immunization is a vital part of staying healthy. It not only protects the person who gets the vaccine but also prevents spreading diseases to other family members, neighbors, and especially those who have poor immune systems like the very young and very old.