Vaccines have done such a good job of controlling diseases in developed countries, such as the United States, that parents sometimes forget just how important they are and what life would be like without them. Current vaccines and past vaccination programs have now controlled 10 major infectious diseases.
Unfortunately, many of these diseases, except for smallpox, are still rampant in third world and developing countries, which can mean a comeback anywhere that vaccines begin to be delayed or stopped. Worldwide, in 2002, the World Heath Organization reports that there continue to many childhood illnesses from these vaccine preventable illnesses, including:
- diphtheria - 4,000 deaths
- Haemophilus influenzae type b disease - 386,000 deaths
- measles - 540,000 deaths
- mumps - over 440,000 cases in children and adults (2006)
- pertussis - 294,000 deaths
- poliomyelitis - less than 1,000 deaths
- rubella - 191 cases of congenital rubella syndrome (2006)
- smallpox (eradicated worldwide in 1980)
- tetanus - 198,000 deaths
- yellow fever - 15,000 deaths
Epidemics and Outbreaks
Epidemics of now vaccine preventable diseases were once very common. In fact, epidemics of measles once occurred about every two to five years in the United States, affecting 200,000 to 500,000 people.
Although measles has been mostly eradicated in the United States, some cases are imported are from other parts of the world. That is because measles remains a leading cause of death of young children around the world, with over 400,000 deaths a year according to the Measles Initiative.
Even with low or nonexistent rates of many infections, like measles, polio, and diphtheria, in the United States, parents shouldn't forget that these infections are just a plane ride away from your child. That is how the early 2008 California Measles Outbreak got started -- an unvaccinated child who traveled to Sweden, was exposed to measles, got sick, and got many other kids infected with the measles virus.
Just how quickly these infections can spread is also highlighted by other outbreaks and epidemics:
- rates of diphtheria, pertussis, and measles greatly increased after the breakup of the Soviet Union as vaccines became less available in Russia and the other Newly Independent States. In fact, cases of diphtheria reached epidemic levels by 1995 and there were over 4,000 deaths during the outbreak.
- an outbreak of measles in Ireland in 2000 after routine use of the MMR vaccine fell because of vaccine safety fears, leading to 1407 cases and admission of 111 children to the hospital. Even more concerning, 13 of the children were so sick that they had to be admitted to the intensive care unit, seven were on mechanical ventilators to help them breath, and three children died.
- rising rates of measles in England, up to 740 in 2006 and 971 in 2007 after decreased use of the MMR vaccine because of worries over its link to autism.
- polio outbreaks in the Netherlands (1992) and United States and Canada among the Amish people (1978) -- all among unimmunized people.
- pertussis outbreaks in Japan (1979) and Sweden (1983) after immunization rates decreased and which led to the deaths of 41 children in Japan that year.
- a measles outbreak in the Netherlands (1999 to 2000) among a mostly unvaccinated community, which ended with 3,292 cases of measles, 72 hospitalizations, and 3 deaths.
- a rubella epidemic in 1991 among the Amish in Pennsylvania, who had low immunization rates, led to 95 pregnant women getting rubella, results in 9 miscarriages and 11 cases of congenital rubella syndrome.