By Teresa Foo, MD, MPH
Immunizations play a valuable role in protecting the health of our children, families, and communities. They not only help protect vaccinated individuals, but also help protect entire communities by preventing and reducing the spread of infectious diseases.
Because of the success of vaccines in preventing disease, parents might not have heard of some of today’s vaccines or the serious diseases they prevent. These diseases can be especially serious for infants and young children.
Each year we pause to observe National Infant Immunization Week, which this year runs from April 16-23. It is a time to highlight the importance of protecting infants from vaccine-preventable diseases and to celebrate the achievements of immunization programs in promoting healthy communities throughout the United States. It is also a time to raise awareness about the importance of ensuring all children are fully protected from vaccine-preventable diseases through immunization.
There is no denying that vaccines have drastically reduced infant death and disability caused by preventable diseases. Just consider some of the milestones shared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Through immunization, we can now protect infants and children from 14 vaccine-preventable diseases before age 2.
- In the 1950s, nearly every child developed measles and, unfortunately, some even died from this serious disease. Many physicians today have never seen a case of the measles.
- Among children born during 1994-2013, vaccination will prevent an estimated 322 million illnesses, 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths over the course of their lifetimes. It also saves about $13.5 billion in direct costs.
- The National Immunization Survey has consistently shown that childhood immunization rates for vaccines routinely recommended for children remain at or near record levels.
It’s easy to think of these as diseases of the past. But the truth is they still exist. Children in the United States can—and do—still get some of these diseases.
One example of the seriousness of vaccine preventable diseases is an increase in measles cases that were reported in 2014. The United States experienced a record number of measles cases, with 667 cases from 27 states reported to CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. This was the greatest number of cases in the United States since measles was considered eliminated in 2000.
That is why it is important to follow the recommended immunization schedule to protect infants and children early in life, before they are exposed to potentially life-threatening diseases.
Vaccine-preventable diseases still circulate in the United States and around the world, so continued vaccination is necessary to protect everyone from potential outbreaks. For example, measles is still common in many parts of the world, including some countries in Europe, Asia, the Pacific and Africa, and travelers with measles continue to bring the disease into the United States. It’s easy for measles to spread when it reaches communities in the United States — or anywhere else — where groups of people are unvaccinated.
Remember, giving babies the recommended immunizations by age 2 is the best way to protect them from 14 serious childhood diseases, like whooping cough and measles. Talk to your health care provider about what vaccines are recommended for your child, and make sure you keep all immunization and well-child appointments. For more information about how to protect your child with immunizations, go to: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents/protecting-children/index.html.