Why Public Health Professionals and Officials Say Vaccines Are Important
Public health programs promoting vaccinations work to prevent disease outbreaks and save lives.
Human history has long been marred by outbreaks of infectious diseases. Before we had epidemiologists and public health professionals to track and fight such outbreaks, humans did not understand bacterial, viral, and fungal pathogens and how they cause communicable diseases. Illnesses such as smallpox, whooping cough, typhoid fever, yellow fever, measles, and influenza once caused widespread deadly epidemics.1 Just a century ago, a flu pandemic killed an estimated 20 million to 40 million people worldwide.2
Today, we have vaccines to thank for the limitation and eradication of many of the worst contagious diseases in the world. But in recent years, vaccine hesitancy has caused some declines in vaccination rates and setbacks in important public health programs. Today, professionals with jobs in public health sectors are working hard to educate the public on the importance of vaccines. Read on to learn some key facts on vaccines and why they are so valuable to us today.
Vaccines Prevent Disease Outbreaks
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), prior to the development of a measles vaccine, 3 million to 4 million people in the country became sick with measles each year and most children caught the virus by the age of 15. There were 400 to 500 measles-related deaths each year and 48,000 hospitalizations.3 Since the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1968, the number of cases has steadily declined. In 2017, the CDC reported just 118 measles cases in the U.S.4
From 1964 to 1965, the U.S. saw an outbreak of rubella that caused more than 12 million illnesses, 2,000 infant deaths, and 11,000 miscarriages. Since 2012, the CDC has reported 15 cases of rubella.5 The near elimination of measles and rubella in the U.S. represents just two of the most successful vaccination public health programs in the country.
Vaccines Save Lives
In 1921, more than 15,000 Americans died from diphtheria. That decade, immunization for diphtheria began in the U.S. From 2004 to 2014, the CDC reported only two cases and no deaths from the infectious disease.
Around the world, vaccines prevent deaths from numerous communicable diseases, and professionals working in public health programs strive to improve vaccination rates and develop vaccines for emerging diseases. Since the recent outbreaks of Zika virus and Ebola virus, scientists and epidemiologists have been working on the development of vaccines with the hope that they will be available before the next big outbreaks.
Vaccines Protect You and Those Around You
Not everyone can get vaccinated. Public health professionals will tell you that newborn infants, people with certain serious allergies, and those with a number of health conditions can’t receive some vaccines.6 While vaccinations save lives, people with certain pre-existing conditions have immune systems that are not strong enough to receive vaccines, making them more susceptible to infectious diseases and leaving them doubly vulnerable.
Even diseases such as measles that have been largely eradicated in the U.S. can make a return and cause new outbreaks when vaccination rates decline and community immunity decreases. This is why community immunity, or herd immunity, is so important.7 Herd immunity occurs when most of a community is vaccinated, making it harder for germs to move from person to person, and helping to protect those who are not healthy enough or old enough for vaccines.
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