On April 24, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that a federal government program launched two decades ago to increase vaccinations for low-income children in the US will prevent more than 700,000 deaths; however, measles is an ongoing public health issue: this year, more than 129 cases have been reported to date. The majority of cases have occurred in California and New York. The agency noted that most of these cases are related to unvaccinated travelers from abroad.
The CDC noted that more measles cases have occurred this year than any similar period since 1996; this is partially due to major outbreaks in nations such as the Philippines. Fortunately, to date, no measles deaths have occurred in the United States. However, the agency stress that the importation of measles from foreign nations makes vaccination even more important for US children. CDC Director Tom Frieden noted, “Borders can’t stop diseases anymore, but vaccinations can.”
A nationwide measles outbreak in the late 1980s, which involved 50,000 cases and resulted in more than 100 deaths prompted the CDC to launch the Vaccines for Children program; the program provides free vaccinations to children whose parents and caregivers are unable to afford them. The vaccinations protect against a variety of diseases, including measles, mumps, and rubella (German measles). Based on estimates of how many illnesses would have occurred without the extra vaccinations, CDC asserts that the program will prevent more than 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths among children born in the last 20 years. The agency notes that the Vaccines for Children program will be expanded under the Affordable Care Act.
The CDC noted that most US measles patients either had not been vaccinated or were not sure whether they had been, the CDC said. Among the unvaccinated children were those whose parents had opted out because of personal beliefs. Anne Schuchat, US assistant surgeon at the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, explained, “Because measles can be spread so easily, unvaccinated people become very vulnerable once a disease is introduced.” She added that measles from abroad can also infect children who are too young to be vaccinated. The CDC recommends that infants should receive two doses of MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine beginning at age 12 months.
The CDC notes that measles is an extremely contagious disease caused by a virus. It begins with a fever; soon thereafter, it causes a cough, runny nose, and red eyes. Then a rash of tiny, red spots breaks out. It starts at the head and spreads to the rest of the body. Measles can be serious for young children. It can lead to pneumonia, encephalitis (swelling of the brain), and death. The infection spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It is so contagious that if one person has it, 90% of the people around him or her will also become infected if they are not protected.
The CDC stresses the importance of fully immunizing children. Diseases that can be prevented with vaccines can be very serious, even fatal, particularly for infants and young children. Immunizations have helped to greatly improve the health of children in the US. Most parents today have never seen first-hand the devastating consequences that vaccine-preventable diseases have on a family or community. Most of these diseases are not common in the United States; however, they persist around the globe. Thus, the agency notes that it is important to continue to protect our children with vaccines because outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases can and do still occur in this nation.