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CDC: Vaccinations will prevent 21 million hospitalizations, thousands of deaths

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The Vaccines for Children (VFC) program, launched in 1994, has nearly eliminated deaths from diseases that at one time caused thousands of deaths in the United States each year. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a report today highlighting the success of the country’s immunization program, which for the past 20 years has provided free vaccines for income eligible children, protecting them against diseases such as measles, mumps and whopping cough. The agency estimates the program will save millions of hospitalizations and prevent 732,000 deaths.

The VFC program is paid for through Medicaid. It provides recommended immunizations to children whose families lack health insurance coverage for the vaccination and do not have the financial resources to pay for them out of pocket. In addition to saving the misery of disease and tragedy of death, the program proves to be cost effective. The CDC estimates the program has saved close to $295 billion in direct costs by saving lives and need for medical care and another $1.38 trillion in societal costs. In 2013, the Department of Health and Human Services requested $4.3 billion for the VFC program.

"Thanks to the VFC program, children in our country are no longer at significant risk from diseases that once killed thousands each year.” — CDC Director Tom Frieden

Despite the great strides made in eradicating disease, recent years have seen an uptick in the number of measles cases in the country. In 2011, 220 cases were reported, the most since 1996. Last year, 189 cases were reported. Some of these cases were brought in from out of the country. As CDC Director Tom Frieden notes, “… these diseases are only a plane ride away. Borders can’t stop measles, but vaccination can.” Other cases were reported from people who had not been vaccinated or were unaware of their vaccination status.

A 2010 outbreak in California of pertussis, also called whopping cough, was linked to vaccination refusal. A study published last fall in Pediatrics found that pertussis cases reported to the California Department of Health were clustered in areas where many had applied for an exemption to mandatory vaccination because of personal beliefs. Some parents mistakenly believe vaccines can cause autism and they refuse to have their children immunized. This belief originated with a study published in the journal Lancet in 1998. The Lancet article has since been retracted.

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