Home > Preventable Diseases, Vaccine Advocacy > We’re Healthier Today Thanks to the Vaccines of Yesterday

We’re Healthier Today Thanks to the Vaccines of Yesterday

“You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.”

We often take the medical marvel of vaccines for granted. When we stop to evaluate public health, we tend to focus on the need for improvement.  On the topic of vaccines and disease prevention, we often emphasize the morbidity and mortality of disease as well as the percentage of unvaccinated individuals.  Rarely do we take time to appreciate the number of illnesses that are avoided and the overwhelming number of people who are vaccinated.

Unfortunately, being successful and effective in public health is not easily apparent because the prevention of disease is difficult to witness. That’s why, as we conclude National Immunization Awareness Month, I want to acknowledge the impact vaccines have had on our health in 2015 and throughout the course of history.   Let’s applaud the fact that vaccines have reduced, and in some cases eliminated, diseases that had commonly killed or severely disabled people just a few generations ago. Stop and imagine all the deaths and illnesses that have been prevented thanks to wide-spread vaccination of just these three diseases:

Smallpox

 Young girl in Bangladesh was infected with smallpox in 1973. Photo Credit: CDC/James Hicks

Young girl in Bangladesh  with smallpox in 1973. Photo Credit: CDC/J. Hicks

Smallpox was a serious, contagious, and sometimes fatal infectious disease caused by a virus called the variola virus. The disease caused small pus-filled blisters that appeared on the face and body of an infected person.

The disease killed an estimated 400,000 Europeans a year during the end of the 18th century, and was responsible for a third of all cases of blindness.Of all those infected, 20–60 percent—and over 80 percent of infected children—died from the disease.

Smallpox was responsible for an estimated 300–500 million deaths during the 20th century.

As recently as 1967, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 15 million people contracted the disease and that two million died in that year alone.

Fortunately, we no longer have to get smallpox shots because smallpox vaccination eradicated that disease worldwide.

That’s right! No more disease means no more shots!

Polio

An Indian boy’s legs are shrunken from paralysis caused by polio WHO/T. Moran

A boy’s legs are shrunken from paralysis caused by polio. Credit: WHO/T. Moran

The polio vaccine is another example of the great impact that vaccines have had in the United States and throughout the world.

Polio is a crippling and potentially deadly infectious disease caused by a virus. It invades the brain and spinal cord and causes paralysis.

Before the polio vaccine was widely available, 13,000 to 20,000 people were paralyzed by polio, and about 1,000 people died from it each year in the United States alone.

Thanks to vaccination, polio was eradicated from the United States in 1979 and worldwide polio cases have since plummeted 99 percent. In 1988, there were as many as 350,000 cases worldwide, but as recently as 2013, polio was limited to a few countries and only 416 cases.

Rubella

CDC - Rash of rubella on skin of child's back.

Rash of rubella on skin of child’s back. Photo credit: CDC

Rubella is an infection that mostly affects the skin and lymph nodes. It is caused by the rubella virus (and although it is often referred to as German measles, it is not the same virus that causes measles).

Rubella is spread through the air and through direct contact with an infected person. It also can pass through a pregnant woman’s bloodstream to infect her unborn child and can lead to serious complications such as miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery and birth defects.

From 1964-1965, a rubella epidemic in the United States caused 12.5 million cases. Twenty thousand children were born with Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS) which resulted in 11,000 born deaf, 3,500 blind, and 1,800 mentally retarded. Additionally, there were 2,100 neonatal deaths and more than 11,000 abortions.

Thanks to immunization, rubella is rarely seen in the U.S. anymore, and there are far fewer cases of rubella and birth defects. As we continuing to improve rubella vaccination rates, it’s possible that we will see the day when rubella is no longer around to harm us or our children.

The History of Vaccines Encourages Us To Explore Advances in Prevention

PertussisThese vaccination successes are an important part of our public health vision for the future. We have drastically reduced, and in some cases even eliminated, diseases of the past. It is therefore realistic to expect that we have the ability to eliminate the disease of today and work towards an even healthier future.

But how can we feel optimistic about the future when we’ve seen a resurgence of measles and whooping cough (pertussis) over the past few years? How can we eliminate disease if pockets of unvaccinated individuals threaten the protection we rely on through community immunity?

For example, more than 28,000 cases of whooping cough were reported in the United States in 2014, and 277 people died in the United States from whooping cough from 2000 through 2014.

Tragically, almost all of the deaths were in babies who are too young to be fully vaccinated for pertussis and therefore must rely on the protection of others.

The way forward can be determined from successes of the past.

We must not get too discouraged by the unfortunate amount of disease that exists today. Rather, we must remind ourselves that the public is constantly benefiting from vaccine induced immunity and the overall reduction of preventable diseases.  We have a great foundation and history to follow. Now it’s up to us to remain vigilant on this path.  Let’s commit ourselves to advancing the use of vaccines, and ensuring people understand and appreciate the way in which vaccines can continue to improve individual and public health well into the future.

  1. August 28, 2015 at 11:07 pm

    very well done guys .. all the hard yards are worth it I’m old enough to know of the fear of diseases we now think insignificant – Diptheria [ once smelt never forgotten]. Polio – so many friends crippled with it and now post polio issues , Rubella [my nephew is deaf from in utero infection, Mumps mates are sterile -got mumps as teenagers. Gastro – and infant brother before me died .- Whooping cough – a baby / child / adult coughing until they vomit for days.Shingles- insidious chronic neuralgic pain [ acupuncture very helpful] – Cervical Cancer- vaccintion for boys and girls – Pneumonia – can kill Flu’ – definitely kills some.Malaria – my poor African friends and Vet mates. Small pox – friends with the massive scarring – one small pox and protection for me,
    I’m 63, an old hippy in some ways .but totally modern re vaccines and reducing harm – Maintain the rage and support the research to get the vaccines for AID’s Breast and prostate cancer and the other big one Dementia..

    Like

  2. August 31, 2015 at 10:35 am

    VERY FULL OF DECEPTION and untruth

    Like

  3. August 31, 2015 at 12:30 pm

    Great post! Thanks for the reminder.

    Like

  4. Shay
    August 31, 2015 at 5:33 pm

    If it’s that full, Robert, you ought to be able to refute it, statement by statement.

    Unfortunately for the anti-vaxxers, there are still enough of us around who were born when there were no vaccines against common childhood diseases, and we know better than to listen to those who think this was a good thing.

    Like

  5. novalox
    September 1, 2015 at 8:30 am

    @robert

    [citation needed] for your assertions, because they fly in the face of observed facts and actual science.

    Like

  6. jgc56
    September 1, 2015 at 11:54 am

    Robert, exactly what statements in the post do you believe to be deceptive or untrue? Be specific.

    Like

  7. Scott
    September 2, 2015 at 5:27 pm

    Agree with you 100% Robert. There us so much BS in the article it would be too much work to correct it all.

    Like

  8. Chris
    September 2, 2015 at 8:35 pm

    Do tell, Scott. Just choose one thing that is wrong and present us with the PubMed indexed studies by reputable qualified researchers with the correct information. Until then we will ignore the argument though blatant assertion by you and your friends.

    Like

  9. Scott
    September 3, 2015 at 12:12 pm

    Go ahead and ignore Chris, ah to be so naive. I guess my friends and I will keep up the blatant assertions.
    Advice: You sound like a computer that has spit out the same old statement over and over again. Why don’t you consider changing things up a bit and refreshing your canned statements? Your message may be more effective that way.

    Like

  10. Chris
    September 3, 2015 at 12:14 pm

    I repeat those words because you keep repeating your baseless assertions. Why don’t you make your message more effective by actually providing the citations to support those assertions?

    Like

  11. Shay
    September 3, 2015 at 2:15 pm

    Say, Scott, why don’t you actually provide some…you know…research data that supports your unverifiable claims?

    Like

  12. Gray Falcon
    September 3, 2015 at 10:06 pm

    Scott, if someone had evidence a bridge was unsafe to drive across, but refused to provide it when asked, then their inaction could cause the bridge to collapse.

    Likewise, if you really do possess information that disproves what we say, and you withhold it from us just because you dislike us, then you at best are endangering human lives for the sake of your own pride.

    More likely, though, you don’t have any research to support your claims, and are trying to bluff us out.

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