Mono County Health Department press release
The Cost – in dollars
Many Americans don’t get their vaccines as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Whatever their reasons, when they actually get sick, it’s a significant burden to the U.S. economy.
Last year, unvaccinated adults cost the economy USD 7.1 billion, an analysis done by the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill found. Researchers at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy examined the cost of care, medication and lost productivity caused by missing the 10 vaccines recommended by the CDC.
Those 10 vaccines protect people against 14 pathogens, including influenza, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, herpes zoster virus, pneumococcal diseases, meningococcal diseases, measles, mumps, rubella, HPV, chickenpox, hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Flu took the lion’s share of the total, accounting for about USD 5.8 billion, with pneumococcal disease and shingles coming in next at USD 1.86 billion and USD 782 million respectively.
Americans have traditionally lagged in flu shot adherence. Even though the CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older should be vaccinated against flu every season unless a doctor suggests otherwise, only 42 percent of adults bothered to get 1 during the 2015-2016 flu season, according to a CDC estimate.
Of course, adults’ opinions of vaccines can also affect vaccination rates for children. Parental opposition to vaccines recently forced the American Academy of Pediatrics to change its stance to suggest that pediatricians can dismiss parents who don’t comply with the recommended vaccine schedules. In 2015, a measles outbreak traced back to Disneyland in California also raised concerns about the growing trend among parents who shun childhood vaccines.
The Cost – in illness and death!
Before the middle of the last century, diseases like whooping cough, polio, measles, Haemophilus influenza, and rubella struck hundreds of thousands of infants, children and adults in the U.S. Thousands died every year from them. As vaccines were developed and became widely used, rates of these diseases declined until today most of them are nearly gone from our country.
Nearly everyone in the U.S. got measles before there was a vaccine, and hundreds died from it each year. Today, most doctors have never seen a case of measles.
More than 15 000 Americans died from diphtheria in 1921, before there was a vaccine. Only 1 case of diphtheria has been reported to CDC since 2004.
An epidemic of rubella (German measles) in 1964-65 infected 12.5 million Americans, killed 2000 babies, and caused 11 000 miscarriages. In 2012, 9 cases of rubella were reported.
Given successes like these, it might seem reasonable to ask, “Why should we keep vaccinating against diseases that we will probably never see?” Here is why:
Vaccines don’t just protect you.
Most vaccine-preventable diseases are spread from person to person. If one person in a community gets an infectious disease, he can spread it to others who are not immune, and outbreaks may occur. But a person who is immune to a disease because she has been vaccinated can’t get that disease and can’t spread it to others. The more people who are vaccinated, the fewer opportunities a disease has to spread. If vaccination rates dropped to low levels nationally, diseases could become as common as they were before vaccines. According to the CDC, 92 percent of measles cases in 2013 were in unvaccinated people.
Diseases haven’t disappeared.
The United States has very low rates of vaccine-preventable diseases, but this isn’t true everywhere in the world. Only one disease — smallpox — has been totally erased from the planet. Polio no longer occurs in the U.S., but it is still paralyzing children in several African countries. More than 350 000 cases of measles were reported from around the world in 2011, with outbreaks in the Pacific, Asia, Africa, and Europe.
In that same year, 90 percent of measles cases in the U.S. were associated with cases imported from another country. Only the fact that most Americans are vaccinated against measles prevented these clusters of cases from becoming epidemics.
Disease rates are low in the United States today. But if we let ourselves become vulnerable by not vaccinating, a case that could touch off an outbreak of some disease that is currently under control is just a plane ride away. The Disneyland measles outbreak was most likely caused by a person recently arrived from overseas.
A final example:
We know that a disease that is apparently under control can suddenly return, because we have seen it happen, in countries like Japan, Australia, and Sweden. Here is an example from Japan. In 1974, about 80 percent of Japanese children were getting pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine.
That year there were only 393 cases of whooping cough in the entire country, and not a single pertussis-related death. Then immunization rates began to drop, until only about 10 percent of children were being vaccinated. In 1979, more than 13 000 people got whooping cough and 41 died. When routine vaccination was resumed, the disease numbers dropped again.
The chances of your child getting a case of measles or chickenpox or whooping cough might be quite low today. But vaccinations are not just for protecting ourselves, and are not just for today. They also protect the people around us (some of whom may be unable to get certain vaccines, or might have failed to respond to a vaccine, or might be susceptible for other reasons).
And they also protect our children’s children and their children by keeping diseases that we have almost defeated from making a comeback. What would happen if we stopped vaccinations? We could soon find ourselves battling epidemics of diseases we thought we had conquered decades ago.
So, do what is right for you, your family, and your community. Make sure your vaccines are up-to-date! Check with your healthcare provider or health department if you are not sure.