York County Medicine Winter 2020 - 24

YO R K C O M E D S O C . O R G

FEATURE:

What Would Happen

If We Stopped
Vaccinations?
B

efore the middle of the last century, diseases like whooping
cough, polio, measles, Haemophilus influenzae, 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 two cases of diphtheria have
been reported to CDC between 2004 and 2014.
* An epidemic of rubella (German measles) in 1964-65 infected
12½ million Americans, killed 2,000 babies, and caused 11,000
miscarriages. Since 2012, 15 cases of rubella were reported to
CDC.

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 yourself.
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. 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 one or two cases of disease are introduced into a community
where most people are not vaccinated, outbreaks will occur. In
2013, for example, several measles outbreaks occurred around the
country, including large outbreaks in New York City and Texas -
mainly among groups with low vaccination rates. If vaccination
rates dropped to low levels nationally, diseases could become as
common as they were before vaccines.

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
is close to being eliminated, but still exists in several 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% 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.

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York County Medicine | W I N T E R 2020/2021


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York County Medicine Winter 2020

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