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Keep kids current on immunizations

5/2/2014, 6:08 a.m.
Millions of children have been spared from many diseases as a national immunization program marks 20 years, but recent measles ...
The CDC recommends that people of all ages keep up-to-date with their vaccinations. It says 13 outbreaks of measles have been reported this year.

Millions of children have been spared from many diseases as a national immunization program marks 20 years, but recent measles outbreaks underscore the importance of sustaining high vaccination coverage, the CDC says.

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that vaccinations will prevent more than 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths among children born in the past 20 years. Despite the U.S. immunization program’s success, according to CDC officials, 129 people in the United States have been reported to have measles this year in 13 outbreaks, as of April 18.

In 1994, the Vaccines for Children program was launched in direct response to a measles resurgence in the United States that caused tens of thousands of cases and more than 100 deaths despite the availability of a measles vaccine since 1963. The VFC program provides vaccines to children whose parents or caregivers might otherwise be unable to afford them. This year’s 20th anniversary is occurring during an increase in measles cases. In 2013, 189 Americans had measles. In 2011, 220 were reported as having measles – the highest number of annual cases since 1996.

“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 said in an April 24 statement.

“Current outbreaks of measles in the U.S. serve as a reminder that these diseases are only a plane ride away. Borders can’t stop measles, but vaccination can.”

The CDC reports that 34 people, among the 129 cases this year, brought measles into the United States after being infected in other countries. Though not direct imports, most of the remaining cases are known to be linked to importations. Most people who reported having measles in 2014 were not vaccinated or did not know their vaccination status.

Because measles is a highly contagious disease, it can spread quickly among unvaccinated people.

The CDC recommends people of all ages keep up-to-date with their vaccinations. It recommends two doses of MMR – measles, mumps, and rubella – vaccine for everyone starting at age 12 months. Infants 6 through 11 months old should receive one dose of MMR vaccine before international travel.

For children born during the VFC era, the U.S. immunization program continues to pay enormous benefits. According to analysis by the CDC, hospitalizations avoided and lives saved through vaccination will save nearly $295 billion in direct costs and $1.38 trillion in total societal costs. Visit http://www.cdc.gov/features/vfcprogram.

National Infant Immunization Week, which runs through May 3, brings together communities across the country in raising awareness about the importance immunization. Visit www.cdc.gov/vaccines.

However, not all diseases that threaten U.S. borders can be prevented today by vaccines and require different strategies to protect Americans.

“The health security of the United States is only as strong as the health security of all nations around the world,” Frieden said. “We are all connected by the food we eat, the water we drink, and air we breathe. Stopping outbreaks where they start is the most effective and least costly way to prevent disease and save lives at home and abroad – and it’s the right thing to do.”