This week is National Infant Immunization Week (April 26 – May 3, 2014). This annual observance highlights the importance of protecting babies from vaccine-preventable diseases and celebrates the achievements of immunization programs.
In 1994 Vaccines for Children (VFC) was launched. This program provides vaccines for children whose parents may not be able to afford them. VFC was developed in response to a measles outbreak that ultimately caused over 100 deaths—even though the measles vaccine had been available since 1963.
In the 20 years since the VCF program was started, the CDC estimates “that vaccinations will prevent more than 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths among children born in the last 20 years.”
According to the CDC: “Several important milestones already have been reached in controlling vaccine-preventable diseases among infants worldwide. Vaccines have drastically reduced infant death and disability caused by preventable diseases in the United States. In addition:
• Through immunization, we can now protect infants and children from 14 vaccine-preventable diseases before age two.
• In the 1950s, nearly every child developed measles, and unfortunately, some even died from this serious disease. Today, few physicians just out of medical school will ever see a case of measles during their careers.
• Routine childhood immunization in one birth cohort prevents about 20 million cases of disease and about 42,000 deaths. It also saves about $13.5 billion in direct costs.
• The National Immunization Survey has consistently shown that childhood immunization rates for vaccines routinely recommended for children remain at or near record levels.”
As great as this news is, this year parts of the US are facing yet another measles outbreak. According to the CDC, as of April 18th, there have been 129 cases of measles. Most of these were contracted when individuals were out of the country. The people who have been infected were either not vaccinated, or did not know their vaccination status.
“Thanks to the VFC program, children in our country are no longer at significant risk from diseases that once killed thousands each year,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “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.”
You can learn more about the VFC program here.