Vaccine-preventable diseases still exist throughout the world, even in the U.S. While you might not see some of these diseases every day, they are still common in other countries and could easily be brought into the U.S. If we stopped vaccinating, the relatively small number of cases we have in the U.S. could very quickly become tens or hundreds of thousands of people infected with diseases. Even if your family does not travel internationally, you and your family could come into contact with travelers anywhere in your community. When people don’t receive all of the recommended vaccinations and are exposed to a disease, they can become seriously sick and spread it through their community.
In fact, this is exactly what happened with the large, multi-state measles outbreak in 2015 that started in Disneyland. Measles is still common in many parts of the world including some countries in Europe, Asia, the Pacific and Africa. The 2015 Disneyland outbreak started from a traveler who became infected with measles when traveling overseas, and then, while still infectious, visited Disneyland in California. The majority of the 188 people in 24 states and Washington DC who ended up getting sick with measles were unvaccinated. The CDC determined that the measles virus type in this outbreak was identical to the virus that caused a large measles outbreak in the Philippines in 2014.
In 2018 and 2019, travelers with measles continue to bring the disease into the U.S. from over 20 countries, including European countries and Israel, where large measles outbreaks are occurring. The CDC reported that there were approximately 372 cases of measles in 2018 – and 268 cases so far in 2019 – mostly in communities where groups of people are unvaccinated.
The fact that most people in the U.S. are vaccinated against measles is the only thing that prevents these clusters of cases from becoming even more serious epidemics.
The only vaccine-preventable disease that is completely eradicated (gone) from the world is smallpox. Polio is close to being eliminated, but still exists in Africa, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. Therefore, we must all continue to be vaccinated so the disease doesn’t reemerge in the U.S.
All vaccine-preventable diseases are not the same. Some diseases are more deadly, and some others are more contagious. But whether the chance of getting sick or dying from is a particular disease is 1 in 100 or 1 in 10,000, you must decide if the risk is worth taking with your family’s and neighbors’ health. No one ever thinks that they or their child will be the 1 in 10,000 that will die from a vaccine-preventable disease.
How can I protect my family and my community from vaccine-preventable diseases?
To best protect yourself and every member of your family from vaccine-preventable diseases, follow the CDC’s recommended immunization schedules. Vaccines are not just for protecting ourselves and our families. They also protect the people of all ages in our community who are unable to get certain vaccines; who are too young to get vaccinated against certain diseases; who might have failed to respond to a vaccine; or who might be particularly susceptible to serious diseases and their complications for other reasons like cancer or HIV. This concept is known as “community immunity” “community protection” or “herd immunity”.
Vaccines also protect our children’s children and their children by keeping diseases that used to be more common in the U.S. from coming back. If we stopped vaccinating in the U.S., we could find ourselves fighting diseases we thought we had gotten rid of (or were mostly gone) decades ago.