Weren't the diseases we vaccinate for already disappearing, thanks to better hygiene and sanitation?

Weren't the diseases we vaccinate for already disappearing, thanks to better hygiene and sanitation?

Better nutrition, sanitation, and hygiene have certainly improved our lives — we're taller, stronger, and cleaner than ever. But a look at the actual incidence of disease over the years leaves little doubt that vaccines are primarily responsible for the decline of the illnesses they're designed to protect us from.

The measles rates in this country were up and down in the first half of the century, but the real, permanent drop in cases (from an average of 500,000 a year to about a hundred) coincided with the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1963.

The Hib vaccine, which protects against bacteria that often lead to meningitis, offers a more recent example. Between 15,000 and 20,000 children came down with this infection every year until 1990, when the Hib vaccine for infants was finally developed. Today, there are fewer than 50 cases of meningitis from Hib infection a year in the United States, and deaths have declined from 500 a year to fewer than five.

To understand what would happen if significant numbers of people in the United States stopped immunizing their children, we have only to consider examples in other countries.

When fewer kids were vaccinated against pertussis (whooping cough) in Great Britain in 1974, the effect was dramatic and sudden: more than 100,000 cases and 36 deaths by 1978. More recently, in Ireland, concern about the safety of the MMR vaccine caused the immunization rate for measles to drop to 80 percent. The result was a sharp surge in incidents of the disease, including an outbreak in Dublin that led to the hospitalization of 100 children and the death of two babies.

In the former Soviet Union, a drop in childhood immunization rates (and adult booster shots) led to a major epidemic of diphtheria in 1994 — nearly 50,000 cases and 1,700 deaths (up from 839 cases in 1989). Immunization rates have fallen recently in the Netherlands, and Dutch doctors have reported an outbreak of 2,300 cases of measles, 97 percent of which were among kids 6 to 10 years old who had never been vaccinated. Three children died and 53 were hospitalized for complications such as encephalitis (swelling in the brain).

In addition, a lack of hygiene wouldn't explain outbreaks of measles in the United States in recent years. The number of cases has increased in areas where fewer children are getting vaccinated.

Watch the video: COVID 19 Global Conversations 2021-01-11 English (January 2022).

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