WASHINGTON The frequency of vaccine-preventable deaths has reached an all-time low in the United States, according to a new federal report.
The study, by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, revealed that childhood vaccinations have reduced the death rates from seven previously common childhood illnesses, such as diphtheria, mumps and measles, by 100 percent. “The number of cases of most vaccine-preventable diseases is at an all-time low; hospitalizations and deaths have also shown striking decreases,” wrote the authors of the study, which is published in the Nov. 14 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The study compared the number of cases and deaths for 13 vaccine-preventable deaths, including tetanus, polio and smallpox. The researchers compared the most recent data on illnesses (from 2006) and deaths (from 2004) to pre-vaccination rates.
For immunizations developed prior to 1980, there was a 92 percent reduction in vaccine-preventable illnesses and a 99 percent or greater decline in deaths due to vaccine-preventable diseases.
Vaccines that were introduced after 1980, including the hepatitis vaccines and chickenpox, there was an 80 percent or greater decline in illness and deaths. Cases of invasive pneumococcal disease were down 34 percent, and death rates were down 25 percent.
“These achievements are largely due to reaching and maintaining high vaccine coverage levels from infancy throughout childhood by successful implementation of the infant and childhood immunization program,” the authors said.
If parents decide to stop vaccinating their children, however, the results can be fatal.
“These vaccines work, and they improve the health of our children and our population, and we should be very grateful for that,” said Dr. Marian Michaels, an infectious disease specialist at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. “But we should not become complacent. These diseases aren’t eradicated everywhere, and the world is so globally small now that these infections could come back if we don’t maintain high immunization rates.”