Public Release: 3-Mar-2017
Ten million lives saved by 1962 breakthrough, study says
University of Illinois at Chicago
Nearly 200 million cases of polio, measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, adenovirus, rabies and hepatitis A -- and approximately 450,000 deaths from these diseases -- were prevented in the U.S. alone between 1963 and 2015 by vaccination, researchers estimate. The study is published in AIMS Public Health.
In 1963, vaccination against these infections became widespread, thanks to the development of a human cell strain that allowed vaccines to be produced safely. Globally, the vaccines developed from this strain and its derivatives prevented an estimated 4.5 billion cases of disease and saved more than 10 million lives.
Measles outbreaks in California in 2014 and 2015 among unvaccinated children are just one example of the resurgence of previously unseen diseases attributable to parents who wrongly believe that vaccines have been shown to be harmful.
"The reduced number of children being vaccinated in the U.S. isn't just a problem for those children," said Olshansky. "It's a problem for the country because it lowers herd immunity."
When almost everyone in a community is immunized against a disease, if an unimmunized person becomes infected, the disease has little opportunity to spread because there are so few unprotected hosts. This is known as 'herd immunity.' But if enough people forego vaccination, outbreaks can occur as the disease spreads among unprotected individuals. The recent emergence of some diseases that were previously considered dormant in the U.S., such as measles, demonstrates that the anti-vaccination movement is having a direct, negative effect on public health, Olshansky said, and vaccination rates for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) in the U.S. are now as low as 50 to 86 percent.
"It is possible that the anti-vaccination movement has arisen among younger generations, in part, because they cannot bear witness to the tragedy of disfigurement, morbidity, and death caused by viral and bacterial diseases," Olshansky said. A 1998 study often cited by the anti-vaccine movement claimed a link between vaccines and autism in children, but that study has since been shown to be fraudulent.
An estimated 1.4 million children under 5 worldwide still die each year due to lack of access to vaccines.
"It is ironic that in the anti-vaccination community, the very people who are denying protection to their children by foregoing vaccination are healthy and alive today because they, and possibly their parents, were vaccinated," Olshansky said.
"There is no medication, lifestyle change, public health innovation, or medical procedure ever developed that has even come close to the life-saving, life-extending, and primary prevention benefits associated with vaccines."