Why We Need Vaccines

Who in their lifetime has seen a case of polio or diphtheria? Even in the health profession, many would say they have not. And this is a good thing. Many of the diseases that vaccines were created to prevent are devastating illnesses that used to result in millions of deaths prior to the availability of vaccines.

A historic review

A study published in the November 28 New England Journal of Medicine gives us some perspective on just how well our vaccines are working. The study, led by Willem G. van Panhuis, MD, PhD, at the University of Pittsburgh, used historical data to review how effective our vaccines have been through the years in fighting seven of the most dangerous diseases:

  • polio
  • measles
  • mumps
  • rubella
  • hepatitis A
  • diphtheria
  • pertussis (whooping cough).

100 million cases prevented

Using some fancy math, the scientists estimate that since 1924 vaccines have prevented over 100 million cases of these illnesses. And just within the last 10 years, 26 million cases of these seven illnesses have been kept at bay by vaccination programs.

But parents forget (or never knew)

Despite these dramatic findings, these researchers from Pittsburgh (as well as many other health care professionals) are worried about our future health. Why? Because the general public has forgotten the "bad old days" when these diseases spread unchecked through populations. And yet these terrible diseases are real, and they continue to pose a risk. And with increased numbers of parents now refusing or delaying to get their children vaccinated, the incidence of some of these diseases, such as polio and measles, has risen to alarming levels in some places. At present much more unsupported and half-baked information is being spread about the risks of getting vaccinated than about the benefits of this lifesaving practice.

This NEJM study is therefore a good reminder to us all that these diseases are real and dangerous, and that vaccinations are our sturdiest shield against them.

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