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CDC Report: U.S. Immunization Program Prevents More Than 700,000 Child Deaths

Recent measles outbreaks underscore importance of vaccination coverage

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that vaccinations will prevent more than 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths among children born in the last 20 years. Despite the U.S. immunization program’s success, according to CDC officials, 129 people in the U.S. have been reported to have measles this year in 13 outbreaks, as of April 18.

In 1994, the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program was launched in response to a measles resurgence in the U.S. that caused tens of thousands of cases and more than a hundred deaths, despite the availability of a measles vaccine since 1963.

The VFC program provides vaccines to children whose parents or caregivers might otherwise be unable to afford them.

This year’s 20th anniversary of the VFC program’s implementation is occurring during an increase in measles cases in the U.S, the CDC says. In 2013, 189 Americans had measles. In 2011, 220 people in the U.S. were reported as having measles — the highest number of annual cases since 1996.

The CDC reports that 34 people, among the 129 cases this year, brought measles into the U.S. after being infected in other countries. Although not direct imports, most of the remaining cases are known to be linked to importations. Most people who reported having measles in 2014 were not vaccinated or did not know their vaccination status.

Because measles is a highly contagious disease, it can spread quickly among unvaccinated people. The CDC recommends that people of all ages keep up-to-date with their vaccinations. The agency recommends two doses of MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine for everyone, starting at age 12 months. Infants 6 through 11 months old should receive one dose of MMR vaccine before international travel.

For children born during the VFC era, the U.S. immunization program continues to pay benefits, the CDC says. According to an agency analysis, hospitalizations avoided and lives saved through vaccination will save nearly $295 billion in direct costs and $1.38 trillion in total societal costs.

Source: CDC; April 24, 2014.

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