Your Health:
Why Are Immunizations Important?

Immunizations differ from other medical interventions in that they are given to healthy children or adults. In addition, many of the diseases vaccines prevent against are not longer common in the United States. For this reason, many parents ask, are immunizations still important?

Immunizations in the Past

During the 20th century, many infectious diseases—that killed thousands of people each year—were either eliminated or controlled by immunizations in the United States. For example:

  • In the 1920s, diphtheria cases reached 200,000 per year, of which 13,000 died. In 2002, only one case of diphtheria was reported.
  • In the 1940s, an average of 175,000 people contracted whooping cough every year.  Only 9,771 cases of whooping cough were reported in 2002.
  • In the 1950s, polio paralyzed more than 20,000 people each year. There were no cases of polio in this country in 2002.
  • Before the 1960s, there were more than 3 million cases of measles and 500 deaths from the disease each year. Only 37 cases of measles were reported in 2004.
  • During an epidemic in the 1960s, rubella cases topped 12.5 million. In 2004, there were just 9 cases of rubella.

Immunizations have also been responsible for the eradication of smallpox in the late 1970s and, more recently, for the decline in diseases such as Haemophilus Influenzae type b (Hib), pneumococcal disease, chickenpox, and hepatitis A and B.

Immunizations Today

In the past, immunizations were the only line of defense against many debilitating and often deadly diseases. The same is true today. If we stop immunizing our children, these diseases would come back. Millions of children and adults in the United States would suffer pain, and some would end up crippled or dead.

Although many vaccine-preventable diseases are not as common as they used to be, outbreaks of measles, whooping cough and chickenpox still occur. There are several reasons for this:

  • No vaccine is 100% effective—immunizations may not be effective in a small number of individuals and immunity may also wane with time.
  • Immunization rates have declined in some communities—due to poor access to health care or misconceptions about vaccines people may forgo immunizations.
  • Diseases are imported from other countries—immigrants or foreign travelers may bring diseases into the United States from countries where immunization levels are low.

For instance, a small measles outbreak occurred in March, 2004. An American student infected with measles in India returned to Iowa with the disease, infecting two more people. Of the 37 cases of measles reported in the United States during 2004, 27 were imported—14 cases occurred in US residents infected while traveling abroad and 13 in infected foreign nationals who traveled to the United States.

The last measles epidemic in the United States occurred between 1989 and 1991, which resulted in 55,622 measles cases, 11,251 hospitalizations, and 125 deaths. According to public health researchers, the epidemic was possible because in some areas only 50% of preschool-aged children were vaccinated against measles.

Vaccines are a safe, effective and inexpensive method for preventing ugly diseases such as measles, which is only a plane ride away.


Information is for educational and informational purposes only and is not be interpreted as financial or legal advice. This does not represent a recommendation to buy, sell, or hold any security. Please consult your financial advisor.