Measles Spike Mars CDC's Vaccination Celebration

April 24, 2014

Federally supported vaccination of children born between 1994 and 2013 has or will prevent more than 732,000 premature deaths, but a measles resurgence is a reminder that the nation cannot let down its immunization guard, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced today.

The number of measles cases this year, as of April 18, stood at 129 compared with 189 for all of 2013. The virus is making its way into United States via international travel from other countries — particularly the Philippines — and then spreading among pockets of unvaccinated Americans, said Anne Schuchat, MD, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, at a news conference today.

"Measles is making a lot of visits here, but we don't want it to take up residence," said Dr. Schuchat. "We can't be complacent. We need to take the threat coming in on planes seriously."

The challenge facing the CDC and other public health authorities is convincing vaccine-wary parents that their children — and society — are better off getting their shots for measles and other infectious diseases, contrary to the myths of the antivaccine movement. An article by Jennifer Zipprich, PhD, and colleagues, published in the April 25 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, states that in 58 cases of measles in California so far in 2014, vaccination had been declined in a third of them because of "philosophical objections."

Dr. Schuchat said that celebrity vaccine opponents such as Jenny McCarthy "get a lot of attention," but that the most trusted sources of information for most Americans on immunizations are their physicians, nurses, and pharmacists. "American clinicians are still strongly supporting adherence to recommendations [from the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices]," she said.

The CDC recommends 2 doses of the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine for everyone, with the first dose given between the ages of 12 and 15 months and the second between the ages of 4 and 6 years. Parents should get infants between 6 and 11 months of age immunized against measles before international travel. Anyone born during or after 1957 needs to receive at least 1 dose of measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine if they have never had measles or been vaccinated.

A Measles Outbreak Spurred Creation of VFC in 1993

The United States would be experiencing more cases of measles, said Dr. Schuchat, were it not for the high rate of immunization for this and other infectious diseases. Coverage for older vaccines is near or above 90%. Dr. Schuchat attributed this achievement in large part to a federal program called Vaccines for Children (VFC), which makes shots free of charge for uninsured and underinsured children as well those who are Medicaid-eligible or native Americans. Congress created the program in 1993 in response to a measles outbreak from 1989 to 1991 that resulted in 55,000 cases. The problem then, she said, was not people refusing to vaccinate their children, but people finding it unaffordable.

Launched in 1994 and now budgeted at roughly $4 billion per year, the VFC allows the CDC to buy childhood vaccines and distribute them free of charge to some 45,000 healthcare providers who can administer them on site, according to the CDC. Roughly 1 in 2 children younger than 19 years is eligible for free vaccination under the program.

In another article published in the same issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, lead author Cynthia G. Whitney, MD, and colleagues summarize the effect of the VFC program from 1994 through 2013. They report that for the 79 million children born during this period, vaccination (VFC-subsidized or otherwise) would prevent 322 million illnesses, 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 premature deaths during their lifetime. In addition, by averting this level of sickness and death, vaccination would save the United States almost $1.4 trillion in total societal costs, including $295 billion in direct costs.

"This is an enormous impact," said CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, at today's news conference. "It demonstrates why the VFC is one of our country's most successful public–private partnerships to improve the health of our children and our country."

More information about today's CDC announcement about the VFC program is available on the agency's Web site.

Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2014;63:352-355, 362-363. Zipprich full text, Whitney full text

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