Measles still a threat to the unvaccinated

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that vaccinations will prevent more than 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths among children born in the last 20 years. Yet in 2014, the program’s 20th anniversary, 129 people in the United States have contracted measles in 13 outbreaks as of April 18, according to CDC officials.

In 1994, the Vaccines for Children program was launched in response to a measles resurgence that caused tens of thousands of cases and more than a hundred deaths, despite the availability of a measles vaccine since 1963. The program provides vaccines to children whose parents or caregivers might otherwise be unable to afford them.

In 2013 some 189 Americans had measles. In 2011, 220 people in the United States were reported as having measles – the highest number of annual cases since 1996.

"Thanks to the VFC program, children in our country are no longer at significant risk from diseases that once killed thousands each year,” said CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden. “Current outbreaks of measles in the United States serve as a reminder that these diseases are only a plane ride away. Borders can’t stop measles, but vaccination can.”

Among the 129 cases this year, 34 people brought measles into the United States after being infected in other countries, according to the CDC. 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.

Measles is a highly contagious disease that can spread quickly among unvaccinated people. The CDC recommends that people of all ages keep up to date with their vaccinations. 

The CDC 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.

The U.S. immunization program continues to pay enormous benefits for those who have been vaccinated, according to the CDC, which estimates that hospitalizations avoided and lives saved through vaccination will save nearly $295 billion in direct costs and $1.38 trillion in total societal costs. 

Not all diseases that threaten America’s borders can be prevented by vaccines. Some require different strategies.

“The health security of the United States is only as strong as the health security of all nations around the world. We are all connected by the food we eat, the water we drink and air we breathe,” said Frieden. “Stopping outbreaks where they start is the most effective and least costly way to prevent disease and save lives at home and abroad – and it’s the right thing to do.”

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