World Immunization Week: Outbreaks Are Slowing Progress in Eradicating Diseases

World Immunization Week, running April 24-30, promotes the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against disease, especially children.

In 2017, the number of children immunized – 116.2 million – was the highest ever reported, says the World Health Organization (WHO). Since 2010, 113 countries have introduced new vaccines, and more than 20 million additional children have been vaccinated.

But despite these gains targeting disease elimination — including measles, rubella, and maternal and neonatal tetanus — eradication efforts are now behind schedule, the WHO states.

Over the last two years, “the world has seen multiple outbreaks of measles, diphtheria and various other vaccine-preventable diseases,” the organization says in a statement. “Most of the children missing out are those living in the poorest, marginalized and conflict-affected communities.”

Vaccine hesitancy is one of the top 10 threats to global health, according to the WHO.

The United States has also contributed to this global retrenchment in the progress made to eliminate vaccine-preventable diseases. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday that the number of measles cases had reached 695 from 22 states as of April 24, the largest number of cases reported in the country since measles was eliminated in 2000. This century’s previous high mark was 667 cases in 2014.

The U.S. measles outbreak has prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to take an unusual step: Make an announcement to remind the public that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine — referred to as the MMR vaccine — is safe and effective.

“We cannot state strongly enough: The overwhelming scientific evidence shows that vaccines are among the most effective and safest interventions to both prevent individual illness and protect public health,” states Peter Marks, FDA director. “Vaccinating against measles, mumps and rubella not only protects us and our children, it protects people who can’t be vaccinated, including children with compromised immune systems due to illness and its treatment, such as cancer.”

In addition to flu-like symptoms and a rash that begins in the head area and moves downward, measles can develop serious or deadly complications, such as pneumonia and encephalitis (swelling of the brain). And it is one of the most contagious viruses in the world.

While New York and other states are seeing the most severe measles outbreaks, Florida is vulnerable because of its role as a hub for international travelers from countries with lower vaccination rates. Measles is much more common in parts of Europe, Asia, the Pacific Islands and Africa. Travelers from those countries can bring the disease to the U.S.

Moreover, there is an anti-vaccination movement that started about 20 years ago after an article in a respected medical journal raised the autism issue as part of a small-scale study. That article was later discredited and retracted. And the medical license of the article’s writer was revoked by British authorities.

The MMR vaccine has potential side effects that are typically mild, such as rash and fever. All parents should discuss concerns with their doctors to get their questions answered — and to better learn about the consequences of not vaccinating.

“Vaccination is the best prevention,” said Fernando Mendoza, M.D., medical director of the Children’s Emergency Center at Baptist Children’s Hospital and associate medical director of Pediatric Emergency Services at West Kendall Baptist Hospital.  “Absolutely, 100 percent, that’s the best way to prevent it. Vaccinated kids don’t get the measles. There are reams and reams of data that show these vaccines are appropriate and effective.”

More on this topic: 

The Measles Threat: Here’s Why Getting Kids Vaccinated is Vital (Video)

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