"In the 1950s, polio affected every neighborhood. Now polio is far removed from most peoples' daily lives. But when a little girl in California develops side effects from polio vaccine, that hits the newspapers."
—Neil Herendeen, Strong Memorial Hospital, University of Rochester
Do vaccines work? You bet your life!
Vaccines literally transformed the landscape of medicine over the course of the 20th century. Before vaccines, parents in the United States could expect that every year:
• Polio would paralyze 10,000 children.
• Rubella (German measles) would cause birth defects and mental retardation in as many as 20,000 newborns.
• Measles would infect about half a million children, killing almost 500.
• Diphtheria would be one of the most common causes of death in school-aged children.
• A germ called Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type B) would cause meningitis in 5,000 children, leaving many with permanent brain damage.
• Pertussis (whooping cough) would kill thousands of infants.
Every. Single. Year.
Victims of their own success
Vaccines have reduced these and other diseases that killed, disfigured or disabled millions of people just a generation or two ago. In some cases, the diseases have been all but wiped out.
Because these diseases are now so rare, some people have stopped worrying about them, and stopped protecting themselves and their children against them. This, unfortunately, opens a window for the diseases to return.